Crashion! What to Wear To the Recession

“I don’t see women cutting back on clothes, shoes, bags,” said columnist Liz Smith. “But maybe we will see that; it just isn’t happening yet.” (She hastened to add: “I like to amble through Saks and Barneys but that is about the extent of fashion for me.”)

Ms. Gilhart, of Barneys, noted that her customer “is absolutely not buying more conservatively in terms of style.” Not yet, anyhow.

Still others plan to capitalize on the perceived misfortune of the city’s big(ger) spenders. “I was thinking of hitting the consignment stores on the Upper East Side myself,” said Erika Martineau, 30, a public-relations executive. “I rationalize that people may clean out their closets of some beautiful things to get some cash, and then maybe I can get some fabulous things, like a Goyard bag for $100!

She conceded that that may be “wishful thinking … but I hope to find some good deals,”

And for others, recession shopping isn’t an opportunity or a newly guilt-ridden pleasure, but a necessity.

“I lost my job on Tuesday,” said Kara Blossom, 27, a pixieish blond Bushwick resident in dangly earrings, a red hoodie and jeans, emerging from a downtown H&M late last week. She worked as a high-end framer for museums and private collections, and her new purchases would help her in interviews, she said. “I don’t usually shop, but this has driven me to kind of compete with people who do shop.

“My dad is being evicted from his house,” she continued. “He’s a construction worker. Crazy things are happening! My uncle’s assets got frozen in Merrill Lynch last week.”

In addition to several utilitarian items, her $68 purchase included “this lacy thing to feel really sexy in, because I need that!”

Christine Keith, 25, a freckled blonde with a ponytail, was walking lower Fifth Avenue with a large Gap bag. “It could be worse; you could have caught me coming out of Rainbow!” she said guiltily. She’d been recently poring over the J. Crew catalog but had found it strangely expensive this year, so she’d set out to replicate the looks at the Gap, H&M and Club Monaco, which she called “one of those stores that, when they have a sale, it’s kind of a joke. They drop about 85 percent off the original price of stuff.”

“I’m just going to get a couple things to tide me over for the fall,” said Ms. Keith, who works in advertising. She wasn’t worried about taking her style quotient down in light of recent world events. “I get to wear jeans and T-shirts to work, so there’s nothing I own that I would feel reluctant to break out,” she said. But she was still saving money for what she really wanted: “I want to buy boots, but they’re an investment.”

Nearby, Lauren, 22, a petite brunette in a headband, was shopping with her friend Katya, 32.

“You’re running into someone who felt sooooo guilty looking at her receipt!” cried Lauren, of her “a little over $100” H&M purchase.

“We’ve been trying to spend less, but it’s hard when we didn’t spend that much to begin with!” she said. A recent college graduate with a degree in economics, she blamed the recent turmoil in the markets for the fact that she was still working retail. “I probably won’t go into finance because I have a soul,” she said.

Katya, meanwhile, who wore a stylish cargo jacket, several elaborately bejeweled black necklaces and knee-high leather boots, was feeling no guilt. “I bought a plaid scarf. When is that going to go out of style?” she said. “I think I’m going to go back to buying for quality, things that I’ll have for a long time. I don’t mind outlets. I’m more concerned with building a wardrobe than just buying cute stuff.

“Clothes are important. They make me happy,” she said with a shrug.

“You would stop buying food before clothing,” Lauren said.

“You can chintz on food,” Katya agreed. “Clothes? Negative.”

mbryan@observer.com

Crashion! What to Wear To the Recession