Let Them Wear Cashmere

There are all sorts of weighty concerns to address this month: the presidential election, of course, and the continuing efforts on the part of marketers and ISPs to eliminate fraudulent spam, and states’ increasing aggressiveness in trying to collect use taxes from out-of-state direct marketers.

And, indeed, we do address those subjects elsewhere in this month’s issue…leaving me free to discuss a topic I know a little more about: holiday shopping.

As I write this, it’s late September. I know a few people who have already gotten most of their Christmas shopping done, but although Hanukkah is several weeks earlier than Christmas this year, I haven’t even started shopping. Heck, I just gave my husband his birthday gift two days ago, even though the big day was three weeks ago.

Fortunately my mailbox has already started sagging under the weight of holiday catalogs. I eagerly opened the new FAO Schwarz book as soon as I received it, only to close it almost as quickly. Among its offerings: the Child-Size Mercedes 500 SL for $15,000. That’s more than I spent on my Toyota, and at least my car doesn’t top out at 15 mph (at least not usually).

The consumer media each year knock themselves out alternately glorifying and decrying the extravagance of the Neiman Marcus Christmas Book (this year’s costliest item: a zeppelin for $10 million — guess the Hindenburg stigma has finally faded). But they should really exercise their indignation by leafing through some catalogs of children’s merchandise. The new Garnet Hill spin-off, Growing Up with Garnet Hill, sells something it calls a 20-Gauge Bed for $1,200 (and that’s just for a twin — a queen will set you back an additional $200), plus $125 for shipping. There’s nothing in the copy to explain why this bed is worth so much money, other than that it has “heavy-duty casters” and that the designers won Home magazine’s 2003 American Furniture Award. Do the heavy-duty casters mean the bed won’t break no matter how many kids jump on it simultaneously?

Posh Tots sells a rocking horse for $1,899. Do parents actually let their kids smear their jelly-smudged paws over a rocking horse that costs nearly two grand?

I know that this sort of conspicuous consumption is nothing new. And if it seems to be more blatant now than it had been during the previous few years, perhaps that’s a sign of the strengthening economy. Or maybe it’s a sign that the gulf between the haves and the have-nots is getting wider: Let them eat cake, and let their kids wear cashmere onesies while they’re at it.

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