A Moment to Reflect

I usually come to Las Vegas at least once a year to get away. It's funny how my opinion of leaving town to "relax" is so often the polar opposite of what other folks do when they want to unwind. I know a lot of people who go camping, or head to the beach, or book a massage, or rent a cabin in the mountains. Me? I go to the biggest metropolitan areas I can find, rent a gigantic hotel suite, then drink and shop until my legs are swollen and I can no longer walk. I'm at the Aria right now. I just soaked in my jacuzzi tub that overlooks the strip facing Planet Hollywood. My body is like jello. My mind is completely at ease. I haven't called in sick or a taken a day off in almost nine months. I'm so relaxed I'm melting into the couch.

I know a lot of people who hate shopping—especially guys. They don't really care about clothes. They don't particularly enjoy dressing up. They find the idea of self image and fancy outfits somewhat shallow and materialistic (yet ironically many of these folks work out like gym rats to stay as desirably thin as possible). I understand it completely. I feel the same way about the housing market, finance, Wall Street, and the tech world: I know there's a minimal amount of information I should probably understand about capital investments in order to make smart decisions about my future, but I can only listen to about five minutes of it before I zone out and start thinking about alcohol. Clothes can have that same effect on today's modern intellectuals. There are a lot of people who don't understand the difference between looking good and feeling good (or that both can be the case). It reminds me of that old saying I loath about drinking: the best wine is the one that tastes best to you. If that were the case, the "best" outfit on the Vegas strip right now would be the G-string and the Confederate bandana being worn by the naked guitar player I saw near the Linq Hotel earlier today. I guarantee you that guy thinks he looks great. He's absolutely stoked to be wearing that small piece of spandex in the sun. That doesn't mean he looks good, however.

When comprehension isn't part of our modern timetable, we look for shortcuts (Mutual Funds for Dummies?), but often times I find these strategies are either outdated or unhelpful. I love it when potential Bourbon customers send me top ten lists they pulled from some hastily-written drinking rag that include Pappy, Elmer T, and Weller 12 as "best values." Good luck finding those. It's easy to laugh at those guys for being so completely unaware of the current whiskey situation, but I guarantee you we all have blind spots in our pop culture vision. Not everyone has the time or the desire to invest themselves into a certain realm of modern living, but what's sad is that even fewer have the courage or the humility to ask a professional for help. It's because of my experience working with the public that I now always admit up front when I don't know something. I will walk into a store, plead ignorance, and ask for help when I need it. "Don't do that! They'll think you're a sucker!" I've heard people say in the past. But you know who the real sucker is? The guy who walks into the store and makes a fool out of himself by trying to act like he's an expert when he clearly isn't. That's the guy who gets eaten up by the sales sharks, not the genuinely polite person. 

If you're not a shopper, here's my advise about shopping for clothes based on my own personal experience (if you care):

1) Brands names can be both very good and very bad. They can be well-made, tailored to a specific frame, and more stylish than your normal department store brands. They can also be overpriced and a rip-off. The only way to know for sure is to try them on and use your previous experience as a guide. You can't simply write them off because they're fancy or expensive.

2) You have to look at every single store; even different locations of the same chain. So far we've seen a selection in Vegas that completely blows away the Bay Area competition, even though we have the same stores at home.

3) Splurge on key pieces, save on daily basics. I will always pay full price for quality when it comes to shoes and jackets. I might wear the same pair of shoes and the same jacket every day for a week. Polos? Dress shirts? I can grab those on sale or at an outlet whenever I need more. All Saints has an outlet. John Varvatos has an outlet. Hell, even Dolce & Gabanna has a freakin' outlet in Vegas. 

Looking good is a combination of knowing what you like, knowing what looks good on you, and understanding basics of symmetry. Just because you like a particular shirt doesn't mean you should wear it. At the same time, it also doesn't mean you can't appreciate its quality. Let's look at alcohol as a comparison. I taste all kinds of outstanding wines every single day. I can appreciate their flavors and admire their precision, but it doesn't mean I'm going to buy a bottle a bring it home. I might, however, recommend it to a customer for whom I think it's a nice fit. It's no different than working in a department store or boutique—you need to have an understanding of the product to know what works. What tips do I have for you about buying wine? The same advise I would give you about shopping for clothes. Here goes:

1) Brand names can be both very good and very bad. Just because the bottle has a fancy name on it doesn't mean the wine is good; just like it's possible to have an ugly-ass purse with Louis Vuitton written all over it. That being said, Krug Champagne is delicious and well-made. Buying by name won't save you, however. You need to use your experience to guide you. If you don't know ask someone who does.

2) You have to try as much wine as possible. You can't know what you like until you open the bottle, pour the liquid into a glass, and put it in your mouth. Thinking a winery's chardonnay is good because you like their cabernet is a big no-no. But you won't know until you try.

3) Splurge on key pieces, save on daily basics. I rarely spend more than ten to twenty bucks on white wine. Why? Because I'm likely going to drink that cold, refreshing booze in like ten minutes once it's open. I just need something clean and fresh to get the job done. Steak night? I only do that once or twice a month, so I'm going to go all-out when I eat beef. The difference between an $80 bottle of Bordeaux and a $20 bottle is HUGE. That extra effort is worth it to me. 

It's ultimately because wine and clothes are diverse and often expensive indulgences that we seek the help of those with more experience to aid us in our quest. Mistakes are going to be made, however, and paying for something you ultimately didn't like is the most effective lesson you can learn as a consumer. When I'm lucky enough to have the time and the attention of a true professional I do my best to learn and grow from that encounter, not simply substitute that person's expertise as my own. I got a full-out diamond seminar from a lady at Barney's in Union Square last weekend. Not only did I learn more about what makes fine jewelry "fine," I gained some serious tips on customer service for my own personal development—double whammy.

I'm a sucker for retail therapy. That's probably what drew me to retail as a profession.

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll