Bullish Q&A: Stay Motivated When a Gentlewomanly Life Seems Far Away

I discovered Bullish as an underpaid, bored Administrative Assistant. I realized I needed to change things but I was stuck in an idleness trap. Bullish entered my life just when I needed it.
Now I’m in the process of applying to graduate school and I’m feeling all kinds of warm fuzzy excited feelings. But grad school is a long process and I know there will be times when it’s hard to focus on future me, who is somewhere down the road, holding a glass of champagne and stepping on a condo developer. Even now, I sometimes get discouraged, still in my Administrative Assistant position thinking “oh my god I’ll never be a fulfilled adult with a human salary.”
Do you have any advice for those of us trying to live the gentlewomanly life, but who have picked a really long-term elegance investment?

 

I love the phrase “really long-term elegance investment.”

Once, when I was a broke entrepreneur in Norfolk, VA, I met and started dating an even broker entrepreneur. He had been part of a failed startup, and still had three fancy suits he had been outfitted with in Italy, on a trip to woo Italian investors. While in Italy, he learned how to eat like an Italian.

Back in Virginia, with hardly any cash to his name, he continued his gentlemanly living in a way that really opened my world.

That man could have $40 to his name, and he would walk confidently into a hotel bar, order the right whisky, have a genial chat with the ancient, old-school bartender about the whisky, and sit in that bar like he belonged there. He’d sometimes do some business; sometimes there was an ROI on the whisky. Or not. Sometimes he was just living well. Once, he went to an “Italian” restaurant in town — a kind of chain restaurant where the waiters sing. Awful. But it was near where we worked. And he tossed aside the menu and genially requested just bread and prosciutto. The server obliged, a bit awed and mystified, and in the end had no idea what to charge, so he ended up eating an enormous mound of prosciutto for something like $6.

My point is that if your version of gentlewomanly living involves the finer goods of life, as you indicated re: champagne, you can compensate for lack of money with a high level of knowledge. Knowledge builds confidence. (And some other things build confidence, and confidence is pretty important here.) Better to be a poor grad student who knows how she takes her Talisker than some rich finance d-bag who orders a $20,000 bottle of something without even knowing what it is.

There’s also something to be said for — just as one example — an ultra minimalist apartment with a striking lack of possessions, but all of them of fantastic taste. Or someone who scrimps on rent but spends all her time out of her apartment anyway, because she knows how to live.

Minimalism in general can be gentlewomanly. Nude nail polish (by which I mean nude-for-you, of course) is both always in good taste – and the easiest color to maintain on your own. What if you had only one single bottle of nail polish in your entire apartment, and yet your nails were always perfect? What if you painted your nails while listening to Nina Simone? I will not judge you if your wine comes from a box. This already sounds like a great time and I’m just writing a blog post right now.

If that’s too femme for you, consider a three-piece suit, possibly from a thrift store (then take it to a tailor). If you have a masculine/dapper style, you can almost wear the same thing every day without anyone noticing.

I’m not a fashion expert, but whatever your style inclination, I’m sure there’s some elegant-dressing “uniform” that you could wear a variation of every day and just automate and systematize it. Have only good, versatile, comfortable pieces so that you look casually elegant even on bad days. Wearing all-black also never hurt anybody.

You may not be able to afford many expensive things, but you can afford to toss out (or helpfully leave in a pencil cup at the library) all the free pens with advertising on them, and only use nice pens, for example. A pen cup with nothing but six perfect, identical, high-quality pens: that’s an affordable luxury. When I was broke, I got a nice teakettle (they also make great gifts — even a $25 teakettle can be a beautiful sculptural object that looks much more expensive than it is) and it made me so happy, and I rarely even drink tea. It was more about investing in and respecting the everyday items of life. Free plastic junk is beneath you! Toss out items that are beneath you.

Anyway, you’re an intellectual! Re: champagne, scotch, hotel bars – you can be elegant through the power of knowledge! Go forth and be a gentlewoman.