Who Knew Eddie Murphy was a Prophet about Clothes?

(or) Pick Your Preference: Value or Perfection

In the film 48 Hours (1982), Nick Nolte’s character says to Eddie Murphy’s character, “Class isn’t something you buy. Look at you, you have a $500 suit on and you’re still a low life.”

Murphy’s character replies, “Yeah but I look good.”

It’s the biggest night of your life. Perhaps you will be marrying your soul mate, receiving your first Academy Award, or watching your child receive the Nobel Prize. Just visualize the occasion and go with it. You’ve laboriously crunched the numbers and decided that $1,000 is the most you can spend on your dress/suit.

You try on an outfit that is beyond your wildest dreams. It’s the absolute perfect style, fit, and color, and you’ve never looked better. You couldn’t hire a tailor for ten grand and possibly look this amazing. The retail price is $1,200 but since it’s 25 percent off, it will only cost $900 (this is a fantasy so we can forget about sales tax). Just as you’re about to pay, gloating that you got the perfect outfit below your budget, your friend brings you another one.

You try it on, and it looks great. Had you not seen the other one, you would have been happy with it. Its only flaw is that it’s simply one notch below the first one. The retail price is $2,000 but since it’s 75 percent off, it will only cost $500. That’s a $1,500 savings!

To summarize, it’s the biggest night of your life. Your budget is $1,000 and your choices are:

  • $1,200 outfit for $900 that you absolutely worship.
  • $2,000 outfit for $500 that you like.

Which one would you buy?

The answer to this question will give you an idea of how much importance you put on perfect fit/getting exactly what you want versus getting a bargain/finding value.

The questions you ask will say a lot about the process by which you make decisions. From the economic such as: What else can you do with the savings (and how much did you budget for shoes or a tie)? Isn’t the retail price just an arbitrary number anyway? And, will there be an occasion to wear it again? Then there’s the spiritual: Am I losing focus on the event by focusing on my clothes? Or just as relevant: will how I look impact how I feel and act?

The weakness of this exercise is that it may reveal more about how we feel about clothes than the more important question about perfection versus value. You’ll find most people get more emotional about a house, a car, a puppy, or even a flat screen TV than clothing. That’s why it will help to modify the example and change the scenario depending on the audience. Ask your friends and family. Ask your co-workers. Especially ask couples in order to gauge the impact of gender.

When I did this exercise with a married couple, Frank and Carrie, Carrie said she’d buy the first one for $900. I asked her what she would do if it wasn’t on sale and she had to pay $1,200. She said, “If you can afford $1,000, you can find another $200.” Frank responded, a bit irked I might add, “But where are you going to get the money?” And I thought, what’s the point, as I stated of having “laboriously crunched the numbers” if you’re not going to honor your budget?

There’s no right or wrong answer. It’s an exercise to gain awareness about yourself and others. Its purpose is to make you better prepared when real life examples come up that mirror this situation–from buying a company to going on vacation to deciding where to go for dinner.

If I was buying the outfit, the choice would have been an easy one—until about a year ago. Our identity is often revealed in our answer. I’ve always viewed myself as a value buyer. I pride myself on my ability not to get emotional and make the most pragmatic choice. I’d go for the better deal and congratulate myself for getting what I wanted and being $500 under my budget.

We can talk ourselves into anything, and our inner dialogue is critical to how we view our experiences. My values have shifted, and if this happened today, I would reason with myself that the most important thing is to get what I want. I still remember, as a kid, shopping with my mom at a discount store like Syms or Marshalls when she’d find an item on clearance. “But mom,” I’d plead. “It has a stain on it.” Her eyes would light up and she’s day, “Even better! We’ll get them to knock off another five bucks.”

I’ve evolved to believe that it’s only a great value if I love it. So for this scenario, since I love the first suit and I’m still below my budget, no other “deal” is relevant. In theory, I’d have peace of mind passing up the $2,000 suit even it cost $1. I would so with the awareness that I wouldn’t be making the “pragmatic” choice and that perhaps I have swung the pendulum too far. But like Eddie Murphy in 48 Hours, I could look in the mirror and say with a bold smile, “Yeah but I look good.”

4 Responses to Who Knew Eddie Murphy was a Prophet about Clothes?

  1. […] offer insight in the box below. Then check back Thursday to read my analysis in a column entitled, “Who Knew Eddie Murphy was a Prophet about Clothes?” Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)I’m just sayin’Epic SundaysBetrayal, […]

  2. Tom Ellsworth says:

    The MSRPs for this exercise cause much of the problem, but they should not be taken into account. By listing them, we are being told that there is some inherent value offered to the discount we are getting, and that the original price is a real indicator of value. This is a fallacy. The only part of the choice that is important is that you can choose the item you love for $900, or the one that falls squarely in 2nd place for $500. You analysis should be limited to whether the outfit is worth $900 to you. The discount is just background noise.

    • thepokeryogi says:

      Tom–great point about the MSRP. When I see Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price, I wonder who actually pays that price. It’s just like hotels publishing rack rates that are meaningless. Companies smartly use the concept of “anchoring” by creating a price that we start to believe is the real value and then offering discounts so it seems like a deal. You’re right, it’s a fallacy and we shouldn’t fall for it. Just because a house was initially listed for $1 million, it doesn’t mean that it’s a bargain because it’s now on the market for $700,000. Since I did mention this very point in my next column, Who Knew Eddie Murphy was a Prophet about Clothes? http://bit.ly/b3SlXY, would it be fair to say that, after 21 years, I’m no longer pitching a no-hitter?

      • Tom Ellsworth says:

        No, I’m sorry, your streak of scoreless innings continues. You know what they say. . . 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 . . . 11. That reminds me, I’m going to look up Jeff Rugg on Facebook.

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