In the September of 2015, I moved to Dubai to work at a capital management firm(like a hedge fund) Vy Capital. It helped me move closer to my girlfriend and obviously came with a big pay jump, no taxes. When you move away from your comfort zone into a new culture and city, you try to fight it or let it become a part of yourself. But before we get into discussing my musings with materialism, I must discuss how I was before. In Mumbai, I had a room in a 2 BHK, with only a mattress, because why would someone need a bed? I had two cheap perfectly functional DIY wardrobes, full of clothes bought online. I still ended up with practically 0 savings every year. Where did all that money go? Mostly on food and some on travelling. I would go to all restaurants that had different cuisines and try them out. My appreciation of other cuisines began when I started cooking myself. Under my girlfriend's guidance, I learned to cook continental dishes at ease. It has been over 2 years since I cook dinner for myself. But the point of bringing this up was I was very clear in my mind that experiences are worth more than possessions. I was also pretty clear that I could not save towards a better life.
With the perspective that moving to a new culture brings about a great deal of self-discovery and adventure, I made up my mind to move out of India. After a few months, an opportunity from Dubai showed up and I took it. The first day I arrived here, I got a look at Burj Khalifa. Trust me no matter how many times you look at it in pictures or movies, it will amaze you. It still amazes me. The real cultural shock though is how great everyone looked. When you walk into DIFC, a financial centre close to where I work, take a look around and you will see well-dressed people. Their version of casual means switching pants with shorts, but keeping the jacket on. A part of the reason is the clothes but a part of it is their fitness as well. Some say Dubai companies have a hidden 'fitness' qualification which essentially means having looks as a hiring factor. I can't say it's true but that would be an easy explanation.
Our office runs from Mon-Fri, instead of the standard Sun-Thu around here. This means you have one weekend and one working day for everyone but you. Makes life a lot easy when you have to go to the bank or want emptier malls and beaches. Enough of the drifting, let's get back to the main subject - materialism. Over the years, a core part of my identity became geeking out on Superhero stuff, TV series, Movies, Comics and hence the collection of Superhero T-shirts. I was told we were supposed to wear formals at work. I still brought all of those T-shirts and some of the shirts from Mumbai. Rest donated. A month after all of those shirts would end up in a bag ready for donation and T-shirts used for sleeping. I had not got my full and final settlement money from the previous company so I barely made it through to the first salary. It involved a couple of worse shirts and pants than I started with. I clearly did not get back to the subject.
In Mumbai, we would feel superior over the guys in suits because we were the cool kids. The startup techies ready to become millionaires in equity. Plus programming as a career is pretty meritocratic, no one really cares about your presentation. Presenting ideas is important, but when you take looks out of the equation it becomes a straightforward communication. Here I soon realised I am still the outlier but in a 'not cool' way.
When you move to a new city, you think you are bringing memories and reputation along, but sooner than you realise you can hold on to neither.
I made up my mind to try the dark side and try to appreciate looks the way people around clearly do. Here the materialism began. The pursuit was to reach the Dubai standard of appearance and to remove the awkwardness of poor dressing choices, something I never had to care about before. I started geeking out on this. I started here GSElevator's popular post. I wasn't entirely convinced but it's a great starting point. And then I went on to read countless of intriguing advice, blogs, and Reddit threads. The best sources of advice IMHO are youtube videos and subreddits. I have tried to put some of them in an edible format below.
It's all about the fit
This is probably the best and the most important advice out there. When I eventually ended up with a good fit, it was a 38 trimmed/tailored fit as opposed to 40 regular. The latter now looks horrible on me. The definition of a good fit is when your clothes are not stretching but at the same time not hanging on you. It's a great feeling once you find it. Shirt fits. I decided it was time for me to graduate away from laces to a loafer. I bought a relatively cheap loafer which expanded as hell within a week and despite my attempts to salvage it, it was used as a slipper before I got tired of it and threw it in the garbage. Leather expands.
Regarding jeans/trousers, I love the slightly stretchable material and a good fit. I converted from regular washed jeans to slim dark raw denim. No change in waist size. A great thing that takes trousers from decent to perfect is to hem them. Length does matter(despite what you've been told). Get the adjustment done right when you buy it. It will take a couple of days and you will have to collect them but it's worth it.
3x the price will last you 10x longer
I know you heard this one and believed it, but mostly in the way that it is phrased is total bullshit. Stuff wears out. Leather especially, no matter what they tell you or how much care you take(If you still disagree, here are the best steps you can take to treat leather r/goodyearwelt thread). What is true about the advice partly is that better leather looks great for longer. Also, this only applies to the difference between cheap and expensive goods. No jump in durability between expensive and more expensive goods. This rarely applies to shirts and trousers.
The minimal wardrobe
Between Mark Zuckerberg and Steve Jobs, they wear almost the same look every time they appear in public. I came across this nice Ted talk that helped me when I was bothered I would eventually end up buying a lot of things. The core idea is that you buy less stuff but good stuff that reflect your personality. I took it one step further and just worked on 5 sets(3 trousers + 1 denim + t-shirts). This helps me keep my mind off the everyday hassle of pairing stuff. What it did not help me with was reflecting my personality, formals suck!
Enough of the advice now, this is what materialism looks like. The way I ended up living it, was like a game. I would read about stuff and then try to buy one. Lots of research would teach me about minute things people were passionate about. I never knew something like a raw denim existed. The pair that I have, had its denim sourced from Japan, flew it to Italy where it was tailored. Cost me 300$ but when I wore it, I felt like I had never worn a better pair of jeans. The first wash felt great. I became intrigued by sneakers, so I ended up reading about them. Eventually, I found people were quite passionate about white leather sneakers called CPs(short for Common Projects). I bought a pair and love them and they are probably the most comfortable apart from running shoes. It's some work to keep them white though.
The important feeling I would much later realise is I was trying to fill a gap in this new life. I was trying to feel like a part of this community of passionate people. They are geeks in their own way.
I realised this when I compare my Louis Vuitton boat shoes as a purchase versus the CP which is a more recent endeavour. Boat shoes cost me ~800$, more than twice the amount I spent on CP. The boat shoes are great looking, 0 maintenance and solid as a rock. CP, on the other hand, has a fan following and has people writing about lacing, how you should clean them, ergonomics, life, etc, etc. Guess which one felt better.
I find myself more confident in my presentation and no longer feel like an outlier. Maybe in some ways I still am, but it feels nicer now. Maybe the only thing I could geek on would be a suit. I have a jacket(only upper part of the suit, with slightly casual patterns) that works on 'smart casual' occasions. Yes, I did not know about that term too. But there is no real 'suit' community that I like yet. There are passionate people but you can't point the passion to exact stuff, the beauty of a great suit is the individual tailoring.
Overall I feel materialism had a good impact on my life. I feel I look better and don't need more stuff. It tried to fill a gap subconsciously but I am now mostly bored and my minimal wardrobe is complete. Let's leave it at that. Also, let's keep this article between you and me, I am too embarrassed to put it out in public.