A Label for a Pleather Economy By NATASHA SINGER Published: October 24, 2008 http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/26/fashion/26words.html IN an economic climate in which buying a handbag with a four- or five-digit price tag is starting to seem gauche, the free-spending style hounds formerly known as âfashionistasâ are rebranding themselves. Consider the $1,235 patent-leather satchel with golden hardware designed by Anya Hindmarch. Mary Hall, a marketing manager at I.B.M. in Redondo Beach, Calif., heard its siren call. Then she went to Target to purchase a similarly shiny purse, made out of polyvinyl chloride, by the same designer. Price: $49.99. âIn the current economy, I thought I would reform,â Ms. Hall said. Welcome to ârecession chicâ and its personification, the ârecessionista,â the new name for the style maven on a budget. That the word represents the times could explain why Sarah Palinâs new wardrobe ($75,000 at Neiman Marcus and nearly $50,000 at Saks) struck some as distasteful. COST CONSCIOUS Mary Hall started a blog to chronicle her cheap and chic choices. Ms. Hall, who first read the term in newspapers and on Web sites like Jezebel.com, even started a blog to chronicle her cheap and chic choices: therecessionista.blogspot.com. In part, the word reflects the efforts of fashion and beauty publicists to spin the economic downturn as an attractive retail trend. For instance, Bourjois, a moderately priced makeup line from France, sent a recent press release by e-mail to reporters promoting the brandâs cheapest mascara and lip glosses as âthe Recessionista Collection,â an antidote to gloom. An e-mail message sent last week on behalf of Salon Eliut Rivera in Manhattan promoted âRecessionista Beauty,â offering discounts on haircuts and eyebrow shaping. The use of the word recessionista is âmaking light of a situation that isnât so favorable for the consumer-driven industries of our nation, spinning it ... and delivering a luring message to the masses â PR 101 ladies and gentlemen,â wrote Heather Viggiani on the blog of a public relations firm where she works part-time, www.piercemattiepublicrelations.com. Ms. Viggiani, who is also an undergraduate student in advertising and marketing at Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan, went on to describe a ârecession chicâ movement in retail. âA host of discount brands kneel graciously at the feet of recession and position their products and services not only as the smart thing to do, but the posh one.â Grant Barrett, a lexicographer who specializes in new words and slang, said the word is being used to give Americans an excuse to buy more stuff. âItâs kind of permitting consumers to have justification for their spending habits,â he said. Mr. Barrett included ârecessionistaâ as an up-and-coming catchphrase earlier this month on his Web site, DoubleTongued.org. âThe idea is, because they are spending less or getting more value, it is still O.K. to shop,â he said in a recent phone interview. âItâs a very self-serving message.â âRecession chicâ is yet another in a long line of terms created by fashion writers who have an affinity for the suffix âchicâ: hippie chic, Seventies chic, tribal chic, military chic, geek chic, Camilla chic, rehab chic, eco chic. Back in February, the headline âRecession Chicâ topped an article in The Times of London by Lisa Armstrong, the newspaperâs fashion critic, who noted a return to tailored dressing among businesswomen. In April, the same headline accompanied a piece by Kate Betts in Time magazine that described the new somber collections of fashion designers. âCome fall, fashion will follow the downward spiral of home values and investment portfolios, as designers embrace restraint with a dark palette and severe silhouette,â Ms. Betts wrote. For recession chic to become a trend, however, the stigma of profligacy associated with shopping for clothing in an uncertain economy would have to be played down. Style.com, the Web site of Vogue magazine, has declared passÃ© the free-spending fashionista of the type lionized in âSex and the City.â In her stead, the Web site fashioned a new icon for the new austerity, a plucky heroine able to fixate on designer logos even at a time when her house might face foreclosure. Derek Blasberg wrote this summer on style.com: âYou should know that while the fashionista may have locked herself in the vault with her tiaras, her younger, hipper sister â recessionista â is at the mall finding designer threads (or diffusion designer threads) at discount prices. Look for her at Target, Uniqlo, Payless or Kohlâs, all of whom have inked deals with designers recently. Thatâs because recessionistas arenât letting a little thing like falling stock prices and rising gas bills get in the way of their wardrobe.â The nomenclature may be new. The idea of moving merchandise in a tough climate is not. A Sears catalog from 1930 at the beginning of the Great Depression offered âcoats of the new mode in the spirit of smart economyâ priced to sell at $9.75 to $25. Phrases like âbe smart and thriftyâ and âlook at the chic economyâ promoted dresses that cost $4.98 to $8.98. In the wake of the stock market crash of 1987, designers began to offer less-expensive second lines. In 1989, for example, Donna Karan introduced DKNY. Certainly, the word ârecessionistaâ has its roots in economic hardship. Finance executives first used the term to connote a person predicting a recession or a person who believes a recession would benefit the long-term health of the economy, according to lexicographers. But, over the last six months, publicists, retailers and even a few consumers have refashioned the word that rhymes with fashionista. âItâs a sound-alike word,â said Paul McFedries, the proprietor of an on-line dictionary of catch-phrases called wordspy.com, which added ârecessionistaâ to its lexicon in July. While it may seem inane to make use of a weighty word like ârecessionâ to form a playful neologism that embraces shopping, people are using it because it is fun to pronounce, he said. âIf you are a grammar pedant, you are going to lose a lot of the joy of the language.â Ms. Hall of therecessionista.blogspot.com said her friends like the word so much they have nicknamed her Recessionista. âIt is more lighthearted to say âI am the Recessionista, and I donât really go for that,â instead of saying âI canât afford that or I donât want to spend the money,â â Ms. Hall said. âThe âistaâ on the end there, it gives it a little touch of the bling, I think.â Indeed, ârecessionistaâ carries an upbeat tone that recalls an earlier credit crisis neologism: âstaycation,â a euphemism for spending oneâs vacation at home. Similar terminology â âfrugal chic,â ârecession-proof dressing,â going on a âspending fastâ â with more negative connotations has not caught on among consumers or the fashion world. Mr. McFedries said the word is a more encouraging term than phrases like âconspicuous austerityâ or âinconspicuous consumption.â Publicists âwant to come up with a word or phrase that makes things seem not as bad as they are,â Mr. McFedries said. He added: âYouâve got to put a positive spin on it because you have to get people to spend money when they donât want to on an optional purchase.â But recessionista may not be the final incarnation of a style hound on the scent of designer discounts. In the event that the economy worsens, make way for the depressionista.