More Than $1K Worth of Clothes I’ll Never Wear Again

I’ve tried to write the first sentence of this post about a hundred times now and it’s proving very difficult; it turns out money matters are incredibly hard to talk about. I think we found a taboo, you guys! Imagine: even here, in this adult-diapered medium, there’s a last bastion of self-revelation that’s untouched. I’m just stalling now basically. Okay, (deep breath) here goes.

In 2008 I got a book advance of $200,000, of which my agent took 15% and the IRS took approximately one-fourth.  Still, that’s a lot of money, even paid out in quarters over the course of several years, and for a few months after I got that initial check—for the first time in my adult life—I mistakenly assumed that I didn’t have to keep track of how much money I was spending. Because surely this good fortune was the beginning of more good fortune to come!  

There would be foreign rights sales, audio rights sales, fat old-school magazine payments for first serial rights when the book came out, maybe a film or TV option — not to mention all the paid teaching and speaking opportunities that having written the kind of book that a publisher would pay a six-figure advance for would undoubtedly bring my way.  And then, too, there would be another payment of the same amount or more money for another book, a book I couldn’t quite imagine and hadn’t even started writing, but would definitely be able to write in a year or less after the first book came out because what was I, lazy? No, I was quick, quick like a blogger!

Without whining or belaboring, I will just say briefly that precisely zero of these rosy fantasies came to fruition. Other stuff happened, maybe better stuff in the long run, who knows. My publisher, I’m sure, did the best it could. My book did the best it could. The U.S. economy did the best it could, or something. Please don’t imagine a pathetic little violin solo here. I’m not asking for sympathy, I know I’ve been lucky. I’m just saying, if you ever find yourself in a similar position—and indeed, a few of you undoubtedly will!—here are some simple rules to follow, all of which I broke.

1. Don’t live alone in New York City unless you have a full-time, high-paying job and plans to keep it for the forseeable future!

2. Don’t pay for your own health insurance!

3. No international travel, even if your boyfriend is living abroad for a year!

4. No therapy!

5. Don’t do yoga teacher training, it is so expensive and you will never make any money as a yoga teacher!

But wait, actually, you know what?  I’m glad I violated all of those rules. My year of working on my book pretty much exclusively while sometimes flying back and forth to Moscow and going to therapy all while renting my own apartment where I could have the furniture and stuff arranged any way I liked and if there were messes they were all mine—that experience was priceless. Well, it wasn’t priceless—I know exactly how much it cost (see above).  And it sucks to have spent all that money and to be broker than a joker now.  But if I had it to do over, I wouldn’t do anything differently… except for one thing.


Owning my mistakes and ne regretteing rien is kind of my “thing,” but these garments are the exception. Some of these items were mistakes from the moment I walked up to the register. Others just wore out their welcome, or have context associated with them I can’t stomach now.

Also, I should state upfront, I have worn a thrifted button-down shirt or, in the summertime, an American Apparel t-shirt and the same pair of jeans or cutoff jean-shorts almost every single day for the past six years, so what I thought I was doing buying any of this gear is very mysterious.  Like for example:


Who doesn’t need a leather vest?  Oh wait, I know: everyone. Everyone doesn’t need a leather vest.  This is from that teenager store “LF” and it cost, oh god.  I think it cost $200.  I wasn’t hankering after a leather vest for weeks or anything either, I just saw it, tried it on, it looked good over whatever I was wearing that day or the mirror was really flattering or something, and I bought it.  Almost immediately afterwards I realized that zero of my outfits were improved by a leather vest and also this particular vest was, maybe because I bought it at a teenager store, an appropriate size for a teenager.  A small teenager. With a small ribcage. I want to keep my financial dysmorphia as separate as possible from my body dysmorphia but I will just say that it wasn’t until I saw a photo of myself wearing it—a photo taken by someone I don’t know during a panel I moderated at the Brooklyn Book Festival, which perhaps that selfsame helpful anonymous Internet person has submitted for use alongside my Wikipedia entry‚ that I realized: wearing an undersized leather vest makes a person look HELL OF LARDY.

(I know that I am not fat, but some clothing is more flattering than other clothing, and if we can’t speak frankly about that then we should just call it a day right now.)

Related: this dress. I bought it in anticipation of a holiday party, towards the end of my year of plausible potential-nonbrokeness, and I guess I wanted to send a message with it along the lines of: I can afford a nice dress.  Unfortunately the high waist of this dress bisects the broadest part of my giant ribcage and blouses out right below it.  A person with small shoulders and a tiny natural waist, aka the inverse of my body type, would look great in this dress.  “Are you sure you should be drinking that?” said someone at the holiday party, pointing to the glass of wine in my hand.  It took me a minute to realize that what she was implying wasn’t that I was drunk, but that I was pregnant.

I was not pregnant.  I never wore this dress again. It cost probably around $300.



Wool cheerleader skirt from Opening Ceremony, more than $100.  Because a wool cheerleader skirt is a totally appropriate thing for an adult to own.  “Simple Basics for Winter: A Wool Cheerleader Skirt,” Lucky magazine does not ever say. I blame this one on going shopping with rich enablers, lovely but irresponsible people who also encouraged me, during the same shopping trip, to purchase a 3.1 Philip Lim cashmere sweater-blouse that was adorable and genuinely luxurious and which I left hanging in an inadequately defended closet, the result being that it was consumed almost 100% by moths.  The moths refused to eat this skirt. We can only assume that they held it in contempt.

It’s also too small for me, but that seems besides the point.


This ethereal little number was purchased for the purpose of wearing to a good friend’s wedding, a wedding I had some trepidation about attending because my ex-boyfriend is even better friends with this good friend than I am and I was 100% sure that he would be there. He was not there. Also it was unexpectedly cold and rainy in spite of being a summertime outdoor wedding so I wore a jacket over this filmy sex-dress the whole time anyway.

Just looking at this dress now reminds me of how stupid I was to go shopping in anticipation of seeing someone I never wanted to see again. Also in retrospect it’s so obvious that this is not my style. Flowy, filmy, witchy sleeves are a perfect physical representation of the kind of girl I used to think I was, that mysterious, ringing-like-a-bell-through-the-night type. Wouldn’t you love to love her?

In a way it’s a relief to know myself better now and to know that I’m not a filmy wispy person.  However, this dress cost $250 and I will never wear it again.


I wore this objectively  awesome floral Betsey Johnson dress, a reissue of a classic Betsey style, to a lot of my book release events and readings and such. I bought it because it matches my book jacket.  I also wore it in this cute photo.   During all of those events I was nervous and I sweated a lot and now the dress, which is white, has yellow marks in the underarms that have thus far resisted all attempts at laundering (paging A Clean Person, kind of, but I’m pretty sure it’s hopeless).

Want to buy this dress? I’m pretty sure it’s historic.  I am going to say it originally cost $250 but, shudder, I think that’s actually a low-end estimate.

Why can’t I wear it again, you ask?  Uh, why can’t you wear your wedding dress again, jerk?! (Also the sweatstains.)

Oh and it made total sense to also buy the shirt version of this garment.  Sure! Why not.

Some other sundry purchases, not pictured here because I’ve already found a way to destroy or misplace them, include a pair of jeans bought at my anxious thinnest that for a hot minute I tried to alter by slitting the waistband in the back and a pair of No. 9 clogs that I had custom-made in red patent leather in a fit of amnesia about my inability to wear high-heeled shoes of any nature (I gave them away at a clothing swap). And there’s probably other stuff that, mercifully, I’m blocking.

I’m telling you about this in the hope that someone out there might be able to learn from my mistakes.  Or, if you’re a size 6 or thereabouts, you also have the option of wearing them.  Make me an offer!


Emily Gould would just like to point out that $200K is not very much money at all when you think about, for example, what some publisher paid for sTORItelling. Top Photo Credit: flickr/fullyreclined


61 Comments / Post A Comment

Cat Ballou (#231)

Let’s be clear though, that Betsey Johnson dress is legit.

rzokeefe (#235)

@Cat Ballou yes! that dress is great and was worn way more than once.

@Cat Ballou Mad. Cute.

Not that your ultimate choice was bad, but the first sentence of your second paragraph would also have been a perfectly fine first sentence, period.

so you’re not fat or poor, you just feel fat and poor.

@fletchermurdock Oh she’s poor (now), I’ve seen her apartment.

@Choire Sicha@facebook THANK you

Jolie Kerr (#233)

Bluing and/or OxiClean for the yellowed areas.


Jolie Kerr (#233)


sox (#246)

@Jolie Kerr Did you also say to soak in vinegar for a while? I’ve been meaning to do that ever since…

BellTolls (#236)

Funny piece. Reminded me that during royalty check days of heaven I bought an Hermes tie in Paris. I really liked it and didn’t mind how much it cost because book money is not real money and French money is all colorful and pretty so it is not real money either. Then there were less cheery days. Oh, how I wish I had that money I spent on that Hermes tie! I could have paid rent! Then after many years the tie began to fall apart (it had jockeys and horses on it and I have never seen that design again.) Then other stuff happened. Now, I wish I had my Hermes tie.

I could do a similar thing about all the I spent my not-$200k advance on. I still have regretful thoughts of that breakfast burrito I threw away after one bite because the avocado was a little stringy.

jfruh (#161)

even paid out in quarters over the course of several years

Hmm, this is an intriguing bit of information! Is this standard operating procedures for book advances, or book advances above a certain amount? Is it for your advantage (i.e., puts you in a more reasonably tax bracket than $200K as a lump would) or theirs (i.e., they don’t have $200K just lying around that they can give to authors)? Are there any circumstances when they’d say “Hmm, you know what, you’re not getting the last portion of this advance, sorry”?

(Also I know “paid out in quarters” means “paid every three months” but it does produce the hilarious vision of some guy showing up at your apartment with a bucketfull of quarters every day until you have 800,000 quarters in a Scrooge McDuck-style pile.)

@jfruh The majority of book advances are paid at least in two installments, more likely in three or even four. Mine was in thirds: on signing, on acceptance and on publication. That is fairly par for the course. So you know, getting paid that money over the course of, oh, FOUR YEARS is wonderful and all but it is like less interesting than getting one big check, instead you think, “okay yay, this paid me a barista salary for four years and I didn’t even have to make any coffee (yet).”

melis (#42)

@jfruh One other reason we do it (aside from the fact that every time publishers have to scrape carbuncles and gold leaf from our Cash Mines we bleed out of our eyeballs) is to have a bargaining tool if an author stops submitting material regularly. This happens not infrequently!

“So, how are those last three chapters coming along? I’m only asking because the deadline we agreed on in your contract is next week and I haven’t heard from you after my last three messages.”

“Oh, that date won’t possibly work for me now.”

“Really? Because we have based our entire revenue projection and marketing push around these dates. So. Ahh.”

“Well it just doesn’t feel right anymore.”

“We can stop giving you money, you know.”


Not that any of you would ever do that!!!

@melis As a lowly production editor, can I just say that we appreciate your threats.

melis (#42)

@Clouds in My Coffee Oh, I’m not a full editor. I’m not un-lowly myself; I just see how the sausage gets made. Do not make the mistake of thinking I’m important.

jfruh (#161)

@melis This is good to know! I think I actually assumed that “advance” meant “in advance of publication” and that really you had to have turned the whole thing in more or less before you saw anything. I mean, can you even sell a book that doesn’t exist yet, in the real world? I guess if you’re a known quantity you can? Or maybe you’re talking about revised chapters. Anyway, the system in that sense is more generous than I imagined it, is what I’m trying to say.

melis (#42)

@jfruh That is a (arguably, if you are not me) tremendously interesting question, actually! I’m sure it varies depending on what branch of publishing you’re in – I work for an organization that publishes in the academic/social sciences market, so our practices can differ from trade’s in loads of ways, probably. Depending upon the author and the project, we may sign someone who’s developed a proposal and four chapters or someone with a full manuscript. However, since they’re going to go through (multiple, probably) rounds of edits, our production schedule still depends upon the author submitting final pages to us with their approval of the changes/modifications.

Depending on how much coaching we feel like the author needs (usually if it’s their first title the answer is lots!) we may put him/her through several passes. During each pass it becomes likelier that the author will encounter setbacks like family illnesses, complications at their day job if they have one, _________, so there are plenty of opportunities for them to fall behind schedule. AND THAT IS MORE THAN YOU WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT PUBLISHING, courtesy of me.

melis (#42)

We can’t edit Billfold comments! Oh God, could I be wordier today. But yes, the point is this: the staggered distribution of the advance is generally a safeguard in case the relationship falls apart/the author dies/the author has a mental breakdown and disappears forever (this has happened! to a book that was almost ready to go to the printer [“the printer”]), not a way to make them dance for our enjoyment.

Mike Dang (#2)

@melis This should be fixed!

Ellen Horan (#303)

@jfruh I got a once million advance forr two books spread out over ten years. First book was complete on signing. This happened in July ’08 just minutes before the collapse of western civilization. I am pretty certain I was the last fiction writer out of the gate w/ that kind of advance. new york rent takes up nearly half annual. Then taxes , agent As my accountant said; it’s a living wage. Mighty grateful – for that –as I know many who lost employment, homes etc.

@Ellen Horan Oh, so you are THE Ellen Horan. Interesting who you bump into around the Internet.

LOL and OF COURSE it’s in their advantage. :)

Oh boy. I have a Real Job now and every time I buy an article of clothing that is more than I would usually spend (like $80 on a windbreaker yesterday…it’s really cute though & I didn’t have one), I worry that it will end up in a list like these three years down the road. Oh, money…

This is such good advice. I love it. I think anyone who lives in NYC discovers, regardless of how you come across the money that somehow the more you make, the poorer you become.

neener (#242)

the problem with stuff like this is that you (i.e., me) end up giving yourself (myself) “bonus points” for all of the worthless clothes/nail polish that i don’t buy. for example, i’m now kind of patting myself on the back for having never bought a $200 leather vest. and that gratuitous back-patting will probably make me more likely to splurge on something similarly trifling and unnecessary. is there a way out of this self-congratulatory, self-defeating brain trap?!

Oh, God, Emily! At least your ill-advised clothing is mostly cute and fungible? What if you’d spent $200K on crack? Ask Bill Clegg!

ejcsanfran (#248)

@Nicole Cliffe@facebook: Or James Frey! Oh, wait – no, never mind, don’t bother asking him.

@Nicole Cliffe@facebook Man, imagine the clothes one could buy with Bill Clegg’s advance

I have a giant ribcage too! Everyone thinks I’m weird or am trying to draw attention to my boobs! I thought it was just me! And yes, it is SO hard to find flattering clothes.

ThatWench (#269)

@Courteney Nielsen@facebook Also with the ribcage! Although now it comes with giant boobs and some bonus subcutaneous fat. So, it’s harder to blame {poop} on the ribcage anymore.

But I really logged in to say: everyone looks prego in a maxi dress! I’m the really, really tall-type person that should be able to rock them, and everyone says they look good, but I think I look super-prego. Because everyone looks super-prego in an empire waist.

@Courteney Nielsen@facebook Ribcage aside, Emily Gould has a great face. Classic-looking. Gorgeous!

teenie (#243)

i have a friend (no really, i really do have a friend) who struggles similarly when she gets her financial aid checks for her ivy league graduate school she is attending, but somewhat half-heartedly, and may get kicked out of soon. she runs out of her money more than a month before her next check comes, and her overdue papers mean that she’s had to do some quick talking in order to get the next check. it’s like a drug fix. no idea how to help her with this one.

I have this swishy blue thing I call my Regret Dress because it cost $$$ and I haven’t ever worn it out of the house. Someday I will wear it outside, I fully expect immediate bird shit.

staircases (#244)

As a witch with many ex-lovers and friends getting married, I love both the purple and navy blue dresses. However, witching doesn’t pay so wel these days. I am currently unable to offer you more than $20 and a talking cat for either.

I can’t be the only one that relates to this enough to want to be reminded of it in a regular feature.

Megano! (#124)

I dunno if I would feel too bad, if someone gave me $200,000 I would not be responsible with it either.
P.S. You can probably sell a lot of that on eBay or Kijiji, especially the designer stuff. I don’t know if this site is American, but you can sell stuff here as well:

Mirch (#228)

I suggest you teach a yoga class wearing the leather vest. “Biker chick yoga instructor.”

sox (#246)

What is it, exactly, with clothing? I tried on a dress at a J Crew outlet a couple weeks ago and it was the wrong size but I was pining over it, so I tracked it down online and have been contemplating buying it for my birthday…but then I’ve wanted/needed a nice digital SLR for oh, 5 years or so? “But they are so expensive I can’t afford one!”
Unless I stop buying stupid dresses. Then I can afford one! Perfect timing on this, Emily!

I’m puzzling over a word problem. If Emily got $200K for ATHSW, how much of the $16 I paid for my copy did she receive? All of it, I suppose, if it sold less than 15,000 copies (assuming discounting and kindle pricing). Maybe $4 if it sold 50,000 copies. Or none of it, if this a social security type Ponzi scheme. I’m estimating one tall cup of coffee!

@Notandersoncooper if my book ever sells enough copies to earn out that advance, I’ll start getting royalties. It could happen, I guess! Life is long.

punkahontas (#249)

I honestly feel like 1K out of 200K on clothes is pretty responsible, it’s just that there were some bad choices in there. Aren’t there ALWAYS bad choices though?

hammitt (#258)

I recently came into some money – not even a 10th this much, in fact, not even close to a 10th this much, but still legitimately more than half my annual income (I am a grad student – that’s really not saying much) and I did something very, very similar. In fact, thinking about it makes me a little sick because it was SO STUPID.

Mine is online, you see. I got this… thing, during my comps, where I would stress buy. I legitimately stress bought WHILE TAKING A COMPREHENSIVE EXAM. In between paragraphs about the applicability of separate spheres ideology to the mid-19th century working class I literally went online, and bought $200 of clothing.

Now, this wasn’t (at first) actually a problem – I only bought returnable things. But then, in some weird self-destructive fit of stress, I let the return period expire. On, like, a *lot* of things. A key reminder here is that I AM A GRAD STUDENT and my annual income is, well, small. I cannot afford to do what I did. And now I have a knit skirt, and these high waisted pants, and a pair of converse, and THREE PAIRS of tweed hotpants and also this blackless dress that I cannot return. They sit in my room, and they haunt me. I think, together, they must cost at least $400, and there’s nothing I can do about them. They’re not flattering. The shoes don’t even fit. The pants are actually one of two pairs of THE SAME PANTS that I bought (one pair fits, its kind of rad, when I last wore them teach someone mistook me for an architect which is pretty much the perfect compliment for me.)

I don’t know why we do it. At all. And I don’t, honestly, know what I expected to get from telling that story. Catharsis? I have admitted this to precisely no one. Not family or boyfriend or friends. Even roommate is kind of in the dark (I hid these things so he would not know that I hadn’t returned them). So instead, I will tell you, strangers: beware of this shit. We are all stupider people than we think we are. And I have boxes hidden under my bed to prove it.

(It is also actually difficult for me not to put in an offer on that leather vest, but given the above story, we can all agree that its for the best that I don’t.

jfruh (#161)

@hammitt eBay is a good place to sell used clothes, for real! Especially if they’re like new! All is not lost.

hammitt (#258)

@jfruh Thanks! I keep meaning to do that. It may be apathy rather than spending that’s my biggest problem? I also have dreams of a HUGE garage sale in which I sell pretty much everything I own, since I am up and moving anyway soon and it seems like that might feel cathartic. But also might be a really bad economic choice…

ThatWench (#269)

@hammitt If you live in a city big enough to have “oooh, so trendy-retro” consignment stores, might that be an option? I have no idea what they buy, and I’m sure they don’t pay well for what they buy, but I imagine it would at least be better than garage sale prices (and less work).

I am also a person who much prefers shopping online but hates doing online returns, or ebay, and therefore literally still owns pairs of pants she bought online four years ago that never fit.

I would totally wear that leather vest at least once a week. Probably even in the summer

Also, if I got a 200k advance, I would buy that 1000+ dollar Rick Owens jacket that I’ve obsessed over for approximately 5 years in a heartbeat. And then wear the shit out of it

I was the recipient of the red patent leather clogs. I never wore them and eventually gave them to Goodwill. So, now you all know!

plumb-bob (#263)

Clothes shopping is scary and hard! Decisions need to made under pressure! The only way I can get out there and do it is to accept that occasionally I will make an error of judgement and buy something ridiculous. It’s inevitable.

Currently hanging in my wardrobe is a pink and cream striped military-style jacket with big pleated flares around the waist and cuffs. I bought this years ago and have worn it once, to a party where I was dressed as a pirate. (I can’t bring myself to get rid of it either because what if i need to dress up as a pirate again some day?)

Dude I legit want that dress. It is fantastic.

…also this is exactly what happened to me when I was briefly rich, only I lived at the beach, and instead of a leather vest, it was a lambswool one. And a rabbit fur one. And some $490 on on clearance Ralph Lauren canvas jeans that I do not think I will ever be able to wear again because they are actually smaller than my hips. I have no idea how I got them on in the first place, much less convinced myself that they fit. Alas.

Bonnie (#284)

Just after my (so much smaller) book advance, I also decided to shop for clothes. I read about a futuristic machine at the Levi’s store that would exactly match jeans to your body, so I headed to SoHo.

I stood in the middle of the store, in a glass encasement, with sandbags on my shoulders (…?) while other shoppers stared. Then I got a printout listing four specific cuts of jeans that would be exactly right for me, and the sizes I needed. A salesperson found them all for me and got me a dressing room. The jeans all really did fit well, but I only liked the style of one pair. They happened to be the most expensive pair of jeans in the store. And I bought them. $175. At the LEVI’S STORE.

They were fine. I wore them a lot. Let’s face it, there was always something weird about the zipper.

I don’t blame you about regretting purchases for things you used only once. Been there. Got the t-shirt. Had to donate it to Goodwill when I moved to smaller, more affordable digs. But that flower-print dress really works on you. Your figure is fine. Do regret the unnecessary purchases, and keep learning from that, but you rock that flower dress. Pax.

jeanhannah (#316)

Oh man, this describes my 2008, except my advance was much much smaller. Still, I managed to buy, among other hilarious things, an amazing and deeply strange ten-day vacation in The Gambia. Anyway, the bit about having a full-time job that pays your bills even if you think you are about to become a famous author is so important. I wish that more people would say this instead of pretending that they live off their book income. Because as I learned when I worked for a lit agency (but didn’t, uh, learn well enough not to try it myself), almost no one does!

I bought a $52 tie right after I got my current job (a yr ago), my first paycheck after many months. I haven’t worn it yet! I mostly buy $10-25 ties – i.e., $52 is WAY more than I typically spend. Oh, and I wear a tie like twice a month. Max.

Ms Taurus (#336)

ANY Betsy Johnson dress is a treasure! For perspiration stain removal, baking soda is great on natural fabrics – see for more suggestions

ennaenirehtac (#199)

I am starting to really enjoy the Billfold. This article was cautionary, yet comforting. Also, a good reminder that IT’S NEVER WORTH IT.

Yes/No (#5,277)

Nothing ruins a great article more than finishing a sentence with: you guys! Arrh. That and the term ‘grown-ass’ in reference to an adult woman are the main 2 reasons I stopped reading XOJane. I like it here – please don’t force me to leave, you guys! I’ve annoyed myself now.

Lex (#5,657)

I’m sorry, that Betsey Johnson dress is hideous. It looks like some old lady’s table cloth or curtain drapes was used to make it into dress. I’m sincerely glad that you plan to never wear it again.

Abigail (#6,223)

So looking at the flip side, what do these companies do with all the leftover clothing they can’t sell? Obviously the outlet stores get some of it, but I don’t know how many leather vests they can sell at discount prices. It would be nice if more companies gave them away to charity, or schools or Goodwill and the Salvation Army. My son is in high school and we don’t have much money, but the clothing company that does their senior year hoodies donated a bunch of varsity jackets that were left from a previous order that another school never completed. I hate to see waste, but love to see it when companies give back to the community. So I hope you donated these items too… I’m sure there is an underprivileged homeless person somewhere that would happily take that leather vest! ;)

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