Advice: When you can’t afford your friend’s high-end lifestyle

Have a problem or a question? Let Marie Antoinette solve it one Sunday during her weekly advice column. Send your questions to whatwouldmarieantoinettedo@gmail.com.

My queen,

I have a new friend and I like to spend time with her but I’m not sure I can afford it. We’ll go out for a drink or a coffee and night I think will cost me $10-$15 sometimes costs me $30-40 or more since she’ll pick expensive places, forget her credit card or insist we split the bill when we haven’t bought the equal amount. What do I do?
-Allowance for doubtful accounts

This greeting card is available at specialty shops.

My Darling,

I know just what you mean and have been in the same position — just on your friend’s side, and often linked with my hair.

I didn’t just have really big hair. I was a patron to hairdressers who specialized in really big hair, elevating the trend into an art of sorts, sanctioned by me. I let those artists practice not just in her private chambers but in their trendy Parisian shops. These incredible firsts were followed by another: French noblewomen and wealthy bourgeois women could copy trends the I set and even use my stylist.

The poufs changed women’s lives. They were incredibly tall, sometimes reaching 3 feet above the wearer’s head. Hairdressers were so booked that women took appointments the day before an important ball and slept sitting up rather than muss the artist’s creation. To sleep they’d wrap their hair in a conical bandage “which everything went under, false hair, pins, dye, grease until at last the head, thrice its right size, and throbbing, [lay] on the pillow, done up like a parcel.” To travel, women either stuck their heads out of the windows or knelt on their carriages’ floor. To ease such complications, Monsieur Beaulard, a talented hairdresser, invented a mechanical coiffure with a winch hidden in the chignon that lowered or raised the pouf. This was helpful not just for clearing doorways but for hiding the style from older court ladies who likely disapproved.

No only was it all-consuming, it was ruinous. According to the memoir of  Madame Campan, my first lady of the chamber, “Everyone immediately wanted to have the same hair dresser as the queen, to wear the plumes and garland. The young ladies’ expenses were enormously increased; mothers and husbands grumbled; a few scatterbrains contracted debts; there were scenes and coldness in several homes. And it was widely said that the queen would ruin all the French Ladies.” Women spent their dowries on ribbons and hats, threatening their very futures (they risked a proper match and the possibility that those dowries would be reinvested in the land). Some women sought out lovers to support their shopping habits.

Little did those ladies know, I could not afford the fashions either. The frequent style changes and the costs of renowned stylists was draining the crown’s coffers too. But no one knew that yet. All they understood was what they saw, firsthand:  I had encouraged the best young women of France to spend their futures on ribbon and feathers. I was a bad influence indeed, accidentally.

Give your friend what I was never given: Honesty. Tell her that you don’t have the budget to go out and that you’d like to invite her to your home for coffee. Take control of the plans, the settings and your limits. If you do go out, say at the start that you only have a limited amount of cash and be firm that you don’t split the bill. (And if she tries the I-don’t-have-my-credit-card trick again, ask her why. If she’s free and breezy, you’ll know she’s as careless with your funds as hers and can consider avoiding her.) She might not be able to handle the spending as well and not even know it. Your honesty might help her reflect on if she can or not.

What do you think? Did the queen get it right? Let her know in the comments.

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