Learning some fashion sense

The meeting held last month to discuss this week's cover story began with a forlorn co-worker lamenting that his favorite belt had broken.

He said he would need to buy a new one as the other men in the room nodded in agreement.

The four women, however, looked at us as if we were nuts.

"Why spend money when you can just return it?" one asked.

"Take it back!" another said.

This belt had some mileage on it, was nearly a year old, and had been bought at a discount store, the men argued. Return it? Impossible!

"We do it all the time," the women replied.

One spoke of a coat purchased at J. Crew over a year ago. The lining had worn out. A quick trip to the store a few weeks ago and ... voila! Instant free new coat.

Smart shoppers (er... most women?) know that various retailers, especially those who sell through catalogs, guarantee their clothing. The list includes Orvis, Eddie Bauer, LL Bean, and Lands' End. Some mention lifetime guarantees. The question is: Whose life? Often it's defined as the life of the product, and because of this ambiguity disputes may arise. (Exactly what is the lifetime of a shirt anyway?)

But Talbots doesn't quibble over semantics. Its "unconditional guarantee" says any purchase can be returned or exchanged for a refund. "No time limit. No exceptions."

Of course, since Talbots sells only women's clothing, it doesn't surprise me that we men are a bit behind on the guaranteed-clothing curve.

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