About a month ago, I went to the mall in search of a few of the items on my shopping priorities list. Since I was looking for very specific things, I probably walked into and out of close to half of the stores in the mall. During the process, I observed many other shoppers and later jotted down a few notes to potentially explore in a future post. When I shopped again this past weekend, I was reminded of my impressions from the June excursion.
In today’s post, I write from the perspective of a recovering shopaholic who has emerged enough from my compulsion to see it in a different light. While it’s true that I am not yet completely recovered (that may take a while…), I am sometimes able to view the folly that shopping can be with the wise eyes of an outside observer. It is my hope that my observations will be helpful to you and will provoke both deep thoughts, as well as lively discussion for those who wish to chime in!
Allow Me to Set the Stage
Back to my June shopping trip… It was a weekday evening and the stores were bustling but not jam-packed. Most of my fellow shoppers were women and many of them were in my age range (for lack of a more flattering term, middle-aged). Most were dressed in ultra-casual San Diego attire, some of which could be referred to as sloppy or even frumpy. While it’s common for some women to dress up to go shopping in these parts, it was a hot evening and the garb du jour was mostly very dressed down.
A lot of these women looked lost. I doubt that most of them had a defined purpose for their shopping trips like I did on that particular evening. Many of them seemed like they were rushed and frantic, but I still got the impression they weren’t exactly certain as to the objectives of their excursions.
The popular destination in almost all of the stores was the sale section, usually positioned in the back of the establishment. I noticed many women make a beeline to those racks and rifle through them feverishly, hoping to snag a great deal on something they didn’t know they needed until it was smack dab in front of them. As I glanced at the garments these shoppers were carrying, there didn’t seem to be much rhyme or reason among them. I wondered if any of the items were pre-determined needs or if the low prices propelled them to gather up pieces to buy “just in case.”
Where’s the Outrage at the “Sea of Sameness”?
One thing that I noticed was the virtual sameness of much of the merchandise on offer. If what you wanted was a pair of ankle pants or some skinny jeans, you were in luck. Likewise, if a crop top or a boxy blouse was the prize for which you searched. But if you happened to desire a fitted top or a looser pair of pants, tough luck! I’ve written about the “sea of sameness” of the retail landscape before, so I won’t belabor that issue too much here. But there is a point I’d like to make in line with that.
I mentioned that many of the shoppers were in my age range. My impression in many stores was that the clothing for sale was geared more to a younger demographic. Even the so-called “older ladies stores” (i.e. Chico’s, J.Jill, etc.) seemed to carry the same styles and silhouettes as the shops known for catering to the millennial generation. Yet, no one seemed upset or outraged at this fact. They just scooped up what was there. A few questions popped into my head:
- Am I such a big “fuddy-duddy” in that I don’t want to dress like a twenty year-old?
- Do all other women my age want to outfit themselves in trendy duds, even if the current styles are not flattering on their body types?
- Is looking young and hip of primary importance to most “women of a certain age”?
- Is getting a good deal more important than buying something one will actually love and wear?
I don’t know the answers to these questions. I may just be a hopeless fuddy-duddy, but I wasn’t enamored with most of the clothes on offer and I seemed to be in the minority. I saw many women fawning over what seemed to be low quality, unattractive garments on the sales racks. They snapped them up and clutched on to them like Gollum held on to his “precious” golden ring. I thought, “meh,” but others clearly didn’t share my views.
Will Those “Great Deals” Ever Be Worn?
I can’t help but wonder if the women I saw will ever wear the pieces they had to have that night because “the price was right.” Are many of those garments still hanging in their closets with the marked-down sales tags still attached? Did they forget about their new clothes soon after they left the store, shopping bags in hand?
Were they really searching for clothing that evening, or was their actual target something else entirely? Were the clothes merely stand-ins for positive feelings they wished to have, such as excitement, passion, love, and acceptance?
The Continuum of Shopping Behavior
It may sound like I’m being overly judgmental toward my fellow shoppers, and perhaps I am. But the truth is that I know and understand their behavior all too well. Not long ago, I was a charter member of their sorority, after all. I’m not saying all of the women I saw were shopaholics. I’m sure some of them were, but many of them likely were not. What I am saying is that there is a continuum of shopping behavior on which “shopaholism” is at one far end, but there are many shades of disordered buying in between that extreme and the relatively rare phenomenon that is conscious shopping.
You see, I think most women (and many men) exhibit at least some signs of dysfunctional shopping behavior. Think about it… Do most of the women you know shop with a list and only buy what’s on that list? Do most of them only buy things on sale that they would purchase at full price? Do they only buy things they love, or do they purchase items they don’t even really like simply because a sales associate tells them it’s the latest, hot trend? Do they shop because they had a bad day and needed a little “pick-me-up”? Or do they pick up a new garment or accessory as a “reward” for putting in long hours at the office?
I’d venture to guess that most of the women we know do at least some of those things (and yes, I’m not yet immune to such behaviors, either). It’s quite normal in our society (not just the U.S., but in many countries around the world) to get caught up in the folly of it all. Sure, the deaths by trampling on Black Friday may be the outliers, but many people get crazed over sales and the promise of great deals. Many people settle for second-best simply because the price is right and/or they weren’t able to find what they truly want or need right away. Immediate gratification generally trumps long-term satisfaction for most people.
Where Does It All Get Us?
But where does all this mania over sales, low prices, trends, looking young, and the like get us? Does any of it really make us happy or lead to the long-term feeling states we wish to achieve? As someone who shopped compulsively for over 30 years (and still sometimes does), I can unequivocally state that it’s never made me happy. Sure, I may have felt a sense of calm, satisfaction, and success for a short time, but then the inner unrest fired up again. So I shopped again, and again, only to accumulate credit card debt and an overstuffed closet but very little inner peace.
Self-love, joy, acceptance, satisfaction, and all other good feelings cannot be found in a store and cannot be purchased with a credit card. I’m not saying it’s bad or wrong to love fashion and clothes or to want to look attractive and stylish. I’m just saying that it won’t get us everything we want and it won’t quiet the inner unrest that dwells in so many of us.
Clothing and style can be fun and can help us make a good first impression. They can even help to enhance our self-confidence, but they won’t get us all the way there. If we feel dissatisfied with ourselves or our lives, new clothes won’t make everything better for us. And if we continually shop with a short-term view, we’ll only end up with a bloated, uninspired, and overwhelming wardrobe that doesn’t meet our needs.
The Bottom Line
I wasn’t sure where I was going with this post when I sat down to write it. I had a few points I wanted to make, but I didn’t expect to take the detours I took in the process. Before I close, I want to clarify that I can’t possibly know what was going on in the minds and lives of my fellow shoppers. It’s quite possible that I took some overreaching jumps and made some unrealistic assumptions about their motivations and results. That’s really immaterial, as I likely won’t see any of those people again and probably wouldn’t recognize them even if I did.
The main point I wanted to make with this post is that shopping is not the universal panacea that many of us have tried to make it. It won’t make our lives better, it won’t make us feel more loved, it won’t turn back the hands of time, and it won’t assuage our loneliness, fear, pain, or regret. Finding a great deal on clothes we didn’t know we even needed doesn’t make us successful. That one stings a bit, as I infused such meaning into my shopping for a long time. I felt like such an absolute failure in life that being a good shopper was kind of my consolation price. I felt a rush of success for a short period of time, only to plunge into deeper despair when I still didn’t feel stylish, beautiful, or accomplished as a result of my latest acquisitions.
I don’t wish to demonize shopping or those who enjoy it. Heck, I will probably always enjoy it at least to some degree. But I no longer wish to kid myself, and I can’t even do it anymore. I still venture out to shop, but I mostly just feel hollow inside when I browse through the shops these days. I know that what I most desire cannot be found at the mall. I’m not exactly sure where I can acquire my deepest wishes, but I have to admit that some of them I already possess but was too stubborn and distracted to see for far too long.
I will close with a quote from a pillbox given to me by my mother a few years ago. The pill box broke, but I keep the cover in my jewelry box so I can take in its message every day:
Joy is not in things; it is in us.”
It’s always been there and it’s up to us to find and express it. I still have a fairly full closet and my life isn’t nearly as full as I would like it to be, but my journey is far from over. Recognizing the folly of it all in shopping won’t get me where I want to be, but it’s an important step along the road to a more joyous and fulfilling life – for me and for you!
Oh, I think this wonderful! I think being able to walk through a crowd of people shopping the sales and feeling empty and meh is a sign that you’re well on the road to recovery! 🙂
I have exactly the same feeling when I’m in the mall. I’ve never had a problem with shopping, but I remember the feelings of frenzy and anticipation and disassociation (or was it flow?) that shopping used to create. Lately I find that it just leaves me feeling very disappointed and unfulfilled. I can’t understand why anyone would want to buy some of the crap that’s on the racks and even though I see lots of people looking great out and about I can’t figure out where they shop because everything in the stores looks horrible. (I think that we add in a lot more feelings to clothing seen on a body than on a rack – the person’s overall demeanor, their whole look, their attitude and inherent beauty – which might explain why things look good in sales catalogs but horrible in person). I don’t want to dress like everybody else – I want to find clothes that look great on me and make me feel like myself, but on the rare occasion I do find them it’s usually second hand.
Being able to stand apart from the frenzy is such a breakthrough because, let’s face it, stores are very carefully designed to suck you into their vortex of shopping, to slow you down and convince you to touch the garments (something which backfires on me now because I know what CHEAP feels like and it makes me feel revolting when I touch nasty polyester junk) and imagine yourself looking as amazing as their models. I think a lot of people go into a kind of trance, a zombie state, when they shop, and it’s what the stores want (do you see any windows, or any clocks, in stores? Never! You don’t want to remind shoppers that there is a real world outside and that time is passing, their lives ticking away as they scan the racks…)
Marketing is extremely powerful and it works. To be able to see through it, even if only occasionally, means you are retraining your brain. Soon the thought of shopping for comfort will be gone – shopping may even become a chore and a bore – something that might be a little sad to some people. But letting go of the frenzied need to get one more perfect thing, one more amazing bargain, is such a relief. Hopefully you will find comfort and fullness and satisfaction in other things that enrich your life.
I’m going to have a good read through your post about having a full life. I’m in the process of writing a blog post about story and finding meaningfulness in your life. I have long felt a little empty, a little unsatisfied, like I’m not living up to my potential, so I’d like to think more on that. Victor Frankl’s work on what makes life worth living and meaningful has a lot to offer. I think it could go some way towards explaining why some hobbies and jobs feel worthwhile and others feel empty. Shopping definitely doesn’t qualify as a meaningful pursuit, not on any of his criteria.
I love your comments, Joanna! I see people who look great, too, and wonder where they got their clothes, but you’re right that their attitude and demeanor probably have a lot to do with it. I do feel like shopping is a chore and a bore sometimes, especially when it’s so difficult for me to find what I’m looking for. I know that’s a sign of recovery, but I still have a long way to go because I shopped too much at NAS. I think it’s good not to get “cocky” like “I’ve got this” because that’s just when a relapse might occur for those of us who overshop!
Interesting that you mentioned Victor Frankl. I read “Man’s Search for Meaning” a few years ago and was profoundly touched by it. Perhaps I should read it again, but so much of it is just so gut-wrenching that I don’t know if I could take it. But the overall messages are incredibly powerful. You’re right that shopping is not a meaningful pursuit. It can be very compelling and time-consuming, but it’s never really given me the type of fulfillment I ultimately want.
I just got home for a trip to the city. Living in a small town with limited shopping, I often have to drive an hour for the “mall experience.” I felt many of the same things you describe. Women going through the jammed clearance racks and carrying piles to the dressing rooms.
I went to get a casual red jacket to replace a worn one. I grabbed several other things to try on which weren’t on my list. I tried on the jacket, which fit and was exactly what I was looking for! I looked at the other stuff I had brought in the dressing room. I quickly grabbed the jacket that I went after and hung everything else back up without trying them on. I felt so good. I had stuck to my list and hadn’t gotten sucked in.
Thanks for providing a place to share my small but significant triumph.
That’s great Anne! I also live over an hour from a mall so I know how hard it can be to just get the one thing that you came for without browsing.
Bravo for you, Anne! How great that you didn’t even try the other items on! I think you definitely made a significant triumph and I salute you. I hope you will enjoy your new red jacket. I’ve been making an effort to ONLY try on the items on my list, too. I don’t always stick to that, but I’m doing it more and more. Best not to tempt ourselves and to just stick to our plan – like you did!
I love the Gollum reference! I think the next time I’m in a store I’ll have to grab an armful of clothes, hunch over, and hiss to some poor unsuspecting soul ” We WANTS the precious, It’s OURS, my precious…”
It sounds to me like you’re falling out of love with shopping. I’m not as enamored with it anymore either. It’s fun the few times a year that I go with a friend or my mom and sister, but that’s more of a social thing than a buying thing. My problem has been online shopping. There is much more selection and it’s easy. Something I’ve noticed is I keep seeing things that I would have bought before. So I know I’m making progress by not considering them now. I do have a list and a plan. I hope to do better sticking to it the second half of this year.
Yes, Gollum just popped into my head and I felt it was so perfect! I think he will likely pop into my head a lot when I shop in the future 🙂 You’re right that I am falling out of love with shopping. I still do it (and I did it FAR too much in July), but it doesn’t “do it” for me like it used to. I’ve been struggling more with online shopping, too. I’ve been doing it because it’s easier to find what I’m looking for, but I often have to order too many things in order to get a small number of what I need. That makes the accounting difficult and can lead to overall spending, even with the many returns. There is good and bad to both online and in person shopping and we have to be careful of our tendency to overshop in both instances.
I know this feeling. Especially since NAS is on going right now. I would be one of those people snatching up everything that was in sight and fit me for ‘just in case’ because it is on sale right now. And I’d end up with a disjointed wardrobe for the season. This year, I clutched my shopping list tightly as I perused the store and even though I was surrounded by sale items, the thrill was gone. It was just another item to evaluate if it fit my needs for my wardrobe. A very different shopping experience. I still tried on items not on my shopping list, but not as many as I have in the past. And the items I did try still would have fit in my core wardrobe colors, instead of just random items that ‘caught my eye.’
Our experiences have been quite similar, Lisa. It may be less fun to shop the way we’re doing it now, but it will serve us better in the long run. I still see things that catch my eye, but then my next thought is usually, “You don’t need that” or “You already have something like that” or a variation thereof. It feels good to become more conscious during the whole experience!
I certainly let myself try on items that caught my eye, because I was looking for a wildcard item, which means it would be something unexpected. And then I realized my wildcard item, did have to fit with some of my wardrobe goals (say pair well with my core color) otherwise I’d have a wildcard that also stands out so much it becomes an orphan.
Good strategy! I do think it’s good to allow for some element of the unexpected in our shopping, but if we don’t have any standards for such items, you’re right in that they often achieve the dreaded orphan status. I’ve made that mistake too many times in the past, but now I won’t buy things unless I already have things to wear them with (and places to wear them!).
I have followed your posts for some time now, and am grateful that you and others have shared their heartfelt stories, so that I could learn and benefit from them. For that reason, I offer something that I have been doing that both helps me tremendously, but more importantly, keeps me moving forward in my recovery.
I have loved fashion since I was a little girl. My Mother worked in the business, and was very successful at her job. She and I shared this love, and it hsa a special meaning to me. Just because I became a shopaholic , doesn’t mean I want to give up that love of fashion – just learn to control it and turn it into a positive.
So I have started to take lots of pics – usually on my iPad mini – of fashion that I love. Sometimes I capture from things I see online (easy to do with just a few clicks). And then I create folders called “Next to get” or “Wishlist for later” or “find the best one”….you get the picture (pun intended!)
Then I reflect on them…if I see a good sale on something that I know I need (based on my new management of my wardrobe), I take my time to find the best deal.
Before I purchase, I have already made determinations of whether it is a part of my wardrobe management or not, how it is made, what materials it is made from, about the company, etc.
So what I have done is make it a fun journey, wihtout abandoning my original passion for fashion and clothing, yet I keep it “under control” through the channels that I set up for myself.
Hope this all makes sense…I always believe in making a positive of a negative! Blessings to all who struggle with this! hugs
Thanks so much for sharing your process, Sheri. I really appreciate it and will take your tips to heart. I am a very visual person, too, so I think your method could work well for me. I don’t want to completely give up my passion for clothing and shopping, but I think I’m having to go a bit too far in the other direction before I can come to a happy medium that will serve me long-term. I love that you have been making a positive out of a negative – good for you!
Regarding your question of “where is the outrage” at the lack of quality items in a range of styles: what would you have women do? I absolutely agree that there is a whole lot of crap merchandise out there – and I do everything I can to find clothes that flatter, will last, and make sense in my wardrobe – and it ain’t easy. But to look at women who have come to the mall and see them trying on what is available, then ask them why they aren’t angry seems a bit off to me. They are doing the best they can in their environment to find appropriate clothes for their lives. Aside from starting their own clothing company, what should they do to show their outrage? They could join the sea of fashion blogs and write about the lack of suitable options, then what?
Now I see how much pressure Debbie is under when publishing her thoughts. What you said is valid from your standpoint but that is not even the point of this article. Debbie has already been very tactful in her wording, but there will always be something to nitpicking.
Thanks, Iris, for what you said. Perhaps “outrage” was too strong of a word to use. I DO measure my words pretty carefully, but I’m certainly not perfect in conveying my thoughts. Perhaps some of the women I see ARE angry but just don’t know what to do. Dottie has given some good suggestions in her comment below and it would be great if more of us would voice our displeasure. It will likely take a while for change to register, but it would feel good to be doing something in the right direction.
I just want to echo Iris a little – I think there’s such a valid point that when all of our clothes are mass-made by machines, it feeds into a very (VERY) narrow of options and marginalizes individual styles and anything beyond the most straight and narrow body types (oh, you have curves there? Sorry, we don’t make clothes for you). Men’s bodies vary, too, but not like women’s do, and if you’re sporting curves in places where clothes don’t often accommodate them and trying to look current but not trendy, it can get very frustrating to shop in mass-market stores. Unfortunately, most of the outrage is legitimate, and there, but turned inward such that the shopper loathes themselves rather than the lack of meaningful options available to help them feel attractive and appropriate. A lot of mindless shopping is probably born out of acceptance of the futility combined with the the hope that “these pants will be different”.
Options *are* hard. I think voting with our dollars is one of the best things any of us can do on a micro scale, because if enough of us do it, it can have macro implications. Find the clothing that best fits your body and your ethos and spend your money there.
Here, here, Rebecca! I do think men have it easier with shopping. Off the rack clothes fit my husband a lot better than they fit me. I know it’s hard for manufacturers to factor in all of the various female body types, but there are some seasons when I feel there are virtually NO good options for some of our figures. You point about turning the outrage inward is so right on, and I do think that is a big driver of overshopping. I know that I continue to search and search for options that will work for me, but I often end up continually frustrated with certain types of garments (especially pants). You’re right that we need to vote with our dollars. That may mean sitting out certain trends and making do with what we have for a while. That can be challenging, but we won’t see changes if we keep buying things that we don’t really love and which don’t truly meet our needs.
I write from my experience on the other side of the retail counter — the person who works in retail. I see a lot of women struggle with the same issues — the sameness, the cookie-cutter clothes that may/may not work for the “mature” woman or even a younger woman who works in a conservative field (law, accounting, etc.), the declining quality, etc. First, ask the sales person if there is a way to register a complaint (don’t try to do this in the middle of a sale or the holiday rush). In many stores there is a way the sales person can capture your concerns — if not, ask to speak to the area manager or general (store) manager. It is possible to effect some changes. In my store, we started carrying year-round a greater variety of dresses with sleeves — an amazing breakthrough given the trend for sleeveless dresses. And all because of shopper feedback! Also seek out a greater variety of brands and designers that offer clothes you want to wear. They are out there — generally on-line. Or find a seamstress/tailor who can make a few key garments that reflect your taste and clothing personality. This may require a greater up-front investment, but then you have a unique garment that will fit you like a dream and will serve you well for years. I always ask well-dressed women who wear clothes in my style (classically feminine) where they purchased whatever caught my eye . The answers are often surprising. It’s not an easy task to change a multi-billion dollar industry that has largely moved off-shore. BUT there are ways to find a path through the forest of shoddy and sameness and sleeveless dresses if you are willing to work at it and not just head to the mall for a quick solution. I don’t buy very much these days but when I do, it is the result of a lot of research, analysis, thoughtful planning, and restraint (not shopping for “stuff” I really don’t need). And lastly, take back anything that fails — shrinks or fades after washing according to the care label, unravels, splits at the seam, etc. Don’t accept shoddy!!!
Thanks for providing your insights from the other side of the retail counter, Dottie. I appreciate the suggestions you offered and I hope some people will take them to heart. I have registered my complaints on numerous occasions, but I often feel like the person I told won’t do anything about it. I think speaking to an area or store manager is a better idea, as they are often more invested in the situation and will pay more than just lip service to the complaint. I definitely think that people should return shoddy items even to stores with bad return policies. Often they will still take the items back if you explain the situation and speak to a manager. I agree that we should NOT accept shoddy – ever!
The managers where I work are very accessible and really want feedback from customers. I worry that even their concerns carried up through the corporate chain of command may get loss. BUT if we don’t speak up then we tacitly accept the stuff on offer. so it’s better to say something than suffer in silence. I return faulty stuff regardless of the return policy. If stuff falls apart, this product failure renders the return policy moot.
I agree that it’s better to say something than suffer in silence. Sometimes my complaints seem to be well-received and I think that perhaps they might have an impact. In any case, it makes me feel better to speak up instead of stew internally and stay quiet. I think it’s great that you always return faulty stuff, but I’m wondering if a store has even refused to give you your money back. Do they ever give you a hassle about taking the item back? I think people often worry about the hassle and “breaking the rules,” but then again, didn’t the store break some rules, too, by selling you cheap crap that falls apart upon the first washing?
I’m very careful where I shop and look for stores with “good” return policies. I note these policies BEFORE I buy — otherwise purchasing is a big gamble. And I either take back stuff right away (within the time frame stipulated in the policy). Occasionally, I’ve had to do returns outside the policy limits because of some subsequent product failure. And I save receipts and tags — just in case. One reason why stores might be less than cooperative about returns is that there are a lot of fraudulent returns — often a feature of shoplifting activity. But armed with a receipt and a tag and a friendly smile, I usually have no trouble with a return. And for the few times I’ve met with difficulty in the past, I ask to speak to a manager (who might have greater “return” authority). And if the store won’t allow the return, I cross that store off my list permanently. And I mean PERMANENTLY. I also boycott the brand/manufacturer of the item. And I let all my friends know about the problem. Hell hath no fury, etc.
Ironically, stores don’t know that the stuff on their shelves falls apart after one (careful, according to care instructions) washing because — they don’t wash the clothes. So it is incumbent upon us, the consumers, to share this information via a return. so I don’t think the stores are “breaking the rules” — they are stocking up on more cheaply made goods to keep prices reasonable. And we keep buying the stuff, so it must be good, right? If we write off the tee-shirt that, after one wash, Barbie now wears, then we are complicit in this shoddy merchandise scenario. The ONLY way that the retailer learns that they products are shoddy is if we tell them — and tell them through the process of a return.
These tips about returns are excellent, Dottie, and I think we should all follow them. I make note of return policies, too, and one of the reasons I shop so often at Nordstrom is because they are so good with returns. I also like your points are the manufacturing practices and how we have to show the retailers that we want better. I got a chuckle from your comment about Barbie wearing the shrunken t-shirt. It’s funny, but too often it’s also true!
Powerful post Debbie. I completely agree about the sameness from store to store. The last time I went to our local mall, I went from one store to another hoping to find something unique and it just wasn’t there. There is much more available online but then you have the problem of not being able to try it on, feel the fabric, etc. I like Sheri’s system mentioned above. Seems like a good way to manage it.
I like Sheri’s system, too, Kim. I agree that there are downsides to both in-person and online shopping. In either case, we’re compromising in some respects. I guess we just have to do our best and come up with strategies to make it more manageable for us. I’m still working on that…
I think some of the points you raised are why I’m starting to shop more in independent stores & boutiques or going straight to online shopping. Independent stores tend to be more curated and I know right away if they are a “fit” for my style & what I’m looking for. If nothing works I find it easier to leave since there isn’t the same kind of sale/clearance frenzy as in a mall store or the sea of basics that I could justify getting one more white blouse or pair of jeans. Online there’s more variety to find what I actually want and if I’m getting discouraged or starting to put things in my cart I don’t need I can just close the laptop and walk away!
The other thing that came to mind is that the type of mall shopping you describe is what I experienced as a child shopping with my mom and other female family members – essentially teaching me how to shop. Go to the mall and shop as a way to spend time with friends & family and “see what’s there.” Going straight for the clearance rack to find a deal & buying something you might wear because it’s a good price. Having a list of one or two things you’re looking for but end up buying something completely different as a “consolation prize” for not finding what you were looking for. I’m so glad there are more resources now to normalize different perspectives for how to shop & maintain a wardrobe!
Thanks for your input, Avi. I agree about the benefits of independent stores and online shopping, except I sometimes find it MORE difficult to leave the smaller stores empty-handed, especially if they aren’t very busy when I shop there. I sometimes feel guilty for not buying anything, but I’m working on that one! I DO sometimes buy something as a consolation prize, but I’ve cut down a great deal on that behavior. In recent times, it’s been more accessories than clothing, but I need to be just as discerning there, too. It’s all a process, but awareness is a very important step in helping us to do better.
I don’t live near mall shopping and haven’t for many years. Discount stores (Ross, TJ Maxx, Target) are the closest and even they are all 20 – 45 minutes away. Anyway, my point was that traditional department stores never seem to have the ‘department’ I need. I am also, for lack of a better term, middle aged. But the misses dept. is definitely not the style I’m after, yet juniors is not the place for this 44 yr old either! Where is the hip, confident, stylish, but not conservative, nor cheap and young, department?!? There seems to be an entire department missing from department stores if you ask me. I find most of this type of thing online now.
I have never liked sameness, even in high school when supposedly everyone wants to look just like everyone else, to belong.
I agree that fashion forward but tasteful (and affordable) clothes for women over age 25 is largely missing as a fashion category. Some garments can be found in manyt large stores but you really have to look for them. And if someone is a “plus” size, woe to her who looks for fashionable and well-fitting clothes. From what I have observed, special sizes are just cut bigger — not better — bigger than misses sizes. This explains why there are so many garments with horizontal strips in the big girl dept. However, it appears that the same manufacturers actually re-scale clothing for petite sizes. Go figure (no pun intended).
You’re right, Mo, in that there seems to be a big gap in the shopping landscape. There is even more of a gap now that some of the so-called older stores have really shifted to be more like the stores geared to a younger crowd. And the older stores that are left aren’t a match for me, either, in that their sizing is all for a different body type than mine. The retailers assume that all women over 40 carry extra weight in their mid-sections, when lots of us (you and me included) do not. Sometimes I like the styles in such stores or offered by certain brands, but the clothes definitely don’t fit my body! There definitely is a lot of room for improvement in the retail landscape! I hope we get to see some of that before too long…
I love Tonya’s comment about falling out of love for shopping. I’m not a shopaholic, but have been limiting my spending this year to save for a trip to Asia in January. I have bought only three things since January 2014. I bought two pairs of exercise shoes because I exercise every day and shoes wear out. I also bought a casual top for no reason at all, but I probably wear it every other week. I just vacationed in a beach town with many wonderful boutiques with cool clothes. I didn’t buy anything. I narrowed my selections down to the three items I liked best, but ultimately didn’t buy any of them. That is not like me at all, but I think in trying to limit my spending, I’ve also fallen out of love with shopping.
It sounds like you are doing SO well, MARS! Only buying 3 things this year and not buying anything on vacation are two excellent benchmarks of progress. I think it helps a lot to have a goal to work toward like your trip to Asia, but falling out of love with shopping has been a wonderful side effect!
Great read, Debbie, and I think your intuition is spot-on. I have always been surprised how many women will say that they like to go shopping instead of needing to go shopping. After all, I go to the grocery only when I need to.
Good point, Cornelia. Funny thing is that I used to love to grocery shop, too! Whenever I’d visit a new city or country, I’d want to go to the mall and the grocery store. Many may think that’s weird (and even I do now), but that was my M.O. for many years.
try being 73…. still slim but surely do not want to look like mutton dressed as lamb!!! there is nothing appropriate, this summer found only a pair of black and white printed pants worn with black or white tops. My wallet should be happy…
I’m sure it can get a lot more difficult when one gets older, Annie. I think many women want to continue to dress stylishly as they age, but retailers often think they don’t. I’m glad there’s at least one silver lining to your shopping frustration – the happy wallet – but I get where you’re coming from. None of us may have the answers, but at least we can commiserate and share in each other’s pain!
Debbie, I would say that this is a very significant post. You are more “healed” than you know.
The important thing is not to move to a different unsatisfying behavior in the search for fulfillment. The core issue of life is: does life have meaning and, and if so, what is it? They are the fundamental questions that everyone needs to face. And that is just the first step. There are many more questions that flow from your conclusions. You may find yourself revisiting the first two questions on a regular basis.
You are fortunate in that you are blessed with a thoughtful and deeply honest outlook. Take your time; I strongly believe that you will be successful.
Your questions are very powerful to contemplate, Susan. I think it’s very important not to move to other unsatisfying behaviors. Shopping has only been one such coping mechanism for me, but it’s been one of the most powerful. I really want to get to the bottom of what has me be compulsive with my behavior. That’s part of the reason I’m blogging about it. I hope you’re right that I’m more healed than I know! Thanks for your vote of confidence.
I have had a similar experience lately, going to malls and feeling a bit bored and not at all engaged with shopping. I also find myself noticing other shoppers and their purchases and interactions with clothes/buying/sales associates. I pay more attention to how my friends talk about shopping and new purchases now, too.
I think some level of shopping obsession is really a bit ubiquitous in our culture today. Even a lot of people who “hate shopping” or aren’t focused on clothing have other hobbies or interests that also end up spurring frequent buying of all kinds of items. Of course this is part of a consumer culture and proof of the high level of sophistication in and success of advertising. I read a book recently called Brandwashed by Martin Lindstrom, and it was very interesting to learn some of the subtle ways we are compelled to buy.
It is harder to nurse a shopping addiction starting to realize these things! Unfortunately for me, online browsing continues to be a mindless and soothing activity for me while I am at home, and that always leads to buying eventually. Something “perfect” always comes around. I am satisfied with my July…I promised myself I wouldn’t buy any clothes, and I haven’t. I did buy a pair of sunglasses that I had already planned on when the only pair I wear broke on July 4 weekend. Part of my perfectionist self is disappointed by that purchase, but the only other pairs I had were ugly giveaways that might not even protect my eyes for all I know. The ones I bought were moderately priced and I had tried them on weeks before and they still stuck in my mind. So…oh well.
I am planning some purchases for August (my birthday!) and then I would like to take at least a couple more months off shopping. I know I CAN do this IF I can more fully break my habit of online browsing. But it’s shockingly difficult! Even the last couple weeks of this month, I have slid back to “looking” more frequently though I stayed away the first couple weeks and haven’t actually bought anything. It is a journey for sure. Reading the posts and comments here definitely helps, though! Nice to know I’m not alone in these (very first world, lol) struggles.
I’m glad you’re finding the posts and comments here helpful, Sophie. You are definitely not alone in your (yes, first world) struggles. There are many of us out there! It sounds like you’re doing very well! I have an August birthday, too – happy early birthday! The book you mentioned sounds very interesting and your points about our consumer culture pushing people to buy are right on. It’s difficult to resist the temptations, but it CAN be done – and you’re doing it! Just keep the faith and take it day by day. Some ups and downs are natural and to be expected. If you slip, forgive yourself and move on. That’s why I always try to do – not easy but necessary.
I felt rather sad, yet also happy when I read this. Your reflection in the final paragraphs is like you have seen into my own head. You help me feel I am not alone, you give me hope that everything will be fine. I know the answer to happiness is within, but I am still searching too..the clothes never saved me.
You are definitely NOT alone, Frugal! I can identify with a lot of what you write in your posts, too. I can tell you are searching deeply for answers much like I am. The answers are there, although they are not easy to find. But if we keep looking and don’t give up, we WILL find them! We can save ourselves in the way the clothes never could.
Thank you Debbie for another excellent and carefully worded article. Your musings are very helpful and thought provoking.
I too can relate to the lack of quality and variety. I often have something I’m looking for but is no where to be found. I’m quite particular so it takes a lot of waiting and looking and making do without until I ‘m able to find what I love.
I’m glad you liked the post, Annette. You’re right that patience is key in finding what we are looking for and what we love. I’m not always patient, but I’m always glad in the cases when I am. I wish it were easier, but we have to work the best we can with what we have. It feels good to vent sometimes, though!
What a fabulous article. There are many things that have changed in the last several decades of shopping. Prices have gone down or stayed in the same range and quality has gone down. This makes me wonder if there is a place for something new on the marketplace. We are now able to get a LOT more for less in a gluttonous way. I see the way this trend flows through all of our lives. Now, you don’t need to have a refined sense of style or be truly interested in art or music, you can have anything you like, quickly and cheaply and free (for example, stealing music through streaming or taking someone’s photo and using it for your purposes) There has been a major shift in our world to making money instead of enjoyment and refinement and education. And it makes me sad.
You know, I wonder why some new business hasn’t entered into the marketplace offering tasteful, reasonably well-made clothes aimed at women in their 30’s and beyond — a nice range of business and casual clothes that have a little edge to them. There used to be a lot of well-known retailers in this marketplace but no so much nowadays. Perhaps the numbers don’t work for profitability. (There are several new men’s retailers and/or manufacturers –Benobos, Billy Reid [also sells some women’s clothes]–in this market, so the numbers must work somehow!!!) And among the few women’s retilaers that remain quality is too often an issue. We should not accept poor quality but as long as we toss out or donate the tees that continue to grow or the pants with fraying seams we are tacitly accepting lesser quality. This is why I keep on saying that we need to speak up and take back to the retailer the stuff that too quickly becomes unwearable. Retailers have to write off this loss — thus making poor quality their problem, not ours. Don’t let price or the exhilaration of scoring a deal on sale drive your decision-making process. We must ask for what we want!! Or shop the men’s dept.
Dottie, I completely agree with you. As an attorney in my late 20’s I cannot tell you how difficult it is to find quality workwear. J.Crew’s workwear “looks the part” – it is fairly easy to find trendy-but-conservatively-cut workwear there, but their quality has tanked in the last 5ish years. Banana Republic, Ann Taylor and Brooks Brothers are generally skewed a bit older than my demographic. I don’t mind buying low quality clothing from a store known for one-season wear (Old Navy tees fit me the best and I don’t mind that they only last six months because their prices reflect this) but I’m at the point where I’m surprised when something lasts more than a year, no matter where it’s from!
I think part of the problem we’re seeing today has to do with the recession. Retailers cut their overhead by manufacturing their clothes in less expensive places and began using cheaper materials. But they also cut back their lines as well, and this has got to be the demographic that cut back their shopping the most. I can think of at least one retailer aimed at this group – Martin and Osa – that closed up shop completely back then. And their parent company is huge..American Eagle? And as for the numbers and profitability – most men in their 30s are working full-time and plan to do so for a long while. That’s not true for women so maybe it isn’t a profitable market.
Men also pay a bit more for their clothing (and expect it to last and last — a well-made gray suit can last decades). It’s pretty clear to me that in order to keep women’s clothing “affordable,” quality has suffered as has style and variety. A number of women’s retailers have tanked or have redefined their market strategy. I also think that women shoppers dilute the market by following so many different trends. You don’t see men in the business world wearing a tangerine suit with mid-calf length pants in the spring and a forest green one with boot cut pants in the fall (or not many men!!). Thus there is a greater set-up cost for women’s clothes: designers, pattern makers, fabric, rejiggering of equipment, marketing, retail costs and wastage. And those of us who wear the same kinds of clothes in the same colors year after year, decade after decade, also share in the impact of these costs along with our trendier, fashion forward sisters who buy what magazines tell them to buy. We all pay the price in lower quality clothes, cookie cutter designs, and an endless search for the stuff we really want. We have to fight back — somehow. I do it by largely sitting out of the retail market (fortunately I have a workable wardrobe). There must be other strategies that would be universally more effective.
I love this discussion here! Andrea, I like how you pointed out parallels to other industries, such as music and photography. It seems everything is fast, cheap, and disposable these days, and it makes me sad, too. Sara and Dottie, you shed some light on reasons for the current state of affairs. While that may not change things, at least it can help us to better understand what’s going on. I agree that we need to find some way of fighting back, but it feels insurmountable sometimes. I think that not buying shoddy items, voicing our complaints, and returning pieces that fail like Dottie recommended are steps in the right direction. Beyond that, I’m not sure what else to do, but it’s a good start.
I think there is already some sort of counter-movement to this consumerist, throw-away society. At least it feels like there is, with blogs about minimalism, diy and simpler living sprouting up everywhere … Of course, the blogging community is a global one so it’s hard to estimate the size of this perceived counter-movement (versus the omnipresent over-consumption), but it is a consolation to me that at least I’m not the only one who’s concerned about the way we live and spend.
Good points, Liesbeth! I think many people are gradually coming around to a more minimalist and simple view of things. We are definitely not the only ones who are rebelling against the consumerist, throwaway society.
There are a lot of interesting points in this article, thanks for writing it! First, it is very interesting to read through your “recovering” perspective on shopping. When someone is on a “shopping binge”, they don’t see any of this, they just go for the sales rack and frantically search for a good deal, “half conscious” in a way. But your description shows that you were fully conscious that day, which is, I believe, a huge step forward in recovery, being able to snap out of the sort of automatic mode when we are in shops.
Then, about the “sameness” of all shops. I remember feeling that way when I tried to find a gray V neck knit, some 10 years back, browsed a shopping mall full of stores and didn’t find a single one – because that wasn’t the colour of the year. There are a lot of standards perpetuating every year indeed, and I think many people don’t care because they are just following the trend, wearing what they “should” be wearing this year, instead of wondering about their own personal style, body shape and preferences. Maybe it’s a sort of social recognition thing: wearing trendy things to be seen as trendy, showing off in a way. Personally, I found a colution by curating the shops I go to, and only shopping in less “mainstream” places that correspond to my own style preferences. It may be more expensive sometimes, and I may not always find what i’m looking for that moment, but when you are not in a hurry any more, it doesn’t matter.
Finally, I wanted to comment on your reflection about success. It is true that in our society, buying a lot of stuff is considered “being successful” because you have the money to afford it, and consumerism values buying new things all the time rather than using the good old stuff we own. And I agree that it may be disorienting to realize that making purchase mistakes, waste time and energy on things and going into debt isn’t quite a successful behaviour indeed. However, I find that defining your own version of success, an alternative to this one, whichever it is (for me, it is growing as a humain being, learning new things, fostering social relations, understanding myself better and doing better little by little at whatever I suck at), is a strong motivation to buy less and snap out of this “folly” as you say.
Kali: We think very much alike!!! After 3-4 years in my 20’s in which I had no real sense of personal style, I saw the light and developed my own personal style (color, body type, etc.) that has worked for me for decades. It can be challenging to find something to replace a beloved-but-getting-shabby garment. I try to strike when one of “my” colors is in style. I too limit my shopping to a few stores that feature clothing that resonates with my personal style. I address current trends (those I find acceptable) through a few strategic purchases of accessories or some other inexpensive item; I try not to spend very much $$ on “trendy” stuff. And I am old enough to be able to pull out something purchased years ago (and much loved) only to find it “trendy” again. I have a red wooden cuff that is so old I no longer remember when or where I bought it; every 8-10 years it becomes “trendy” and people ask me were I got it!! It’s so much easier to shop if you know who you are style-wise, what you really need, and what is a sound investment (construction, fabrication, etc.) for your hard-earned $$. Magpie shopping can be exhausting.
Kali, as usual, there is a lot of wisdom in what you wrote! I am so happy to not be in automatic mode when I shop anymore. I am MUCH more conscious of why I’m there, what I need, and what to buy or not to buy. That doesn’t mean I don’t still buy too much or make mistakes, but I do see it as progress. About not finding what we need, I agree that it’s useful to curate a list of a few shops/brands that work well for us and to shop primarily there. As far as trends are concerned, I think too many women blindly follow them. That’s one thing I appreciate about being older (although many younger women are of this mind, too). I no longer care so much about being “in.” If I think certain trends look horrible or would not work on my body type (as has been true a lot recently), I sit them out without any hesitation. I also want to get off the consumer merry-go-round that pushed me to buy SO many new things each season. Being more discriminating about trends and styles is a good start to this. It sounds like both you and Dottie came to such a realization at a much younger age than I did, but better late than never!
I really like what you said about success. I really need to identify a new version of success for myself, as I don’t really fit the one that is pushed by society. I like your definition and it feels a lot more doable to me, as well as more meaningful than how much money I make and how many possessions I own. I need to come up with a framework in which I AM successful, as I am tired of continuing to view myself as a failure just because I don’t make 6 figures, live in a big fancy house, have 2.5 children, and all of the rest of what encompasses the “American Dream.” I know you’re French and I hope that there is less pressure there to fit into a certain mold. I knew a long time ago I didn’t fit the primary mold here, but instead of creating my own mold, I beat myself up for it, and I think that’s part of what led me to overshop for so many years.
“Success” — what does that mean anyway? I think the goal is to be comfortable in your own skin and go forth in the world on your own terms. I would think, Debbie, having a widely-read blog, gaining (positive) notoriety in the respected magazines and other blogs, and helping so many people would be many people’s definition of success. The “American Dream” was creating by the post-WWII media to get all of the women in the munitions and bomber factories out of their jobs and back to their “proper” role in the kitchen. To me the real “American Dream” is the ability of the individual to create his/her own life — and the general acceptance by society of the individual’s right to do so.
Here, here, Dottie! Well said!
Yes, Sheri. Dottie made a lot of great comments in response to this post and others’ comments. She definitely has a different perspective than most of us, having worked in retail for many years. I agree that we should return any garments that are shoddy or fall apart!
Thank you for your kind words, Dottie. I think I’m too hard on myself and set the bar too high. Good point about the “American Dream.” I like your version far better!
Just a few comments – I honestly don’t think you’re an old “fuddy duddy” as you put it. Based on some of the outfits you have posted, I do think there is room for style improvement, but generally you dress like I would expect someone in their 30’s-40’s to dress. Also, speaking as someone in their early twenties, even I don’t want to wear most of what the stores have to offer because the items look like they were made for 13 year olds. My problem is finding something that actually fits my age because I don’t want to be dressing like a 30 year old just yet, but I still have to dress business casual for work.
On another note, I do cling to the clearance racks for a couple of reasons:
1. If clothes aren’t made with the same quality as they used to be, why should I pay more…I really have a hard time justifying more than $20 for a shirt, especially when the “higher-quality” items don’t seem to be all that high quality in my experience
2. I find that I do not get satisfaction in saving up for that one expensive item, especially should anything happen to that item i.e. stains, snags, accidental seam holes, changes in weight…I’d much rather rotate through a few cheaper items that fit my budget – even if it does make me somewhat of a compulsive shopper. I think the key here is, is just learning how to manage that shopping – not cutting out sale/clearance shopping altogether.
I’m 26 (27 soon), and I know exactly what you mean. But looking back, I would have done myself a favor being MINDFUL of what I was buying and how it fit into my life, regardless of price. I bought far too many things that didn’t work out, and way too many cheap, crappy things. Had I spent what I did (or less) on 1/4 of what I bought, I would have been much better off- a few pieces that I really liked that were more expensive are MUCH better than double or triple the number in cheap things- even if I did go up and down weight wise! A $20 top I wear 2x and develops a hole doesn’t compare to a $40 top (on sale, $80 normal) I wear every other week for a couple years! I also would have felt more stylish and put together, which is my whole purpose in buying clothes to begin with. If I didn’t care then I would never have bought anything!
I pretty much ALWAYS buy on sale- there is no real reason not to wait for sale. I can afford items that often cost a lot of $ just by waiting. I only bought ONE item this year that was not on sale (so far, I have purchased and kept 28 items). I can get a $160 dress that I know I will love and wear for a long time for $60 just by being patient- so why not be patient most of the time? I won’t bother spending my time on lower quality items at this point because I know it’s not worth it in the long run- I’m much happier with things that stand the test of time. And, if I end up getting tired of something- I can resell because it still looks great.
Meli22– I use this watch-and-wait-then-pounce strategy too. I try to buy on sale whenever possible but each purchase is planned — it’s the timing that is critical to get the best deal if I can afford to wait. I tend to think of the clearance rack as retail’s equivalent of an elephant’s graveyard — where old elephants go to die. There is often a reason why something ends up on clearance. Some times it’s just to make room for next season’s clothes — and good stuff may be found here. But if you see a lot of the same thing — a blouse in a bilious shade of teal in every available size — that stuff is there because no one deemed it worth buying at a higher price. I once scored (back in the dark ages) 6 packages of pantyhose (remember them?) in a famous bargain basement for 50 cents a pair – a phenomenal deal. Unfortunately, the legs were misaligned and the heel of the right leg hit at the side of my ankle in a little taupe bulge. I was only 18, so I can laugh at this now, but the loss of $3.00 (plus the cost of replacement pantyhose) really ate into my limited student funds.
My problem with the watch-and-wait method is how quickly certain items can just randomly disappear from the stores. I’ve seen stuff disappear over night, so if I’m in the store looking for something specific and it happens to be on sale, then it’s great and fabulous and I’m all for it…if I have to wait, I find that things usually don’t work out so well for me…
Thus my shopping problem! Lol. Sales are easy to find and I mostly refuse full price, but many times I could pay even 1/2 what I did if I just wait longer- IF my size lasts, which it doesn’t often but sometimes it does. I usually pay 25-50% off full price but almost never the best sale or clearance prices.
Oops meant to say fear of missing out almost always motivates me to order/purchase…
I have this problem, too, Bethany. It used to be easier to watch and wait, but now it seems things are gone in a heartbeat. While it’s true that there will always be new things to buy, sometimes it’s hard to find the things we need or want the most. That’s why I’ve become more willing to buy things at full price as of late (and also because I’m really aiming for quality over quantity now). And as Meli wrote, FOMO is also often a driver!
Bethany and Meli, Judging from your comments, it seems the 20-somethings struggle as much as those of us who are 40 and up. I wonder who the retail industry is designing for? I always wonder why they don’t cater more to those of us who are older, as we (usually) have more money to spend. But it must be working on some level or they wouldn’t keep doing what they’re doing!
I like Meli’s strategy for sales, as it’s very deliberate and not the haphazard way in which many women approach discount shopping. As I’ve written in previous posts, I am not against sales shopping at all. I think it can be a good way to get things we need (or even want) at lower prices. The problem lies in buying things just because they’re on sale. That said, I can see your point, too, Bethany. Why pay more for things if they are likely to fall apart quickly anyway? Higher prices don’t necessarily translate into better quality, as you pointed out. Dottie’s points about sales racks are quite astute. We should at least question why something might be on clearance and why it didn’t sell at full price. We might avoid some bad buys by looking a bit more closely at why something might be on sale.
This is interesting. The sameness and low quality in stores? I prefer Goodwill, second-hand shops (where designer, high quality and interesting dresses still cost upwards of 100-200.00, plus) and also, garage sales (for everything but my running and hiking tights). It is very exiting to find very high end, good quality, designer duds for less than ten dollars. Have worked retail (clothing) and do enjoy my outings (considered “hunts”), into the dark nether regions of the clothing abyss.
I agree that we can often find better pieces in second-hand shops, Ruth, but I got myself into trouble there, too. I think the key is to know what to look for and to have a good sense of our style, what we have, and what we need. I used to carry the same mentality I had for shopping sales to shopping resale and it didn’t serve me well. When we’re only looking for a deal instead of for what will best serve us, it’s a recipe for trouble.
When I go shopping, I am not so much struck by the sameness in cut and style as I am by the sameness in color and pattern. It seems to me there are a wide variety of styles out there– skirts of different cuts and lengths, pants both skinny and wide legged depending on your preference, tops from cropped to tunic length–it seems there is something for everyone.
My complaint is that every store I go into features either predominantly blue clothing or striped everything. I don’t much care for blue– I have rather few blue items, and for me, a little stripes goes a long way. I have a thin striped maxi skirt from INC and a shirt from Loft. I don’t feel comfortable in wider stripes, I think they make me look blocky. I don’t care much for certain blue/white striped garments–they remind me of concentration camp uniforms from WW2. As someone who had relatives in Europe who were gassed in Dachau, I cannot bring myself to wear these styles in good consciousness. I realize this is an event that occurred before my birth, but it still affected me as I listened to family stories as I was growing up.
It may be different depending upon location, Deby, as I definitely see more color and pattern variation here than cut and style. I can’t remember the last time I saw wide-legged pants around here. Perhaps you are seeing things sooner since you’re closer to the East Coast. There are TONS of stripes around, I agree. Since I’m a stripes fiend, I have to stop myself from buying more because I already have more than enough. I can definitely see why you’d want to avoid any stripes that remind you of concentration camp uniforms. I wouldn’t want what I’m wearing to evoke such comparisons and I have no relatives who died in the Holocaust. Hopefully, you’ll start seeing other types of patterns – and colors besides blue – in your neck of the woods soon. I wonder whatever happened to the Pantone color of the year, Radiant Orchid. I expected to see a lot of it, but I’ve seen very little. I also didn’t see a lot of Emerald (the color of the year from last year) in the stores and I was really looking forward to that one. Perhaps Pantone doesn’t have as much influence on the fashion world as they thought they did!
Because of my work, I keep tabs on color cycling in the retail world as well as graphic design/marketing. Your average popular color has about a 5 yr cycle from the time it is introduced as a new concept until it has run it’s fashionable course.
Prior to Radiant Orchid (2014) and Emerald Green (2013), the color of the year was Tangerine (2012). Around here, we are seeing Emerald and Tangerine, but it’s combined with navy a lot. I agree with you that Radiant Orchid is not much in evidence yet. Fashion manufacturing lags behind Pantone’s color predictions.
Right now you are seeing the top of the curve in the popularity of corals and oranges, expect this to wane off in the next few years. Greens are popular, but you will see them moving towards chartreuse. Case in point, if you peruse Loft’s late summer offerings, you’ll see the introduction of this color combined with grey and deep teal. I will be interested to see how many women actually rock this trend because chartreuse is hardly a uniformly flattering color to most skin and hair tones, unless you are a natural redhead.
I would expect to see Radiant Orchid become more mainstream in spring 2015. There is a reason for this. When Pantone makes a color announcement, it takes the clothing manufscturers a while to ramp up the new dyeing formulas and put them in them into production. Remember Pantone is like the front man on the cutting edge.
I am surprised, like you, to see fewer garments in Emerald green. I tried a few tops in this color and I found myself tiring of it. For all it’s beauty, it does not play well with a lot of other colors, and this may explain it. I found it hard to integrate with my existing wardrobe , finding it really goes best with black, tan, white and navy. It’s such a strong color it tends to fight with anything other than a neutral.
I knew you’d have some input on the Pantone/color issue, Deby. I really liked reading your perspective, as it sheds a lot of light on things I’ve been confused about. I like both Emerald and Radiant Orchid (Tangerine is nice but not so much on me), so I was hoping to pick up an item or two of each. You’re right that Emerald can be harder to wear, but I do like my black and white, so I could wear it with one of those colors. I hope I still see pieces in that color, as well as the Radiant Orchid, around here.
Nice article. Your observations may very well have been influenced by your own experiences and mindset, but I do believe they are to the point. Since I started shopping more ‘mindfully’, I am way more critical about the way my friends shop and talk about shopping. I easily grow weary of shopping myself these days, especially when I’m in the typical highstreet stores. The abundance of loud clothes, loud music and the seeming abundance of options (watch Barry Schwartz’ ted-talk on the paradox of choice if you don’t understand my problem) drives me a little nuts. I live in Antwerp, where there are truly many well-dressed people, but I enjoy watching them much more when I can sit on the patio of a café than when I am amidst those shoppers, growing evermore insecure and competitive about looking ‘good’.
All of that just to say that, like many commenters here, I now prefer targeted shopping in a few carefully selected boutiques. So when I hear my friends talk about going sales shopping, it’s like they’re from another planet. They say things like ‘I couldn’t find anything I liked’, ‘There wasn’t much left’, or ‘That’s just me to fall for an item that was not on sale’. I used to be like this but now I see the absurdity of these statements, that reflect this person’s feelings about sales. It’s all about competition: where you can lose by waiting too long or not searching hard enough, and it’s definitely more about the prices than about the actual clothes. After all, if you find something you love and can actually use, why would it matter if it wasn’t on sale? I’ve also seen way to many friends buying into trends that are already on their way out during sales. Probably they debated for an entire year whether or not printed pants where for them, and then could no longer resist when they were literally everywhere on half price. Which is sad because most of the times, these pieces are hardly wardrobe workhorses and since they were bought at the end of the season, they’re probably in the garbage by the next year.
That’s of course not to say that I’m free of charge, but that I understand that the more you work towards becoming a conscious shopper, the more you see the absurdity and the horror of fashion consumerism.
I love that Ted talk by Barry Schwartz, Liesbeth! Dottie posted the link a while back and I enjoyed watching it. The paradox of choice can be a big problem in regards to shopping. I like what you wrote about your interactions with your friends. I have similar interactions with many of the women I know. It’s tricky to wait for sales on trendy items, as you said, because the shelf life is so short. Since I tend to be conservative and a late adopter, I often opt to sit many trends out. By the time I’m ready to jump on board, the train has often already left the station! I agree that it’s becoming easier to see the absurdity of fashion consumerism the farther along I get on the road to recovery. Even though I still sometimes buy too much, even that is done in a very different way than I used to do it. It’s not all about the lowest price and getting a “good deal” anymore. That got me into a lot of trouble in the past!
Also: if you want to look further into the pursuit of meaningful activities and how they can increase your happiness, maybe you can try a ‘happiness project’ (you’re probably familiar with Gretchen Rubin’s blog?). I’m in no way connected but I am reading her book and was so inspired by this practical approach to goal-setting and self-improvement that I started my own happiness project. So far I’ve defined themes for each month for the next year, with concrete goals, and have made resolution charts for the next couple of months. I’m very motivated to reach my goals, some of which I’m sure will do tons for my level of contentment and joy.
I am familiar with Gretchin Rubin and have her happiness project book. I haven’t read it yet (I buy too many books!), but I’m intrigued by what she did. I love the idea of doing something similar for myself and I just might take that on. Thanks for the suggestion and best of luck with your happiness project!
I met a friend for lunch in Pasadena this weekend and went into Zara to look around. There was a sale going on and the merchandise was a total mess. There were at least ten women in line at each dressing room and each was holding a mash of random things in their hands. My friend commented that she was curious what they were actually finding to try on. We looked around the non-sale area and I found an a-line skirt to try on. I was not interested in waiting in the really long lines in the women’s area so I walked back to the men’s dressing rooms. Of course it was pretty calm in the men’s area. There were a few guys trying on suits but of course there were open dressing rooms. No mess of clothing. No lurid colors. No fabrics so sheer they require two extra layers. The skirt was cute but the zipper was already broken. It was a very depressing experience overall.
Maybe clothing is like food. When we subsist on over-processed, cheap food, we are never quite satisfied. We eat more and more to try to get the nutrition that we need. With shopping we buy more and more trying to feel satisfied but the clothing is cheap and it doesn’t fit right. The thin, flimsy fabric doesn’t feel good. We feel undernourished by our clothing and so we keep consuming more to try to find something that makes us feel fulfilled.
Thanks again for a thoughtful post and for sharing your shopping observations!
Your Zara experience sounds familiar, Zara. It’s like many of my recent shopping trips and very depressing indeed! I love your analogy to processed, cheap food. I hadn’t thought of that before, but it certainly rings true. A few posters here have shared that they have felt less compelled to shop since they started buying higher quality items. Likewise, I feel less compelled to eat sweets (which used to be major for me) since I overhauled my diet and started eating more natural, whole foods. I hope I can do the same for my wardrobe that I’ve done for my diet!