Thursday, August 2, 2007

10 Things I Hate About Shopping for Clothes

When I first started mentally composing this post after an extremely frustrating shopping trip, I doubted I could actually come up with ten things I hate about shopping for clothes, but as it turns out, ten was easy. I like clothes. When I was young I loved to sew and I still enjoy color and nice styling and love beautiful fabric and drape. I am very selective, since I wear my clothes for a long, long time, and am willing to pay for quality. Yesterday I went to a new shopping center in the 'burbs which includes five stores which cater to middle-aged affluent women: Ann Taylor, Talbots, Coldwater Creek, Chicos, and J. Jill. I shopped in all five, browsed, checking out the petites (I am 5'3" and a size 6-8). There were lots of items on sale, though these were retail stores, not outlets. I came home with.... a black skirt. Not for lack of trying.
Here's my list. Am I crazy, or are designers and marketers just idiots?

1. Everything looks the same, with a huge amount carrying over from store to store. This year there are a lot of cutesy dresses, all tight halter tops. Lots and lots of Indian style clothes at twice the price of Indian dress stores. If I'm going to wear clothes for a long time, I don't want things that scream 2007, because I'll still be wearing them in 2015.
2. I hate that sizes are not standardized. Chico's has its own sizes. Some stores have xs/s/m/l/xl. The seem to have no bearing to the size of the clothes. All seem tight and clingy this year, so it seems to be just a question of how tight and clingy. Size 8p fits me well at Talbots, but not all of them. Some of the 8p pants are way too long, and I'm at the tall end of the range. How stupid is that? In one store I am a medium, in another a small. It's a huge waste of time to not know this until you go try stuff on. After a few tries, I am weary and aggravated. This is supposed to be a fun self-indulgence, not a huge hassle.
3. I hate the concept of petites. It's a drag to walk into a store with a large inventory, and be shunted off to a corner with slim pickins. Why can't garments just have a standard lengths, like men's? Men march in, see a stack of pants, and pull out 32/30s and they're done, and women have to go try 20 garments on and hope something will fit.
4. I lament the extinction of whole genres of fashion. I loved jumpers. They were comfortable, flattering, and practical. Alas, they no longer exist. Someone decided they had to go, and now you can only buy them as collectibles. Same with my favorite one piece Laura Ashley summer jump suit - loose, comfortable, pretty fabric. Gone. The one I still wear, and enjoy it every time for its pretty colors, comfortable cut, and soft fabric, is from when my daughter was in pre-school, and she's heading off to college. True story. I had a flowered summer short sleeved dress I wore so long I retired it, but saved it for its pretty fabric. Last year when I cleaned out the fabrics, there it was. I washed and ironed it, and am delighted to have it back, since nothing in style now is as flattering or comfortable.
5. I mourn the palette shrinkage of contemporary fashion. This year you gotta love dark brown, or you're out of luck. Navy, burgundy, and teal, my favorite colors for clothes, are nowhere to be seen. It's like some Invisible Hand turned a big dial and tuned out whole swathes of colors, and if you happened to like those particular colors, sucks for you!
6. I grieve for the demise of patterned fabric. When I look through the garments I have saved for many years I realize many of them are beautiful prints. This year except for Indian/Asian designs or polka dots or enormous checks, patterns have been eliminated.
7. And then there's the lack of eco-friendly fabric choice - no organic cotton, hemp, tencel, or my favorite, rayon to be found. Despite the news about how we're trashing the planet, the main fabrics seems to be versions of polyester, made of petroleum, or conventional cotton which is grown with massive pesticide use.
8. And the clothes are all from China. At least we don't have to risk anything by eating the clothes, but I pretty much assume that Chinese made = sweat shop, though the prices at these stores would make you hope differently. But they provide no assurance or information about their suppliers' labor or environmental practices. When clothes are American made, you can feel more confident about both those issues.
9. I hate how impractical most of the styles are. My pet-peeve - and I know I'm not alone here - is that pockets are hard to come by. Lots of whites, which are obviously not going to stay white very long. They go with the pointy shoes that podiatrists must design to drum up business.
10. Last, but paramount, is the styles are so unflattering! I might forgive #'s 1-9 if I tried something on and it looked great. This year all the dresses have halter tops, and I've seen many a lady bend over and show it all. Likewise, the pants are low rise, and I've seen a lot of the other ends, too. Tops and sweaters all seem to be tight and clingy. Who wants to wear tight, constricting clothes when it's hot? There are many, many styles of clothes which are comfortable and flattering for women that have body fat, approximately 98% of the population. Why do they design these clothes for the 2% who remain? When a size 6 lady feels blimpy in the clothes out there, something is off. (Probably SALES?)

But, at least I have a black skirt for fall, to replace my last one from 1999.

How do you all fare when shopping? Is there something I'm missing? Help!


Anonymous said...

Consider: You might be looking in the wrong kinds of stores? In the Pacific NW there are stores that have the kind of clothes you're not finding in suburban chains. Like this one:

Also a fantastic store I saw last month on Granville Island in Vancouver, BC called Maiwa you would absolutely love -- all hand-printed fabrics and lovely stuff. And organic dyes and fabrics in a companion store across the hall to make your own. NOT cheap of course. Here's an article about Maiwa's clothing: Then if you google "Maiwa handprints" you'll see interesting stuff on the various artisans they support, though not many pictures of the clothing, unfortunately. It's beautiful. The store is worth a visit when in B.C.!

Your major gripe that sizes and everything else is random and unstandardized and uninteresting is absolutely true. So one can't shop online unless you order things in all conceivable sizes and shapes. Dumb. And totally ridiculous.

And what about that bizarre limited color palette of the season! Wacko. Find a Pottery Barn catalog and see what colors everyone will be wearing to go with this year's slip covers and throw pillows. And people thought the 1950s were peculiar?!

Bellen said...

You aren't missing anything - fashion has been invented to 'make' you buy new each season to stay in style. Classic is out even tho most designers claim their designs are classic. Recently I read an article (can't remember where) describing what most fashion designers wore - they were classic clothes, worn often, with perhaps the accessories updated. The clothes had not been replaced seasonally - they were like your black skirt, well designed, well loved, well worn.

Anonymous said...

I moved to Philly 4 years ago, and stopped clothes shopping at retail stores, except for the rare exception, because I found Greene Street Boutique. They have locations on South Street and in Bryn Mawr, and they have so much incredible stuff at unbelievable prices, since they only carry second-hand, consignment clothes. Everything is always in fantastic condition, and they have a _lot_ of stuff in your size and with very high-end labels. You do have to try on a lot of stuff to find something that's just right, but that's like any other store now, right? And when you can pay $25 for Theory pants, it's worth a few bucks to take them to the tailor to get them to fit just right. It sounds like you would probably prefer the Bryn Mawr store, they tend to have selection more in line with the tastes you mentioned. Although I haven't seen any jumpers lately, sorry!

Anonymous said...

Another thing I hate is that you can either be short (petite) or large (size 14 or bigger) but not both. UGH. If not for Chico's I don't think I would have any dress clothes, but even they are hit or miss.

Naomi Klayman said...

Betsy, thank you so much for giving voice to what I have been feeling for years. My latest frustration is trying to find a dress for my daughter's wedding. I walked into a high-end shopping mall and tried on about 30 dresses in top brand stores with the mindset that money is no object. I just want a dress that will make be look good. Nothing!! I am going to wear something I already have in my closet.

In general, I find that children's clothing is hyper-sexualized (do I really need to see the midriff of a 10-year old?) and women's clothing is infantalized (do women over 40 really want to show their bellybuttons and more?). My latest fav is the babydoll look - great for teenage sleepwear, but for anyone over 16 during the day? Too many women are wearing them who shouldn't - unless they really are preganant, which is what they look like to me.

It seems that there are so few department stores these days, and the ones that do exist are all carrying the same things. I found several identical dresses in Bloomingdales, Neiman Marcus, and Nordstroms - all priced exactly the same.

I wear a 14/16/18 (depending on the whim of the person who sizes the clothing) - which, I understand, is the average size in the US. Why do the sizes on the rack only go up to 12 or 14 - if that - and the sale racks only up to 8? One sales person told me that they got some dresses in the larger sizes, but they sold out right away. No kidding!

And don't think it's any better in Europe. I travel there frequently for work and have had some opportunities to check out the shopping there. My discovery is that, not only have the US chains invaded every city in the US, they have also invaded all the major cities in Europe - and now some of the European department stores have now come to the US - all offering the exact same styles and challenges mentioned throughout this blog.

The only time I am able to find clothing that is well crafted and flattering is by chance - usually in a specialty store. When I am on vacation or come upon a street fair, I am most likely to find something that I will enjoy wearing for a long time.

I like the suggestion of one of the other writers to check out the second-hand stores. Next on my list!

Anonymous said...

A woman after my own heart!

Argh...remember a couple of summers ago when Talbot's (the only chain store that carries slacks that fit grown-ups) had all those hideous flouncy polka-dot things? Horrible.

I did better at Talbot's during this year's after-Christmas sales. But in general my experience has been the same as yours: I hate to shop for clothes. By and large the styles are targeted at young girls who don't blanche at looking like streetwalkers and whose figures verge on anorexic. Sizes are wacky, colors and styles are limited, and often the clothes and shoes are just downright uncomfortable.

One year I got so mad I seriously considered trying to find a tailor. My Polish sister-in-law and her mom never bought clothes in stores -- they hired a woman to copy outfits out of Paris Match or Vogue for them. Alas, though, this ain't Poland: around here tailors make wedding dresses, not haute couture knock-offs. That year and the following year, I just didn't buy anything.

Seems likely to me that grown women have more disposable money than teen-aged girls. Wouldn't you think manufacturers would be more interested in selling to us?

Anonymous said...

Another thing I hate is that you can either wear short size or large size but not both.......

Very nice concept about clothes...