Shopping is hard - an expose

My friends and I have a very excellent group chat going, which was first set up to discuss the terrible/somehow so good Netflix show Riverdale and has now evolved into a very supportive and informative chat about everything.  I feel pretty confident I could go in there right now and ask penetrating questions about vaginal hygiene and learn a few things.  It’s very good.  Back at the very start of January we had a FOUR HOUR text discussion about shopping and the myriad ways in which it sucks, and it got me thinking.

I love shopping, but I’ve had the “shopping is the fucking worst” discussion with so many of my friends now that I have realised that the inescapable truth is – I am an outlier.  I’m cruising along with my no curves in a world that doesn’t seem to understand that women come in a range of shapes and sizes, blithely buying delightful linen midi-dresses from Gorman and experiencing little to no discomfort with fashion or my body vis a vis fashion (vis a vis various other things, like an ability to lift heavy things, remains a different story).  I am going to have a rude awakening should the assumptions about body shapes change in my lifetime, and let’s remember that’s entirely possible. 

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So, shopping does, actually, suck for a lot of women.  I wrote a fairly breezy set of posts about making shopping a success about a year ago, but today team, today we are going to get into it.

I’ve identified the three key themes of suckyness, thusly:

  • Current retail options don’t suit my body shape/aesthetic;
  • I know exactly what I want but no bish is making it;
  • Are you serious about that price tag or is it a joke.

Let’s break each one down, shall we?  This would be a great post to weigh in on, via the comments at the bottom, because I would really like to know how other women have cracked the puzzle of making shopping an experience that is at least tolerable, and at best, fun.  Ya gotta wear clothes, so you know, let’s try to hive mind a solution to this.

Theme One: I’m sorry but I am not six foot tall and my boobs don’t do…that

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As someone cruising about with “fashion tits” and a casual lack of height, I thought I understood the pain in the ass that is fitting into retail fashion options.  I did not.  Occasionally I have to take up the straps on something, or have something hemmed.  Please play me the tiniest violin.  Meanwhile, there are women out there who are buying dresses in bulk when they find them because they suit a specific style and it’s only available approximately once every eight years.

I also have an aesthetic that we could charitably describe as “broad”.  Sometimes I do legitimately wonder if I have some kind of dysmorphia that makes me think that outfits look good when they actually look insane, such is my willingness to play dress ups.  Meanwhile, other women have done a much better job of defining their personal style and are therefore struggling in a retail landscape of ruffles and wide-legged cropped pants.

My research indicates that the main problems this situation creates are:

  • A massive confidence dent caused by literal hours of trying on clothes that make you look or feel hideous
  • The feeling of resentment/futility created as a result of spending most of your day doing something you hate, for no reward

Questions raised in my friendship message group include:

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I welcome the creation of this technology and its introduction into my online shopping life.  Just make sure you make viewing the results optional

Theme Two: Why is it so hard to find a white shirt/black skirt/tropical print playsuit?

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I know so many women who have adopted the approach of keeping a wish list of clothing items on their phone.  I do this because I look at clothes constantly, so I need to prioritise my many dreams in order to avoid financial ruin.  They do it because they cannot find the things they want, and so the list grows ever longer.  Personally I regret not buying a back-up of my favourite white shirt and my favourite navy suede shoes every time I buy them because who knows if there will be something available when I need to replace them?

Look, I get that brands need to pump out fresh new ideas every season, but there’s a massive gap in the market for a store that just sells reasonably-priced basics in a variety of fits.  I needed a navy skirt a few years back for a specific event and spent two months searching for one that didn’t cost $$$$$.  Someone make a fortune with this idea, immediately!

The alternative option is to get stuff made to measure/order, but that still feels like a Fancy Lady option that is pretty inaccessible to a huge number of women.  What I’d really like is a computer programme that allowed me to upload a random Pinterest image and have the same thing magically made out of thin air.  Basically, I want a replicator (Star Trek style), but then again I don’t want the destruction of an entire garment manufacturing industry and the livelihood of thousands of people.  That’s a heavy cost for a reasonably-priced sundress.  Hmmmm.

Theme Three: I make some money but I mostly need to spend it on being alive so please calm down

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My friend Theresa, great lady and supporter of this blog, is American.  She, like many Americans, came to New Zealand and thought the entire nation had banded together to play a sophisticated practical joke on her when she saw the price of clothes and make up.  Sorry bud, once you leave the country with a massive population that creates purchasing power for retailers, you have to pay a lot more money. 

The value and cost of fashion is always relative, and one person’s “that is insane, who spends that on a dress” is another person’s “eh, seems reasonable enough”.  I’ve experienced this shift as I’ve aged/earned more money, from thinking $59.95 was pretty much the most I’d spend on something other than a coat or shoes, to thinking “that’s surprisingly cheap.  How is that happening”.   Because I buy so many clothes second hand, I have a weird split in my understanding of how much clothes should cost (sometimes it’s either $300 or $7.99 for a dress), but my chats with other women do suggest that the price of high quality clothes in New Zealand is a barrier.

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I’m not going to pretend there isn’t a big mark up on some fashion, but as we’ll recall from my interview with Annabelle Wilson, there’s also a lot of cost in fashion manufacturing onshore that we tend to just…forget about.  I think we’re all well aware that super cheap fashion carries high social and ethical costs.  What we’re really grappling with here isn’t cost, it’s value.

Companies like Everlane are practising radical transparency in the cost of their clothes, so you can make an informed value decision.   They break each item’s cost into a handy infographic so you can see, for example, that one of their $100 cashmere jumpers contains $26.65 of materials, $12 of labour, and in total has a true cost of $45 (they also tell you what the typical RRP is at other retailers, which is a good play since it seems it’s always higher than what Everlane charges).  That way, when you buy it you understand where that $100 is apportioned to, and you can decide whether that’s fair.  It’s fascinating, and I think if more retailers did this then they might find they get more participation.

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So - that's what I think.  How about you? Do you find shopping easy, or is the struggle really, really real?