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Confessions of a...

Confessions of a Shopaphobic (Part 2)

Another question from the shopaphobic: why is anyone in fashion using polyester? (I mean, besides the Chinese, who think that adding flame retardant to milk as a protein booster is a dandy idea …) Polyester is petroleum, people! Not green, not biodegradable—plus hot and itchy to boot. (Ditto for acrylic.) We’re in the midst of a global climate emergency brought on by our processing of petrochemicals—and Macy’s has rack after rack of wearable fossil fuels? Ten minutes swathed in this stuff, and I’m working up a halfway respectable rash; I’m sweating, I smell bad, I’m lightheaded, and I want to hunt down the guys who invented this crap and carry their entrails around in my teeth. 

Surprisingly enough, even with natural (plant or animal) fabrics, there’s still the itch factor: linens, cottons, and wools that are harsh and scratchy, which might be fine in an overcoat, but are inexcusable in a tee shirt, pajamas, or underwear. (Rayon—straddling the natural and the unnatural—is always pleasant!) My personal favorite in the itchy department is the stiff manufacturers tag. In a world where it’s possible to imprint the label right on the fabric, there’s no excuse for a designer’s ID that feels like a rectangle of aluminum foil attached to the garment with a measure of fishing line. Are we really intended to walk around with this stuff sawing into our tender flesh? Or, are these atrocities meant to be discarded once the garment is purchased? If so, why sew them on with invisible plastic thread that takes twenties minutes (and a lot of cursing) to remove? 

Then there’s the ugliness factor. Think of the aforementioned Capri pants. Think of low-rider jeans and the ensuing muffin-tops. Think of balloon skirts, and pretty much anything worn by Posh Spice. Let’s face it: much of what passes for fashion makes women look bad. It might be haute couture; it might be art; it might even be architecture. But it’s not flattering, not on me, not on you, not on anyone. I’ve watched Project Runway, and I appreciate that Tim and Heidi know fashion—the garment that wins is often striking and revolutionary, with dramatic lines and interesting visual qualities. But it’s rarely becoming, even on the wafer-thin girl sporting it. In The Devil Wears Prada, Meryl Streep (as the imperious Miranda Priestly) lectures Anne Hathaway on the impact of high fashion on what the women in the street wear. Well, my question to the fashion industry is—are you doing to use that influence for good, or for evil? 

On top of all of this (already quite a mound) is the actual shopping experience, which, like sizing, is inconsistent. (And like certain fabrics, irritating—take the practice of selling summer clothing in the dead of winter and winter clothing in August. Don’t get me started on dressing rooms which, even in the best of stores, are lit like Abu Ghraib prison.) Again, the inconsistency is most obvious along economic lines. In a mass-market store like Target (or the recently closed Mervyns, or Old Navy, etc.), clothing is laid out with a specific logic. Let’s say you need a black sweater. Within that description there are lots of variables—collar, pullover, cardigan, and so on—but fundamentally, you need to look at sweaters, not pants, not boots, not purses. You go to the store and head for the area where they are displaying sweaters—probably in casual wear. There will be many manufacturers/designers on offer, and many variations on “sweater,” but you’ll be very quickly able to locate whatever they have that meets your requirements. Same with jeans, jackets, evening wear, business suits. They’re generally lumped together so you can quickly see the entire offering in that category. 

Now head over to Macy’s (or Bloomingdales or Saks or Neiman Marcus or any of the upscale department stores). There’s no “sweater” or “jacket” or “jean” department. Instead, everything is grouped by designer, as if they imagined an entire customer base of folks that get up in the morning and say to themselves, “I need to buy something to wear. I don’t know what. I have no idea whether it’s pants or a dress or a jacket, I just need something and it’s got to be DKNY.” (Okay, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the rich, who are different than you or I, do this all the time. The rest of us, however, usually shop for a particular item.) So, if you’re looking for a black sweater in Macy’s, you’ll need to hit the Donna Karan boutique, the Michael Kors section, the Anne Klein nook, the Jones New York area, and so on. Same if you are looking for a pair of jeans—there’s all the designers just mentioned, plus Lucky, Levi’s, Guess, Buffalo, and several more—all over the store. It’s confusing AND labor intensive AND très annoying if you’re on a tight timeline! Plus, it’s hard to compare stuff—after the third time you’ve had to schlep from one end of the store to the other, you start wondering if this is some clever strategy to help you work off pounds so you can fit into that all-new (and very ridiculous) size 00! 

So, note to apparel merchandisers everywhere: Freud may not have known what women want, but I do. Women want clothes that fit and flatter, made from attractive, comfortable fabrics. They want to purchase these items in well lit and well-laid out stores where the merchandise is easy to locate and compare, and the fitting rooms enhance the experience. And they do not want to dip into their children’s college fund to pay for the stuff. 

Is that too much to ask?

(Part 1) | Part 2

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