Shopping Ruined? Nah.

As I went through my near-daily routine of lunch at my desk and perusing the Globe and Mail online, I came across this article by Karen Von Hahn lambasting retailers for taking the thrill out of the hunt when it comes to shopping. Von Hahn argues that retailers have taken the fun out of shopping by making it "too easy to look cool." From pre-worn vintage-inspired looks to graphic tees meant to look like one-of-a-kind finds, to stores that hawk head-to-toe looks to customers, nothing is unique anymore. Implied in this is the assumption that shopping--as hobby and as professional pursuit--has been dumbed down to passive consumption for the masses, and consumers can look chic and trendy with minimal effort.

Personally, I think this is a rather elitist view from a woman who confesses that she has made shopping her career and passion and probably wants to keep her cachet in an era when people are relying less on "self-appointed gurus" and finding shopping for clothes more, well, consumer-friendly. I don't buy the idea that the thrill of the hunt is gone from shopping. If anything, the thrill has been amplified and diverted through fast fashion chains (Zara, H&M) and the very websites she dismisses, eBay and craigslist. The quick merchandise turnover at fast fashion chains means that a certain sweater dress that's there one week might not be there the next. Because they don't carry the same styles from season to season--and sometimes not even from month to month--there's always a certain thrill factor when you find something you like that fits you well. It's the same sort of thrill people get when they visit outlet stores or go to Winners or browse through sale racks.

The other thing I don't agree with in her article is the contention that mass-manufactured clothing and retailers' merchandising methods decrease individuality. Von Hahn imagines the average Jane reading an issue of Vogue and deciding that a boatneck sweater is the fashion statement of the season. She feels proud of herself for arriving at this decision and picks up said sweater at Banana Republic, only to be dismayed that her "original" fashion statement makes her look like everyone else who has that sweater. Another thing she argues takes away from individual style is how retailers are slyly marketing entire looks: "At street-smart retailers such as Urban Outfitters and American Eagle, they not only want to style you from head to toe, they do all the work for you, providing the perfect little lace-trimmed cami to wear under one of their preppy cardigans."

Just because a retailer markets a look doesn't mean you have to buy every piece in it. Don't most shoppers buy a piece here and a piece there and put the look together by themselves? Who would copy a mannequin head-to-toe unless they wanted to look like a walking billboard for that store?! I might take cues from a retailer's look book as to what is possible, but in the end how I wear my clothes is up to me. I don't have to pair the preppy cardigan with a cami from the same store; I can always find a cami at another store if I feel like I can find one at a better price, with different styling, or in a better quality material, or (gasp!) I could wear something of my own.

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