I went to two proms: My own, and my older boyfriend’s. My mom made both of my prom dresses. (See dress number one here.) And despite the fact that I’d spent all of middle and high school acutely aware that the popular kids in my schools were also the rich kids, I honestly didn’t give my homemade prom dresses a second thought. I could’ve cared less that I never got to shop for off-the-rack dresses for these events. I got to pick out the materials and colors I wanted, select the styles and patterns, and get custom-fit dresses to wear. It was ideal! And yet I know that wearing clothes that are mom-created or hand-sewn can cause massive embarrassment for certain kids under certain circumstances.
I’ve been thrifting since I was in middle school, too. Growing up in the ’80s and ’90s in an affluent suburb, I never got any flak for wearing secondhand duds. If anyone cared, they never had the guts to tell me to my face. And yet I know that wearing thrifted clothing has caused many a young person to get teased by insensitive and unthinking peers.
Many of my younger style consult clients balk a little when I suggest shopping at Talbots, Coldwater Creek, or Soft Surroundings. It’s relatively easy to bring them around when I show them which items I’m thinking of and how I envision them styled, but there’s no denying that younger women hesitate to shop at the same stores as their mothers and grandmothers. There is definite cachet in spending at J.Crew instead of J.Jill.
Over time, I’ve also come to understand that there are shopping stigmas associated with many of the purchasing and fashion-related decisions we make. Although thrifting has hipster cred and artisan goods are sometimes considered luxury items, in certain cases and certain places homemade and thrifted items are associated with lack of money. When a 50-year-old woman shops at H&M she may get the same sidelong glances from the clientele as an 18-year-old at Chico’s. And then there are the size biases. Loads of mall stores make and sell plus-sized garments, but many of them choose to sell those garments online only. Virtually all high-end designers produce their garments in sizes that reach no higher than a US 10 or 12. And while there are myriad excuses related to cost of materials, limited floor space, and whatnot it seems clear that many clothing manufacturers just don’t want fat people buying or wearing their clothes. Or if they do, they want those transactions to take place well away from a busy shopping mall.
I believe that good stuff is everywhere, and the more places you look the more likely you are to find that good stuff. But I also know that plenty of women have more vocal and judgmental peer groups than I do, and that some social climates make broad searches challenging. And further that some women are limited in what they can and cannot buy due to vendor choices that are entirely outside their own control. In a market that claims to be driven by profit, you’d think that all shopper money would be welcomed. But fashion is decidedly social, and its social aspects seep through into our seeking and purchasing behaviors.
Image courtesy get directly down.