Thursday, January 03, 2013

Insufficiently-critical shopper

Oh happy day, Princeton now has an Urban Outfitters.

A sentence like this needs context: until the arrival of said Outfitters, if you wanted low-end, there was, what, J. Crew? Which, especially these days... kind of mid-to-high-end. New additions in town include a deck-shoe store and a Brooks Brothers, but there's also Ralph Lauren, J. McLaughlin, Kate Spade, I think a Lilly Pulitzer. Oh, and the Princeton-sweatpants store. What am I forgetting? The lacrosse shop. In other words, although I'm not averse to clothes-shopping, I had managed to live here, what, a year and a half, most of it time without many trips into the city or a car, without buying any clothing whatsoever in town.*

Say what you will about Urban Outfitters - that it's vintage-knock-off, poor-quality, overpriced junk aimed at those too square for real vintage-shopping; that it's mall-clothing for 12-year-olds; that it's a subliminal plot to turn young people into Republicans; or that it's generally obnoxious. Say it - you're not telling me anything I don't know. But when it comes to town, I'm not what would be called a "critical shopper." There is now a store I could walk (OK, bike) to that sells normal clothing. $40 jeans. $15 (U.S. union-made, apparently) hats. Actually, really gorgeous $15 hats (we will look past the fact that a similar hat is cheaper in Japan, even though I think they're made in Pennsylvania or possibly even New Jersey - Princeton is Princeton, and if a hamburger's $14...). I broke my no-garments-purchased-in-town policy to buy the absolute perfect gray hat, one I can't find a photo of online, but that's basically the acrylic version of this. It's just so cool, so Acne, so A.P.C., so Gwyneth-on-a-good-day, this thing that I bought in Princeton.

*While I've come to accept online shopping as a fact-of-living-in-the-woods, online clothes-shopping, not so much. Meanwhile, to give town its due, there is also a consignment store where the less-exciting Talbots goes to be subtly reduced, as well as an out-of-the-way, barely-counts-as-in-town, has-some-potential thrift shop where they make you check your bag, which, if you want this to be a dissertation-break, means you end up holding your computer as you browse, which is not necessarily worth it.


Britta said...

I'm not sure actual hippies or leftists shop at Urban Outfitters. I know growing up it had the same reputation as A&F, except obnoxious in a slightly different way, but to the extent clothes were politicized, it definitely skewed conservative. But anyways, I don't think shopping anywhere makes someone an asshole, I know people who've bought reasonable clothes at reasonable prices at UO, even though I've never had that experience. In terms of politics, I would agree UO is maybe more flamboyantly terrible than others, like A&F or AA, but all mall brand clothing stores have the same political and labor issues, so it's hard to be righteous about one and not all of them.

Britta said...

In case it's not clear, I mean, like A&F or AA, UO has a more publicly negative brand than places like Gap or ON or American Eagle, but that's totally due to marketing rather than any actual differences in politics or labor practices.

Phoebe said...

Growing up, I always understood UO as where not-yet-enlightened young people who do identify as progressive would shop, in order to differentiate themselves from the generically-dressed or preppy. And if you just look at the outfits as styled in the stores, it skews a bit hipster, also a bit (anachronistic, I realize, given that I'm talking about 1995-ish) Occupy Wall Street. A kid with the first inklings of, I'm a bit different, a bit alternative/emo, will, when presented with the usual array of mall stores (and Manhattan kids are no exception, there's just a different spacial layout), go with UO rather than Abercrombie or Gap.

The beef I remember everyone having with UO was that wearing it with the goal of looking edgy made you a poser. Meanwhile, it was always socially-acceptable to browse the sale racks for surprisingly attractive $20 jeans, $10 shirts, etc.

As for labor issues, my apparently relatively inoffensive hat notwithstanding... All I can remember is the periodic fury over the fact that UO is run by a conservative, despite selling hippie-inspired garb, along with the ickiness of selling clothing that looks used (i.e. eco-friendly, no-direct-contribution-to-sweatshops) but is actually new, something you don't get with a new dress that looks like a new dress.

Britta said...

Yeah, that was my problem with it. Why would you pay $25 for a t-shirt that looked used when you could pay $5 for a used t-shirt? Especially because the looking-used stuff was often so poorly made that it looked like it would fall apart after about 2 wears, while actual thrifted stuff has gone through a process of natural selection and is probably sturdy enough to last you as long as you want to wear it.

Phoebe said...

"Why would you pay $25 for a t-shirt that looked used when you could pay $5 for a used t-shirt?"

I suppose because one is 14, new to shopping for one's self, and there's no thrift store at the mall. But in all seriousness, oh, utmost seriousness, as this is a serious topic... I agree with you, but must play devil's advocate. There is a way that faux-vintage clothes can be more appealing than the real thing. It's not unlike (to tie in with that other post) how many of us wouldn't actually like the authentic versions of our preferred cuisines as much as the Americanized version. Styles change in subtle but important ways, and 1970s-influenced might look better to the contemporary eye than actual 1970s. The real thing may end up looking too costumey.

And also: vanity sizing. Older clothes tend not to even come in large sizes, but for those small enough to fit into them, there's accepting that one is a size 12 or whatever, plus those were the days before everything had stretch-fabric in it. Not as relevant for t-shirts, I suppose, as for other garments.

How's that for a defending-the-indefensible, Urban Outfitters Edition?