Thursday, September 30, 2010

Definitive WWPD Clothes-Shopping Guide for Women*

The guide below may eventually be illustrated with supporting-evidence photographs, but so far, here goes...

Where you should shop but don't:

-Kids' department, men's department: All women - except the remarkably Medium - have the option of one or the other. Or, assuming a shoe size-clothes size disparity, both. There's no need to pay up for "boy" or "boyfriend" clothes marketed at women - get the real deal for less. Plus, there's no law that says women wishing to dress like grown women in the most conventional sense need to shop in areas so labeled. Sometimes, depending on one's build and current styles, an item from a different part of the store is the one that looks right.

-Underwear as outerwear: A recent trip to the Gap told me what I already knew: there's no discernable distinction between their t-shirts and sleepshirts, sleep dresses and dresses-dresses. If anything, for basics, i.e. unadorned t-shirts you won't get sick of before they fall apart, you're better off with "underwear" tees. As for dresses, you can opt for the scandalous, or - and fine, it helps to be short - you can alternate between solid-color tank "dresses" for summer's hottest days without anyone being the wiser.

-Garden stores, uniform-supply stores, etc.: The rugged/authentic heritage-brand look is in. Which is all the more reason not to buy things of that nature at Urban Outfitters. This is less convenient than the previous two ideas, but can lead to great finds, like cheap French rainboots for Bibliothèque Nationale researchers.

Where not to buy clothes, under any circumstances:

-Concept stores: These are places like Opening Ceremony in NY, Colette and Merci in Paris, and apparently several more in these cities and beyond. They are impeccably curated and minimalistically-arranged assortments of items that cost much less elsewhere. (It was at a concept store that Clementine and I spotted the 90-euro nondescript cotton t-shirt.) If you need a refresher course on what the cool kids are wearing, by all means walk through one of these places, but consult the price tags for their amusement value only.

-Vintage stores in trendy neighborhoods: It might seem that buying used is a way to spend less and get something not everyone else has. This is true much of the time, but not if you're in a land of hipsters. By virtue of their location, the clothes at vintage stores in these areas are In. Which means they've been curated, if less aggressively than at concept stores. Which means the H&M shirt from six years ago that happens to fit with current trends will, though frayed, cost more than it did originally. That, and any place with a significant population of hipsters doesn't have the same used-is-worse stigma as do more bourgeois (or just non-hipster) neighborhoods - it doesn't occur to the staff pricing the items that customers would balk at paying that for a pre-owned t-shirt.

-Big-name luxury brands: Fine, I get it, well-crafted beautiful leather goods feel and look nicer than their Zara equivalents. But if a convincing knock-off of the bag you covet is on the arm of every woman for miles, maybe consider a different brand? Because in such cases you're paying for quality and a logo; a less-coveted make will cost less, be at least as well-constructed, and won't have people asking whether you're a fashion victim or a supporter of the counterfeit economy.

*Consider this another installment in my ongoing attempt at alienating all remaining male readers, with the apparent exception of Andrew Sullivan.


Britta said...

I really want that LL Bean cable knit sweater. I pretty much agree with your assessment on shopping--my home neighborhood, which has gentrified a lot over the course of my life (especially in the 90s, so it was a little pre-hipster) is full of thrift stores where you can buy 10 yr old Old Navy shirts for $20.
The only problem with kids'/men's stuff is you have to find things that do not need to be form fitted or are stretchy, unless you maintain the proportion of a prepubescent child/man. I guess that's less of a problem and more of a limitation.

I personally would like to see a store where clothing is not designed for women who are 5'8". I'm 5'5", and things either seem to be way too tall/long (regular) or slightly too short (petite). I know I'm a fairly average height, but it seems like clothes are geared towards people either much taller or slightly shorter.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Down at 5'2" it's the same thing - petite's too short, "normal" too long. My loyalty to Uniqlo began with their free-hemming policy - half the battle, really.

As for kids'/men's, the lack of curve-room is a limitation. But one that can be gotten around - no defined waist is either a style one can just go with, or easily fixable with a belt. Yes, this brings to mind the 1990s SNL sketch about Gap salespeople who insist everything fits because you can always "cinch it." But youcan always cinch it!

PG said...

Garden stores, uniform-supply stores, etc.: The rugged/authentic heritage-brand look is in.

Caterpillar seems to have cottoned on that it's trendy, though. I saw an ad on the back of a bus in Buenos Aires (in English) that said something about its boots being for urban living.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Yes, this can be a problem - brands realizing they've become cool again. In my experience, though, this doesn't necessarily lead to them raising prices. Levis, L.L. Bean, these are more "in" than they had been, but I don't think much has changed price-wise. That tends to happen when stores like Urban Outfitters or J.Crew (or, worse, tiny, carefully-curated boutiques) start stocking those makes - you'll probably pay more there than elsewhere. Example: I found boots just like a pair I'd gotten in Arizona for around $20 priced close to $200 at a (now-defunct, go figure) Americana-themed boutique on the Lower East Side.