Are These Cultural Shifts Permanently Impacting What We Wear?

 

Big topics of discussion in fashion and retail circles is whether women have permanently moved away from fast-fashion (especially the flashy H&M and Forever 21 kind) and whether sex can ever be used to sell again.

I’ve been mulling over two recent articles on these subjects as well:

#1: Business Insider suggesting that millennials have moved on to more durable, functional apparel e.g. North Face or Patagonia because these are enduring, sensible brands that can be worn for decades without ever needing to be replaced. No mention is made of the high price points of these “non-fashion” labels. I suspect these brands represent a new form of luxury and are very much a fashion statement versus signaling a permanent shift in shopping behavior.

#2: BoF’s brutal takedown of Victoria’s Secret also caught my attention. Their assessment of what’s ailing the brand is that VS is completely out of touch with the modern woman and with today’s cultural realities: “they’re selling sex like it was 1999.”

 

Read on below for more on the shakeout in both the outerwear and innerwear categories and who might emerge victorious in this battle for relevancy.

 

 PRACTICAL FASHION

 

BI notes that practical fashion is in vogue – which I partially agree with since that’s all I’ve seen in NYC over this long, cold winter.

  • BI believes that millennial customers want clothes that last longer and serve a greater purpose.
  • They go on to say that outdoorsy brands like Patagonia and The North Face are surging in popularity because they’ve “won over the hearts of customers who were psychologically scarred by the recession and have become more considered with their spending habits.”
  • I am around millennials all day long at my co-working space, many of whom are sporting these brands. I don’t pick up on any of this scarring or considered spending. In fact, in NYC (and elsewhere), the hot brand is Canada Goose – many of those coats set buyers back over $1000: I rest my case!

Here’s a rundown of some of the top brands that have emerged (some of which, admittedly, I do own):

 

THE NORTH FACE

 

Their mainline products are seemingly so unassuming, so banal, so practical that each owner or subculture have been able to project their own identity onto those three simple curved lines and sans-serif text,” Dazed wrote in 2016 in describing how the brand has become, and maintains, its cool factor.

  • I’ve worn out my North Face jacket, feathers come fluttering out every morning when I wear it to the gym (pic way above).  This will be my jacket’s last winter. It has served me well for almost two decades.
  • I’ve finally replaced it with a Patagonia coat that I have coveted for 5 years but never found on sale.
  • BI, btw, concurs that the image of The North Face has transitioned from being a purely practical brand to one that makes a fashion statement.
  • The North Face is owned by VF Corp., the parent company also of Dickies and Vans. And kudos to them for making such stellar acquisitions.

(Patagonia, btw, says its sales have quadrupled in the past 10 years.)

 

FJALLRAVEN

 

This Swedish brand entered the US market in 2012 and has become one of the fastest-growing names in outdoor and lifestyle wear here. Along with Canada Goose, this is one of the top brands I see out and about on the streets of NYC.

 

BIRKENSTOCKS

 

Ugly yes – but favorites of mine (and before me, of my mom – must be a German thing).

  • These comfortable, practical sandals have been at the forefront of the “ugly fashion” trend since 2012 when they first appeared at Paris Fashion Week.
  • Many celebs have been snapped wearing them including the Olsens (above).
  • It happens every several years” David Kahan, CEO of Birkenstock USA, told Fast Company back in 2016. “The planets line up and Birkenstocks become fashionable again.”

 

INNERWEAR

 

Victoria’s Secret has never really been my thing. Back in the day I bought some of their bras but never found them to my liking. The stores are too gaudy, the underwear looks cheap and not well made and the overall message I get is you shop there to attract guys or because the man in your life wants you to fulfill his fantasies of being with a “VS Angel.”

  • I was pretty much alone in that assessment until recently. Over the last year, there’s been a noticeable backlash to VS and what it stands for – from image to product to overall relevancy.
  • I haven’t done the research but I suspect it started with the ascendancy of athleisure and yoga wear.
  • I’ve also seen more Aerie Stores (from American Eagle) and their bras and underwear look more wearable and comfortable.
  • Many of the most successful new brands are designed around the needs of everyday women. For example, I found being flat-chested made buying bras as difficult as being bossomy. Lots of looking and trying on but very few good fits until recently.
  • I finally found a brand I love – Yummie by Heather Thomson. I believe I stumbled on it at Bloomingdale’s but have been ordering it online for several years.
  • To sum up what I see happening at VS: plummeting sales, changing fashion trends, and the #metoo movement (can bra burning be far behind?), have all conspired to create the perfect storm that finally made analysts and retail experts question whether Victoria’s Secret can ever regain its cachet.

BOTTOM LINE: We’re living in a topsy turfy, confusing hashtag world at the moment. Whether it’s #fastfashion or #metoo or #dontbuythisjacket every word and every action is being reassessed daily for appropriateness.

All of us – women, men, marketers, ad agencies, retailers – are walking on eggshells hoping not to offend and prompt backlash via hashtag.

My advice, if your brand operates in sexual territory:  get out while you can. It won’t end well.

Makes me reconsider tossing that North Face jacket. I may want to just dress down and stay out of the crosshairs until this whole thing sorts itself out and I get the hashtag #allclear.

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