Why Global Clothing Sales Have Plummeted

Why Global Clothing Sales Have Declined

Why global clothing sales have tankedIf you’ve been watching recent fashion headlines, you know that world-wide, clothing sales have tanked. The economy is finally recovering, people are finally starting to spend money again, but not on clothes. They’re spending it on electronics and novelty items, like drones.

It’s no mystery why.

The key word here is novelty.

People like new stuff.

The newest high tech car? Waiting list.

Newest iPhone? Lines out the door.

Latest clothing lines that look just like last year’s and the year before that? Crickets.

Yet clothing retailers are scratching their heads, wondering where all their buyers have gone.

It’s not rocket science. Let me count the reasons why:

1. Clothing Styles Are Boring Right Now

Let’s face it: nothing new and exciting has happened in fashion in over a decade, not since skinny jeans, low waist trousers, and Juicy Couture track suits.

If you look back at the 20th century, you see that each decade is clearly defined by the fashions of the time. From clothing and hairstyles to cars and décor, all it takes is a picture to know which decade you’re talking about.  Each had a distinct look:

Fashion Timeline 1900-2000

Not so in the 21st century:

Fashion Timeline 2000-2015

Everything looks very similar.

While there have certainly been some trends here and there – the aforementioned trousers, different tops and coats – most women just seem to wear either a form-fitting dress or a top and trousers and call it a day. Those who dislike current fashion can be found reviving old trends via the Hipster, Victorian, or Goth movements, or spending their money on tattoos, shoes, and unnatural hair colors instead.

It’s going to take something spectacular to knock people out of their ennui and get them excited about clothes again.

2. Clothes Don’t Fit Correctly

Chadwicks.com Needs tailoring to fit correctly

Needs tailoring to fit correctly

If you’ve ever walked into a dressing room with 8 pieces and walked out with none that fit, you understand this frustration.

Women’s bodies are complicated.

Most retailers’ sizing options aren’t.

If you fall outside of the “average” parameters of being 5’4” – 5’8” and a size 2-14, you’re going to have trouble finding clothes. Even if you fit those parameters and have a large bust, short legs, long arms – or anything out of the ordinary – you’re going to have trouble.

We’re not all small, medium, or large.

The only way to get proper fit is to get a tailor involved.

Since that falls outside most women’s budgets and interest level, they just pass on new clothes and continue wearing what they’ve worn.

Because styles haven’t changed that much, so why bother?

3. Clothes Are Expensive

The average American woman makes about $38,000 per year. If she budgets 6% for clothing and accessories, that gives her $2,280, or about $190 per month for fashion-related purchases. If she has to share that with a spouse and kids, it cuts it even more.

Which means she’s thinking VERY carefully about her clothing purchases. If clothes don’t fit properly or are poorly made, she’s going to pass.

Clothing retailers were upset that last winter was so mild because it kept women out of stores. Which means most women didn’t buy sweaters or coats last year because they didn’t have to. They could get away with NOT buying them…and no one noticed.

Which goes back to issue #1: clothing styles are boring right now.

4. Clothes Are Immodest

Immodest Dress

Clothing Retailer for teens and 20-somethings

Bare arms, low necklines, bare midriffs, short skirts.

Not everyone wants to show that much skin.

I get emails all the time from women looking for modest clothes. Some are very religious, some are very conservative, most just want to leave something to the imagination once they walk out the door.

But current clothing styles make that difficult.

If they’re not showing skin, they’re made of a sheer fabric. If the arms are covered, the decolletage is low. Or, they’re so tight that you can see every nook and cranny.

What happened to fashionable, modest clothing?

I’m not talking burka or traditional nun’s habit.

I’m talking reasonable coverage that allows you to walk, sit, and bend over without showing everything you’ve got.

It’s a challenge to find.

And yet another reason why global clothing sales have plummeted.

5. Movies Don’t Set Fashion Trends Any More

Once upon a time, Hollywood movies created fashion stampedes.

Costume designers like Edith Head, Orry-Kelly, and Adrian whipped up amazing movies clothes for the top stars of the day, and as soon as the final credits were rolling, women would leave the theater and head to stores to buy what they’d just seen.  Many department stores set up “cinema shops” after Macy’s sold 50,000 copies of a ruffled dress Adrian designed for Joan Crawford as Letty Lynton  in 1932, at the height of the Great Depression:

Joan Crawford as Letty Lynton (1932) Dress by Adrian

Joan Crawford as Letty Lynton (1932)
Gown by Adrian

Retailers quickly learned that great movie fashion meant great sales for them.

So from Jean Harlow…

Jean Harlow in Dinner At Eight

Dinner at Eight (1933)
Costumes by Adrian

…and Elizabeth Taylor

Elizabeth Taylor in A Place in the Sun

A Place in The Sun (1951)
Costumes by Edith Head

To Audrey Hepburn…

Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's

Breakfast At Tiffany’s (1961)
Dress by Givenchy

…and Diane Keaton

Diane Keaton as Annie Hall

Annie Hall (1977)
Costumes by Ruth Morley

…movie fashion set the fashion of the day.

Every girl in my high school got a pair of Candies after Olivia Newton-John wore them at the end of Grease (1978), and my ballet master outlawed sweatshirts in the dance studio after Flashdance (1983) made them popular.

But when was the last time women really followed a movie fashion trend?

The Indecent Proposal dress?

Demi Moore in Indecent Proposal

Demi Moore in Indecent Proposal (1993)
Gown by Thierry Mugler

The Matrix fashion?

Keanu Reeves in The Matrix

Keanu Reeves in The Matrix (1999)
Costumes by Kym Barrett

Gladiator clothes and sandals?

Connie Nielsen in Gladiator

Connie Nielsen in Gladiator (2000)
Costumes by Janty Yates

The Hunger Games?

Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games

Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games (2012)
Costumes by Judianna Makovsky

It’s been a minute, and few and far between.

Television hasn’t been much better. While Sex and the City (1998-2004) and Gossip Girl (2007-2012) certainly got fashion lovers drooling, most couldn’t afford the clothes. They had to content themselves with watching or finding knock off versions instead.

Then there are the musicians. While Rihanna, Katy Perry, and Lady Gaga have all had some influence, their clothes are either too outlandish, too expensive, or too immodest for most women to follow. Again, fashion lovers either just watch, or color their hair an unnatural Katy Perry shade.

6. Few Fashion Icons

Like fashion trends, ever decade has its style icons, the women everyone watches and tries to emulate:

Style Icons of the last 100 years

I limited myself to four for the 1920s thorough the 1990s. I had trouble coming up with four in the 2000s and 2010s.

That’s because during the Golden Age of Hollywood, celebrities were taught to create a glamorous image and maintain it whenever they left the house.  From movie stars to socialites, directors’ wives to up-in-comers, dressing well became a habit for people in the public eye.

Today, most celebrities rely on stylists to help them dress for red carpet events and they look like ragamuffins the rest of the time.

Ever see those “celebrities without makeup” posts?  It would never have happened fifty years ago, because stars would never have left the house without makeup – especially with paparazzi around. They understood the value of image and strove to look movie-star glamorous at all times.

In looking over the list of style icons, notice how both Sarah Jessica Parker and Blake Lively made the list.  What do they have in common?  They were in television shows that emphasized fashion (Sex and the City and Gossip Girl, respectively).  They learned how to dress through their characters, and kept it up once they left those roles.  It has extended their time in the spotlight indefinitely.

Did you know that in the early 1960s, Jacqueline Kennedy’s influence was so strong that even store mannequins were made to look like her?

Today, The Duchess of Cambridge (Kate Middleton) has similar influence. Everything she wears or dresses her children in instantly sells out. She’s been responsible for more than $10 billion dollars in clothing sales since she became engaged to Prince William in 2010.

But she and Mrs. Obama and a handful of celebrities can’t do it all.

Neither can the red carpet season.

Because becoming a style icon is all about dressing well consistently without have a personal stylist on speed dial.

Anyone can look good for a special occasion.

But the day-to-day? That takes work.

Especially if you’re a do-it-yourselfer.

Which is why…

7. Many People Have Stopped Caring

When you roll out of bed and do your coffee run in your pajamas, it’s obvious that dressing well is not a priority.

When you wear the same clothes for work, church, cocktails, and the ball game, it’s clear that “what to wear when” is not on your radar.

But when you trade in your power clothes for comfortable clothes, you forfeit the power that goes with those clothes.

People have stopped tryingYou also tend to gain weight.

In the 1950s, the average woman’s BMI was 23.6; today, it’s 27.6, or roughly 25 pounds heavier. That’s like a 5’5” woman going from 142 pounds in 1955 to 167 pounds today.

Since fashion has never been kind to fuller figures – that’s why corsets, girdles, and shapewear were invented – finding fashionable clothes above a size 16 can be difficult. Which is why many full figured women have stopped even trying to look.

Combine that with a much more casual culture where everyone feels comfortable dressing down, and you’ve got people spending their clothing budgets on other things instead.

Which is unfortunate.

Because even though we’re told “not to judge a book by its cover” and that “beauty is only skin deep,” the reality is that most people DO judge others by their appearance and treat them accordingly.

Clothing has been used as a status marker since ancient times. It’s like a language all its own.

Which means that if you don’t “speak clothes,” you’ll be left behind by those who do.

That’s why this whole global clothing sales plummeting news is alarming on so many levels.

It means that:

1. Sales aren’t being made
2. Stores are closing
3. People are losing their jobs
3. Customers aren’t dressing as well as they should
4. So they’re not making the kind of income or impact that they should be

See how it all goes together?

So what’s the solution?

A style revolution.

Cute, modest clothes that fit well and fit our budget. Great movie fashion. Lots of style icons.

It used to be the norm.

Now it would be a novelty.

What do people like?


So clothing retailers, listen up and take note.

There’s a reason why people have stopped buying clothes.

I just gave you seven of them.

If you want to reverse the trend, you have to do something different than what you’ve been doing.

Because the “same old, same old” isn’t cutting it any more.

Give us something new, exciting, wearable, and affordable.

Then maybe we’ll start buying clothes again.


Diana Pemberton-SikesDiana Pemberton-Sikes is an image coach who helps women upgrade their careers by upgrading their image. Ready to get the attention, respect, and income you deserve? Here’s How to Create Your Ideal Image so you can reach your goals.


  • Marilyn B Ma

    Reply Reply October 15, 2016

    Great article, Diana! I pray that it reaches the right people to make a difference. Thank you

    • Diana

      Reply Reply October 15, 2016

      Hi Marilyn – glad you enjoyed it!

  • Paula Christen

    Reply Reply October 15, 2016

    Yowzaa! Spot on Diana!
    I am purchasing only classics in well made materials. If I want flash or trendy, it comes in the form of inexpensive accessories. Given that a very large percentage of the discretionary fashion income is held by women over 50 age (me), I would hope to see a trend in designing stylish clothing for that group.

    • Diana

      Reply Reply October 15, 2016

      Hi Paula – I agree with your approach wholeheartedly! Hopefully someone will come up with something fun for women in our age group. No one has really catered to this demographic since Balenciaga in the 1950s and 60s…

  • Alina

    Reply Reply October 15, 2016

    Omg, so that’s the reason I still keep that dress since my senior year in high school! It still goes! And is a much better quality.
    Last month a shop nearby was selling an identical model. But the material is just incomparable.

    I couldn’t agree more with No. 4. It is so frustrating not to be able to find a dress that reaches the knees. Or with a petticoat. Those dresses that do…are in shops I cannot afford, I only watch their window.

    No. 2 Fit. I subscribe, although I fit the average. I have wide shoulders, which balance nicely the hips. It’s the torso that is quite skinny. So clothes that fit my shoulders are way too big for my torso. Pants need constant tailoring in the waist.
    The saddest part is that finding tailors nowadays is difficult and compared to the clothes, it’s expensive…

    • Diana

      Reply Reply October 15, 2016

      Hi Alina – everything you say is true…

  • Sherry

    Reply Reply October 15, 2016

    I suggest that another reason retail clothing sales are down is because more and more people are learning that the global fashion industry, in general, is unethical. For several years I’ve been buying the bulk of my clothes at nice consignment shops and occasionally at thrift stores. It’s getting harder and harder to shop for ANYTHING anymore if you’re trying to be ethically minded.

    • Alina

      Reply Reply October 15, 2016

      Hi Sherry, you hit a sensitive point. On one hand, most people are not into shopping frugally (from thrift shops or consignement). On the other hand, people become more and more aware of our impact on the planet. I noticed with my acquaintances that although not too much involved in being green, they are aware and are shopping more consciously. The H&M campaign of recycling clothes did open some eyes.
      I personally salute designers that try to make a difference in the way they cut the clothes, striving for zero waste.

      • Sherry

        Reply Reply October 16, 2016

        Environmental responsibility is definitely one aspect, but i had human ethics in mind as i wrote this. Being mindful that “someone made that shirt” (or dress or handbag or shoes…) means we have to be aware of which companies are oppressing their employees in order to be able to sell their products to consumers at such low prices. I think the public is becoming more aware that someone somewhere pays the price of “fast fashion.”

  • Lydia

    Reply Reply October 15, 2016

    Thank you very much!

  • Tasi

    Reply Reply October 16, 2016

    Diana. That is the most powerful piece that I’ve ever read on the state of fashion, particularly in America. And its one of the reasons that I focus on Stylish Women on my website here http://www.sisterhouse.net/dressingroom/. I had lunch with one of my Mexican friends yesterday who is always well turned out and she commented that in her close circle of friends, she is often asked why she goes to the trouble of looking so good. The problem is becoming endemic. It seems the lessons of history have yet to be learned by our ever so comfortable modern generation. You can’t command respect if you don’t look the part. Thank you for all that you do in helping us all to dress well

    • Diana

      Reply Reply October 16, 2016

      Hi Tasi – I totally agree with you. As I wrote in a previous article, “The Staggering Cost of Dressing Down,” sloppy attire has become the norm and it’s KILLING most people’s careers. Which is unfortunate. Thankfully, there are still some cultures where dressing well is still important, like your Mexican friend. It’s nice to see people who actually care about their appearance…

  • Valeria

    Reply Reply October 16, 2016

    Hello Diana, You hit the nail on the head! Shopping for clothing has become frustrating and tiring. I’m 55 and I’m tired of the fashion industry treating us as though we don’t matter. I’m tired of fashions only catering to the young, slender woman with the flat stomach. I want to look fashionable, too! Being on a tight budget I went to Target to purchase jeans and ALL the jeans were mid-rise. They don’t give me choices. I’ve tried mid-rise and I can’t wear them. They slide off my butt therefore, I’m constantly pulling up my pants. Finding great looking clothes is like panning for gold. I don’t have the time going store to store trying on tons of clothes. Where are the clothing with feminine, sophisticated details? The 50’s are a great example. Now people roll out of bed and out on to the street in their pajamas. I see people wearing flip-flops to work. A generation of women are coming up not knowing how to dress. I go to Macy’s in my city and even though the dress code for the sales associates is black attire, what they wear runs the gamut. I’ve seen black leggings with black Uggs. If people don’t care, then perhaps the fashion industry has slipped in caring.

    • Diana

      Reply Reply October 16, 2016

      Hi Valeria – The 50+ crowd has been ignored for a long time, which is unfortunate, because traditionally, this demographic has had the most disposable income. Like the plus size industry, any retailer who went after this crowd with cute, affordable clothing that fits and wears well would make a killing. I don’t understand why they don’t. Anyway, check out More’s Guide to Getting the Perfect Fit for Jeans for women over 40. They have lots of great looks at a variety of price points.

  • Courtney

    Reply Reply October 16, 2016

    I’m a 25-year-old who agrees with all those points above, and has a few to add. The fashion industry has created a trend for baggy tops and tight leggings/jeans, which is hardly flattering to anybody and is much too informal for a professional woman to wear to work. I don’t know how any of it sells. Athleisure is what most women my age are wearing, but it screams “I don’t take you seriously so why should you care about me?” Not to mention the fact that clothes that don’t fall apart after a season are getting rare as hen’s teeth, so why should I splash out to take a risk on something shoddy? But then I still want to look nice… it’s hard to win.

    • Diana

      Reply Reply October 16, 2016

      Hi Courtney – the baggy tops/tight leggings trend was last seen around 1990…and it wasn’t much better then. It IS sloppy and unprofessional, and shows just how many people don’t care how they come across. Hopefully they’ll fall out of fashion again soon, just like they did last go ’round…

  • Debbie Flack

    Reply Reply October 16, 2016

    Thank you for putting this into words! I have felt frustrated for a few years now over the selections in stores. I have invested in a rainbow of camisoles and light tank tops to wear underneath blouses – IF I can find a modest blouse. I have found a couple of stores where I can find modest clothing pretty consistently, but there are so many racks of clothes in outlandish colors that I need to sift through just to find something worth wearing to work.

    Clothing manufacturers are not the only ones ignoring the over-40 demographic. Have you walked by a popular body care retailer lately? I’m sorry, but I don’t want to smell like a strawberry smoothie from 50 feet away.

    We have the dollars, so why are we being sidelined?

    • Diana

      Reply Reply October 17, 2016

      Hi Debbie – glad you enjoyed the article! Like you, I’m mystified as to why the 40+ crowd is being ignored. If retailers catered to us, their profits would skyrocket.

  • Mary

    Reply Reply October 17, 2016

    Great article, Diana, and I only wish manufacturers and designers read it.
    The latter could do something about it but seem to prefer to design garments with shock-appeal.

    I am 86 and still interested in fashion. Because of clothes rationing in WW2 I became a bit of a hoarder over the years and it is only quite recently that I have actually done a lot of de-cluttering.

    I have hung on to what I call “classic” clothing: heavy-quality Wetherall knitwear; a Donegal tweed skirt; a Horrockses cotton dress. ( I believe one is on display at a London museum. The style is quite modern; the fabric beautiful.) Mine is as bright as the day in 1952 when I bought it for the princely sum of £5. I cannot buy such cotton today at any price.

    I am offering several garments to a nearby clothes museum as they represent the style of a particular year/decade.

    What do I wear today? My everyday “uniform” consists of tailored black trousers, a blouse, (usually white or cream), and a colourful, often unusual cardigan. It’s easy, comfortable, and travels well. I have often been told I look “smart”!

    I shop for the cardigans/jackets on line, on e-Bay, in high street shops and in charity (thrift) shops. I like browsing the latter because it is only there that I can pick up an occasional classy, well-made, vintage item, or a garment in vintage fabric I can adapt.

    I like trousers that are neither too full, nor too narrow and I have quite a job finding ones I really like and that I can wear. I often have to take them in at the sides. Skinny trousers may look good on the young and the slim but older women who are not very slim do not look their best, I feel.

    My social life has changed but I still like a bit of “bling”: scarves with
    glitter; a Zebra or Tiger print; a long velvet dress; sequined, embroidered Kaftans; pretty sandals and shoes.

    Where do I wear these? Frankly, mainly at home! Even at weddings and funerals these days people wear unsuitable clothes. I recall Joan Collins in one of her books bemoaning the fact that people are into “grunge dressing”; a fact she finds incomprehensible. So do I.

    It seems to be everyday dressing that has suffered. To quote Joan Collins yet again she went on to say that she found Smartly/casual and casually/ smart outfits difficult to create these days.

    Why do I bother? I love clothes and old women in shabby, grungy clothing look far worse than young, shabby women!

    1. Clothes are boring: Can only agree here.

    2. Clothes don’t fit: Manufacturers need to get together to produce clothes that are true to size. At the moment they vary from designer to designer.

    3. Clothes are expensive: Sorry, V.B., a dress you design is not worth over £1000. Nor is anyone else’s unless it is smothered in hand-embroidery!

    4. Clothes are immodest : Pop stars must take some of the blame here. They seem to compete as to what they can get away with.

    5. Movies don’t set fashion trends any more. So true again! Remember “Bonnie & Clyde”, “Dr Zhivago”? Here in the UK we’ve been watching “Downton Abbey” and lately “Victoria” and the outfits were really something, affording as much pleasure as the plots!

    • Diana

      Reply Reply October 17, 2016

      Hi Mary – LOVE this! When you go back and compare mid-century styles to what’s available today, there really is no comparison. More creativity, more glamour, more pride in one’s appearance. Like you (and Joan Collins), I’m not sure why people can’t be bothered to dress anymore. But I’ve noticed that it spills over into other areas of their life as well, like poor manners, bad diets, sloppy housekeeping, cluttered work areas, etc. It all goes together. If only we could have a more “Downtown Abbey” approach to life in terms of dressing and boundaries…

      It sounds like you’ve got your personal uniform down pat! Excellent! Love to hear it!

      Thanks for sharing!

  • Tasi

    Reply Reply October 17, 2016

    Diana – if I may be permitted to add to my earlier comments.. I recently wrote an article, “There Is No Joy in Mudville” http://www.tgforum.com/wordpress/index.php/there-is-no-joy-in-mudville/ that addresses the theme of your article and confirms many of the points noted by the readers above.

    To Mary, check out the Advanced Style blog http://www.advanced.style/. These ladies are definitely not boring. In fact it seems as we grow older that we have even more latitude to be a bit quirky in our outfits.

    I’m also a hugh lover of Pinterest and there are many boards that show clothes that are both stylish and modest, particularly in the midi length skirts. And I think you’ll find some creativity too.

    Unfortunately, what I see often in the internet is not in the stores. One of my favorite stores is Lane Bryant, since I’m plus size, and their online selections now are quite stylish, but go into the stores, ugh….. Went to a store in Denver and it seemed to be all neon tops and pants. Very disappointing since I was willing to spend some serious money on a few nice dresses and tops.

    I would love to spend some money on vintage clothes for their quality, but much of that is form-fitting and not workable for me either. Oh well, back to Ebay, but even Ebay has been swamped with large retailers. Just beware the Chinese manufacturers…do your due diligence with customer complaints.

    • Diana

      Reply Reply October 17, 2016

      Hi Tasi – you may certainly comment again! Thanks for your input and the links.

  • Lori D

    Reply Reply October 18, 2016

    And virtually nothing is long enough! It’s hard to find a leg length longer than a 32″ (that shrinks to 30″), and I’m always pulling my shirt down in the back. I’m not that tall, and I never wear heels. I discard a lot of nearly new clothing after a couple spins through the washer and dryer (cold water, low heat). I’m mostly shopping Lands’ End online these days, sticking to classics and getting custom hemming on my chinos.

  • Tori

    Reply Reply October 19, 2016

    Love this article! This is exactly why I fell in love with LuLaRoe — it’s modest comfortable fashion that’s constantly coming out with new prints. From solids and color blocking to wild prints and pattern mixing. Styles that fit all body types and make ALL of us, no matter our size, feel and look GREAT! I think your article uncovers the secret sauce to LuLaRoe and why it’s such a booming success. Thank you!

  • Shirley Caldwell

    Reply Reply October 28, 2016

    Dear Diana,
    I have been fortunate enough to have a degree in dressmaking and tailoring.Sometimes ladies have not had enough insight to find someone to help them feel better about themselves…for that I thank you ,now ladies have a “Lady” Diana in our midst.
    There are professional people out there who will measure and give you a diagram and you can have a pattern drawn up as to what looks good and what looks great on your body.Ladies that have insight will get a sewing course for almost next to nothing compared to getting a pair of jeans that don’t feel right on them. Learn how to follow a primer fitting pattern.If you are not ready to sew and make your own statement,find a good dressmaker or talk to a tailor,they can give you ideas,.Thank You

    • Diana

      Reply Reply November 1, 2016

      Hi Shirley – thanks for your insight! Where can people have these patterns done? Is this a service or organization? Please advise. Thanks!

  • Marian

    Reply Reply November 14, 2016

    Thank you, all of you! I feel as if I’ve found my tribe when I read this article and responses: women who value, quality in style, fabric, construction, and business ethics. It’s the very essence of sustainability, which needs to become our gift to the next generation.

    So often I feel like an old grouch after fruitlessly shopping in stores or trolling the internet for quality, classic, adult-women’s clothing. I came of age in the era of Jackie Kennedy, and I long for the classic simplicity of those days. It included styles that would still serve me as my shrinking spine rearranges my proportions even as my weight stays stable. 🙂

    Can you blog a tribute to brick-n-mortar or online shops that come closest to serving the ideals you so aptly describe? And can you telegraph this message to the clothing retailers who are as out-of-touch with street level as the politicians are? Thanks!!!

    • Diana

      Reply Reply November 28, 2016

      Hi Marian – glad you enjoyed the article! It IS a challenge to find well-made, ladylike clothes. I’ll see what I can do about coming up with a good list of stores that fit these criteria. Thanks for the suggestion!

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