If 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:
Not so in the 21st century:
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
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
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)
Gown by Adrian
Retailers quickly learned that great movie fashion meant great sales for them.
So from Jean Harlow…
Dinner at Eight (1933)
Costumes by Adrian
…and Elizabeth Taylor
A Place in The Sun (1951)
Costumes by Edith Head
To Audrey Hepburn…
Breakfast At Tiffany’s (1961)
Dress by Givenchy
…and Diane Keaton
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 (1993)
Gown by Thierry Mugler
The Matrix fashion?
Keanu Reeves in The Matrix (1999)
Costumes by Kym Barrett
Gladiator clothes and sandals?
Connie Nielsen in Gladiator (2000)
Costumes by Janty Yates
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:
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.
You 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-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.