Why Do All the Clothes on the Market Look the Same?

June 29, 2022

In 1987, when I began my image consultant career, business casual did not exist and we were still years away from the concept of online shopping. As it turns out, both (along with fluctuating style trends, of course) have contributed to major shifts in how we shop and what we wear.

What I’m seeing now, in terms of the evolution of style, feels very different…and not in a good way.

If you’ve shopped at all lately, you’ve most likely noticed the most glaring trend of all:

Clothes look the same—no matter where you get them!

Recently, a friend sent me an article by Amanda Mull in The Atlantic entitle, ‘Fashion Has Abandoned Human Taste.” (https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2022/06/fast-fashion-trends-industry-mass-market-consumption/661371/).

It struck a chord with me.

It was as if Mull were reading my mind as she wrote, “Americans now have more consumer choice than ever, at least going by the sheer volume of available products, but so much of the clothing that ends up in stores looks uncannily the same.”

In fact, she goes on to say, “Even clothes from different brands will look almost exactly the same; in fact, they might actually be the same.”

Coincidentally, just today a client asked me if she was imagining that clothes from one brand looked exactly like knockoffs from another brand? I had to admit that yes, they do, although it’s not always easy to know which came first!

Why is this happening?

Mull cites Fast Fashion as a major culprit and shares, “Traditional brands, which would commonly plan new collections and develop products for more than a year in advance, couldn’t keep up with competitors that digested trend and sales data and regurgitated new designs in a matter of weeks.”

In order to compete with the demand for low-cost clothing, designers are being driven to make cut corners and, in order to keep costs down, they use cheaper fabrics and forgo the design features that make something feel different and special.

Yes, I know not everyone spends time at stores like H&M, Shein or Zara. But the pursuit of the lowest cost for clothing is a major factor in the loss of quality, uniqueness or both.

The pandemic certainly didn’t help when it comes to finding clothing that feels different or elegant. I have spoken to many women who, understandably, during the height of the pandemic turned to shopping as a creative outlet…or even just a relaxing way to spend time. Mull talks about this when she says, “At a certain point, you are not really paying for a product, but for the hopeful experience of buying something new. Whatever dress eventually shows up at your house is largely incidental to the momentary rush of acquiring it.”

I’m now seeing a backlash from my clients against this type of shopping as we all get out into the world more. Many of those garments purchased during the pandemic either sit unworn or they have served their purpose and now pose an unwanted reminder of times they’d rather forget.

Instead, women are now searching for a pared down wardrobe and one that makes them happy to get dressed.

This brings up the questions I’m hearing a lot lately, “Where do I find unique items?” and “Where do I go to find elegant casual clothing?” My answer is the same. You do an extensive search (whether online or in-store) and sometimes that means outside your usual brands. If you come up empty handed, you either hold off and wait until more interesting items are available or you explore how to combine more basic items to create uniqueness and elegance.

No matter what, it’s still easy to fall prey to the allure of clever marketing. Brands make things look appealing so you’ll want to buy them, but what you see is not always what you get. In my 6-week class I talk about how companies show models in clever poses or with clothing pinned a certain way or perhaps even photoshopped to look enticing. As Mull explains, this makes shopping even more confusing and frustrating, “The garments in question, most of which don’t exactly jump off the hanger in person and fit poorly once tried on, benefit from careful photography and liberal photo editing—and from requiring shoppers to pay up front.”

It’s not just online stores that resort to this. It has always happened in catalogues or even in the stores on mannequins (although adjustments are more transparent that way). The clothing needs to look enticing so you’ll WANT to buy it and with diminished quality, marketing becomes even more important.

I encourage you to read the article in The Atlantic. It’s eye-opening and a little sad.

One of the most revealing lines in the article is, “Stores stock up on stuff you might not love, but which the data predict you won’t absolutely hate.” This is where you can make a statement about what you’ll buy. If you don’t love it, don’t buy it.

How you spend your money tells them what you like, and they’ll keep making more of the things that sell. Settling for good enough is never worth it either in terms of your degree of delight in getting dressed or how it impacts what styles you can expect to see for sale in future seasons.

If you’re discouraged or frustrated by what’s available, make a statement about what appeals to you by where you spend your dollars. It might take longer to find what you love, but the long-term benefits are that you’ll enjoy your wardrobe more and the brands will have a clear picture of what you want them to wear. Every dollar spent is a vote – make yours count!

If you aren’t sure how to find, identify or wear items that feel uniquely like you, that’s my specialty. I’d be delighted to talk with you about the possibilities (there are so many ways I can help with a selection of services and at a variety of price points). You can set up a time for us to talk: https://totalimageconsultants.com/booking/

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