a unique perspective on this crazy world

Posts tagged ‘democracy’

keeping up with the consumer…

This week I was walking through the flagship Sears store on Robson street and it was kind of depressing.  I had noticed a while ago the “going out of business” signs.  I thought it was just that location but I gather Sears is in trouble.

It does seem to have lost its way.  I guess it’s likely run by a bunch of old, white guys… let me check… no pics on the investors web page – but those names are not ethnic!  And nary a girl name among them.  So I bet they didn’t see H&M and Zara coming to eat their lunch… and they didn’t realize maybe they should take a page out of Target’s book and learn how to be a bit cooler…

My current shoe collection would suggest otherwise but almost my entire childhood wardrobe came from Sears – unless my mom sewed it herself.  The kids nowadays have no idea how much the world has changed in their favour.  And it has benefited a lot of people.

It is really cheap to be a fashionista in the 21st century.  And that is a wonderful thing.  I look back at pictures of me from the 70s and I just cringe.  But I didn’t know any better 🙂  There was no MTV, let alone fashion bloggers and websites posting photos of the latest designer collections a few hours after they hit the runway.

We may not have achieved as much political democracy as we might have hoped for but we have democratized fashion in a way that can only be a force for good for the human race.

Sure, fashion is silly.  And one shouldn’t get too caught up in it.  But fashion is also political.  Just ask a woman wearing a burqa in 40 degree Celsius heat.

Fashion is especially political for women.  And the politics take many forms.  My first job was on Bay Street (the Canadian equivalent of Wall Street).  It was a big deal.  I came from a small town on the Canadian prairie and Toronto was the big smoke.  And Bay Street.  It was the culmination of so many of the things my dad had taught me.

Including how to be a rebel 😉  Only recently I would go to clients and see the exposed thongs of the young female staff members (really a don’t, ladies! 🙂  But back in the 80s there were very few women in business and the tiny minority had decided that dressing like the boys would be the key to their ascent up the ladder.  The more conservative the profession, the tougher the rules.

At least we didn’t have to worry our costume would obscure our peripheral vision but it was pretty strict.  Only dull colours, no pants, hosiery non-optional, sensible pumps preferred and – the worst part – a floppy bow scarf thing around your neck in place of a necktie.

In those days in my private time I dressed like a pseudo-punk so, needless to say, the dress code (and many companies had written ones back then) made me crazy.  So I wore pants.  I was the only woman who did.  What was most amusing was that when I pointed that out to male colleagues they were surprised.  Only the women cared – and noticed.  I think the guys just looked at your ass – and if it was good, what you covered it with didn’t matter very much…  I also wore boy’s neckties in place of the cursed floppy bow… if we were supposed to dress  like boys, why not do it right?  I think it was sexier.  I got a lot of compliments from guys on my ties 🙂  And – a harbinger of my future identity – I wore shoes as funky as I thought I could get away with.

And – in my first performance review – the female partner I reported to (who dressed like a butch lesbian) called me out on my dress.  She told me I dressed “too mod”.  I think I wasn’t too cheeky but unfortunately she gave me a story for life… “too mod”… what is “too mod”???  I’m still not really sure.  I think she was just saying I had a personality and the style sense to express it.  And the firm did not approve. 

I always cheer a little when I see some cool shoes poking out under a burqua 😉  Maybe if Sears had some cross-dressers on its board, its business would be better.  Fashion may be frivolous but it has also always been political.  It has been a reflection of the times, of the social mores and of the religious state of all the nations that comprise the world.

And the world is changing, people.  It’s not all good.  It never is.  But there is definitely some good things happening out there.  And fashion is a mirror to what’s going on.  So what’s it telling us…

Fashion is being produced where the labour rates are lowest.  Bad for developed countries but great for developing ones.  It’s forcing people to acquire actual skills the marketplace wants in order to get a paycheque.  It’s supplying paycheques to lots of people (especially women) in lots of countries where that was not a possibility even twenty years ago.

It’s made clothes cheap.  So everyone can express themselves.  And look good.  And acquire the self-esteem that comes from that.

It’s opened up new markets and made it not such a big deal to have an Asian or African model sell clothes to white people.  And – more importantly – to be a mirror for their own people so that they can visualize themselves in the clothes.

I feel some nostalgia walking through the now almost empty Sears store.  It used to be the flagship Eatons store before they also forgot about the consumer.  I bought almost everything at that Eatons store.  And it was one of my first audits so I counted inventory there so many times I could direct people to departments better than almost any of the staff members 🙂

When I was a child my dad was always buying properties and we would be going through old abandoned houses cleaning up.  One of my strongest memories was the old catalogues from Eatons and Sears.  That was how people bought things on the Canadian prairie back in the early days of the twentieth century.

That’s the thing with consumers.  They always think they are moving forward and what they are doing has never been done before.  But the internet is the new Sears catalogue.  Nowadays people all over the world buy things in the same way a 20th century farmer without access to a shopping mall would.  Sears coulda been Amazon… if only they hadn’t been asleep at the wheel…

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