Forever 21 And Mourning The Death Of Luxury Retail

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I have got to stop shopping at Forever 21.

I stop in there every so often. Sometimes I wake up in the morning and something is telling me, “You have to go to Forever 21 today.” Sometimes I listen and find magic: a white floral maxi dress that everyone else thinks looks like an old lady’s pillowcase, a black dress with a back that dips just low enough.

And other times I wander for what seems like hours and try on piles of dresses and all of it is wrong. I look at what I’ve gathered and I hate myself, because I’m perpetuating the very store that has aided in killing my industry of upscale retail. The Forever 21 customer, myself included, doesn’t want to spend money on a dress she’ll wear once. So I buy, wear and then in a few weeks look at my closet and take a pile to Buffalo Exchange to sell. It’s not a healthy cycle.

A $1.80 tank and $7.80 jeans sound very well and good when you’re just out of college and poor and uncertain of your future, but when said $1.80 tank and $7.80 jeans are dissuading your customers from spending $180 on quality denim that will actually last past two washes and retain its shape for longer than an hour. It’s quantity versus quality right now, so much that nearly every store from Macy’s to Bloomingdale’s to Nordstrom has given in to the fast-fashion phenomenon just to survive. How many days a week does Macy’s have a “sale?” You know it’s not really a sale, right? They’re just marking things up to mark them down, which is the oldest retail trick in the book. If Forever 21 can sell a tank for $1.80, guess how much that tank cost to make? You don’t even want to know.

When I wander around Forever 21, I question who is buying these things, these teeny crop tops with peasant sleeves that barely cover even the tiniest boobs, the cutoffs ripped all the way up the sides and the T-shirts with Danzig and Biggie splayed all over them. The teenagers of today were born around the same time Biggie died, which is an event I remember quite clearly even though I was pretty young. I believe that if you wear a musician on your shirt, you ought to be able to name at least three of their songs. I find myself furrowing a brow and frowning at some of the “fashions” Forever 21 is offering its customers, who are generally flocks of young teenage girls. And then I frown again when I stop in a week later and see that those same items are now on sale, buy one get one free!

Some day soon, thrift stores will be full of these kinds of clothes. I already see pieces of our fast-fashion present when I go to Goodwill. The quality vintage pieces from the past, even if they’re made of the same polyester blends as Forever 21 uses, are disappearing. When my mom was a teenager, she didn’t have near as many clothes as I did, but hers were of much better quality.

I realize I’m partially to blame for this. I buy cheap clothes from Forever, H&M, Topshop (well, that’s not really cheap) and Nasty Gal, and the company I work for has recently given in and added off-brand merchandise solely to keep up. Women especially have a problem paying full price for anything. Men shop when they need things and will buy what fits and what they like regardless of price, but women shop all the time just for fun. The relentless pursuit of a “deal” is killing retail as we know it.

I know that not everyone can afford $180 jeans or a $300 coat or whatever, but it’s easy to shop smart. Shop resale. Thrift with a vengeance. Get a shopping app like Tradesy where you can find quality pieces for less. It’s not hard. Soon Forever 21 will be able to sell jeans for $2.80 instead of $7.80 if this keeps up, and that’s terrifying. Where does all this stuff end up? And the question of who is making these items is another story entirely.

I’m all for a mix-and-match of high and low. Buy a few things at Forever 21 — I do it, I’m just as guilty. But take some time to consider where your dollar is going and what it’s supporting. Why not find a cute vintage dress, spend a little more and have it altered perfectly to you, and wear that as often as possible? It’s better to have one dress that fits perfectly than three that just fit OK, isn’t it? TC mark

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