Our one and only department store has closed and I am partly to blame. Note I said partly, as the other 99,999 inhabitants in the area are also responsible. It does seem strange that a city of a hundred thousand people can’t support a department store, but that is the reality of the changing retail environment, and it’s not just here, department stores are in trouble all over. Sears has gone bankrupt and closed it’s stores all across Canada, leaving us a nation with just one department store, Hudson’s Bay. The Hudson’s Bay Company was the oldest, established in 1670 as a fur trading post, back when Europeans considered it fashionable to wear beaver pelts, so perhaps it is fitting that it is the only one still standing. Eaton’s succumbed back in the late 1990’s, although it did a roaring trade in the eighties when every city had an Eaton’s Centre mall, back when people actually hung out at the mall.
The Sears store in town had been in operation since 1954. One of my earliest childhood memories was of my parents taking me to Sears to shop for a new dress, (my older siblings must have been in school, and perhaps I was soon to go), and I had to chose between a blue one and a brown one. The dresses were both otherwise identical with short puffy sleeves and smocking, the kind of dresses little girls used to wear before they wore leggings. I can’t remember which one I chose, it might have been the blue, but it sticks in my memory because it must have been the first time I was allowed a choice. Normally my mother dressed my sister and I in identical outfits, or I wore her hand-me-downs. Slowly our retail choices are becoming more limited. Other than Walmart which I don’t consider a choice, plus a few ladies shops for older women, and the usual teen jean stores, the mall is littered with empty store fronts, even the food court is deserted. You could go through it in an hour, while I remember whiling away a Saturday afternoon shopping at one of our two local malls. You couldn’t do them both the same day there were so many stores. Now the nearest department store and decent mall is two hours away.
Yes, I know there are lots of choices on the internet, thus the demise of the brick and mortar operations, and I know the internet is cheaper, but I when want to shop for clothes, I want the thrill of the hunt. I want to browse, see what catches my eye, feel the material, try it on, see if it fits – and I don’t want the hassle of having to return stuff. Someone told me part of the appeal of online shopping (other than the obvious of saving time and money), is they like the idea of having a package waiting for them when they get home, but how many of those packages have to go back, or are kept because the alternative is just too much work. And what about the porch pirates? The delivery guy once stuck my Sephora order behind a flowerpot on the front deck and the $24 tube of Tarte lipstick melted in the ninety degree heat. What fun that was to get refunded. I have shopped online after trying something on in the store if they didn’t have my size. Occasionally I have ordered from L.L. Bean (their perfect fit pants really are a perfect fit), but only because I know my size with them, and only when the exchange rate of Canadian to US money was on par, because we also have to pay customs and shipping when ordering from the States. Unless you really love it, it’s just not worth the additional cost.
I could just as easily have titled this post, The Death of Style. I loved shopping when I was younger, (see vintage blog). When did it become so difficult to buy clothes? I distinctly remember it as being fun, a hobby of sorts, retail therapy before the term was invented. So, when I say I am responsible for the demise of Sears, it’s true – I hadn’t bought anything but socks and underwear there for years. Other than my twice yearly trek to the Estee Lauder counter to buy Night Repair, which I have been using faithfully for over thirty years, (by now they should be paying me), I don’t think I will miss it, other than the gift with purchase. Because the truth is the clothes were ugly or poor quality or just plain boring. So, it’s not just my fault you see, it’s the clothing manufacturers too. They need to start making better stuff and offering more choices. Is it too much to ask to have a bit of style with function and fit. As I have gotten older I have gotten fussier about what I buy, and that Marie Kondo tidying up book in January (click here) has only made things worse with it’s closet advice. Now I have to ask myself – does it bring me joy? That is why I have worn the same winter coat forever – I never find what I am looking for. I have a vision of my new winter coat, (a nice rich red, not orange-red, belted, wool, three quarters length, classic cut), in my head but that’s the only place it seems to exist. I would even settle for a new ski jacket (also red, with white or black fur trim), but all you could find in Sears were long over-sized puffy parkas – yes, it’s cold here but we don’t live in igloos. Have you ever tried to shop in a parka – instant hot flashes. Even when I do find something that might be somewhat suitable, I find myself critiquing it. I found a nice black belted wool coat but why would you put such cheap brass buttons on a black coat. Or maybe the style is nice, but the color is wrong. When I was in grade school I wanted to be a fashion designer, but was discouraged by the guidance counselor who looked gravely at me across the desk and said, young lady, you have a C in art. My dreams were dashed, but I wonder if it’s too late? If anyone has an advice on where to shop for stylish clothes, either in-store or online, please leave a comment.
(see part two: Twenty Pairs of Black Pants next week)
Postscript. my fellow Canadian blogger, Anhistorianabouttown, has posted a book review on, Service and Style, a book about how the American department store fashioned the middle class…sounds interesting…..click here for a link to her review.