The media would have us believe that novelty is a means of popularity and profit. The lure of the “new and improved” will translate into success and well-being. Novelty is also associated with youth and people can appear younger by buying the latest product.
This is especially true in fashions. Following the latest fashion fad is to be pursued at all costs. However, the cost is often not success but oblivion. Fads change in an instant taking with them those who cling to them.
The Graveyard of Retailing
Fashion retailers are now the victims of the frenetic rush to reinvent themselves in novel ways. Long-established businesses are now at risk and media reports put the blame on their failure to move with the times. They supposedly ignored or misread the desires of younger buyers, and their market share shrank. There is a constant refrain about failing to move effectively into the world of online retailing.
However, perhaps it is much more a failure to satisfy the desires of their loyal buyers. Against this background, journalists at MSN Money may have stumbled onto something significant. An article, reprinted from the Washington Post, carries the headline, “J.C. Penney and Kohl’s have Failed Their Most Loyal Customers.”
The article quoted a middle-aged female shopper, Christie Mowry. She used to shop regularly at J.C. Penney, but had tired of their marketing only to young women. “It was like they were doing everything they could to target a younger clientele, and for the rest of us it was like, ‘Hey, here’s a shapeless green bag you can wear.'”
Those concerns are echoed by Holly Rye, who has recently become an unwilling online shopper. She claims that the department stores sell only clothing that is either style-less or “sleazy.”
Such sentiments indicate that there is an agenda that leads fashion retailers to forsake even profits to conform to a culture that proposes ever greater free reign to the passions. There enters the frenetic intemperance of wanting everything instantly without reflection that borders on the irrational. Thus, three interrelated factors favor this fashion frenzy: an obsession with novelty, a passion for over-sexualization and an embrace of the ugly.
An Obsession with Novelty
The attraction to new-ness is undeniable. Walking into the garage to see a shiny new car, awakening for the first time in a new and more luxurious home, or putting on a new piece of clothing can be exciting. Acquiring new things are normal signs of an improving life.
However, novelty can also be induced by creating a sensation around fashions or fads. Marketers know who to exploit the natural desire for novelty to become an obsession. They know that the immature mind can be coaxed to pursue novelty in ever-increasing dosages.
The desire for novelty leads to more extreme manifestations of a fashion or fad. People run after the almost irrational changes of fashions that will favor one color one season and another color later on. Many such fashions end up in attics, basements, closets and thrift stores. Each produced a mountain of dollars for their makers. They can barely be given away today.
“Pushing the Envelope”
Related to the quest for novelty is a desire to “push the envelope,” since normal things no longer catch the attention of the consumer. Novelty can become old if the consumer is not shocked into taking notice of the latest fashions. Given humanity’s fallen state, one easy way is to do this is to offer clothing that appeals to the sexual instincts. Supported by a culture that promotes the promiscuity and sensuality, marketers can create the impression that everyone is following ever more revealing fashions and all must embrace them if they are to be accepted by their peers.
That leaves everyone else in an increasingly difficult situation. Trying to display a modicum of taste and style without revealing too much is frustrating, especially for young women. Parents know that criticizing their daughters’ attire will release frustrated cries of, “This is all I can find!” All too often, the daughter is telling the absolute truth – their choice is either the inappropriate or the “shapeless green bag” described above.
The oversexualization of fashion is aided by the models from the world of film, television, and music that promote a promiscuous lifestyle. The marketers are not reading the desires of youth but rather imposing their own desires upon impressionable youth. They give to understand that modern celebrity fashions will translate into aspirations of wealth, pleasure, and excitement. Wearing these clothes will make that happen.
A final factor is that fashions have not only grown less modest, but they have also become uglier. One way of impressing consumers is by sensual attraction. Yet another is to shock by present the outrageous and the ugly. Thus, ripped jeans appear to be worn out when they are new. Fashions highlighting symbols of decay and rot, like human skulls, have grown common.
The crude language, once forbid in polite company, has now become commonly emblazoned on t-shirts. Many youth have been sold the delusion that wearing deliberately ugly clothing is a sign of their own personal rebellion. No longer content to restrict the ugliness to apparel, the purveyors of “fashion” promote the fashion assessor of making the obscenity indelible by tattooing.
More Than Just Greed
The marketing of modern fashions involves something much more than mere greed. These fashions are being promoted by the same forces that have been working against sexual morality for decades.
These promoters are professional marketers. They know that there is a large market for decent clothing, but have abandoned it because it does not conform to their goals. They are even willing to lose money to see their goal obtained. They will forsake their most prized possession — loyalty customers to push their agenda ahead.
This condition curiously targets the three great universals – the true, the good, and the beautiful. Novelty promotes falsity of products. The overt sexuality is evil. The shocking fashions highlight the ugly.
The Customer’s Revenge
The result is the revenge of the loyal customers that have abandoned Penney’s, Sears’, Kohl’s, et al. as they search for fashions that reflect their lifestyles. These customers are the most loyal and the least likely to demand constant change.
Internet purveyors of clothing, who can turn any marketing niche into a thriving business have captured those who usually would have been the least likely to shop online. Once, many customers had a favorite clerk at Hecht’s, Ohrbach’s, Jordan Marsh, Burdines, Rich’s, Maison Blanche, or I. Magnin, who knew what they liked and let them know when it was going to be on sale. Today, those clerks are as extinct as the stores themselves, replaced by a website.
Once lost, a customer’s loyalty will never return. Losing loyal customers is the road to ruin.