Shopping Stigmas

I went to two proms: My own, and my older boyfriend’s. My mom made both of my prom dresses. (See dress number one here.) And despite the fact that I’d spent all of middle and high school acutely aware that the popular kids in my schools were also the rich kids, I honestly didn’t give my homemade prom dresses a second thought. I could’ve cared less that I never got to shop for off-the-rack dresses for these events. I got to pick out the materials and colors I wanted, select the styles and patterns, and get custom-fit dresses to wear. It was ideal! And yet I know that wearing clothes that are mom-created or hand-sewn can cause massive embarrassment for certain kids under certain circumstances.

I’ve been thrifting since I was in middle school, too. Growing up in the ’80s and ’90s in an affluent suburb, I never got any flak for wearing secondhand duds. If anyone cared, they never had the guts to tell me to my face. And yet I know that wearing thrifted clothing has caused many a young person to get teased by insensitive and unthinking peers.

Many of my younger style consult clients balk a little when I suggest shopping at Talbots, Coldwater Creek, or Soft Surroundings. It’s relatively easy to bring them around when I show them which items I’m thinking of and how I envision them styled, but there’s no denying that younger women hesitate to shop at the same stores as their mothers and grandmothers. There is definite cachet in spending at J.Crew instead of J.Jill.

Over time, I’ve also come to understand that there are shopping stigmas associated with many of the purchasing and fashion-related decisions we make. Although thrifting has hipster cred and artisan goods are sometimes considered luxury items, in certain cases and certain places homemade and thrifted items are associated with lack of money. When a 50-year-old woman shops at H&M she may get the same sidelong glances from the clientele as an 18-year-old at Chico’s. And then there are the size biases. Loads of mall stores make and sell plus-sized garments, but many of them choose to sell those garments online only. Virtually all high-end designers produce their garments in sizes that reach no higher than a US 10 or 12. And while there are myriad excuses related to cost of materials, limited floor space, and whatnot it seems clear that many clothing manufacturers just don’t want fat people buying or wearing their clothes. Or if they do, they want those transactions to take place well away from a busy shopping mall.

I believe that good stuff is everywhere, and the more places you look the more likely you are to find that good stuff. But I also know that plenty of women have more vocal and judgmental peer groups than I do, and that some social climates make broad searches challenging. And further that some women are limited in what they can and cannot buy due to vendor choices that are entirely outside their own control. In a market that claims to be driven by profit, you’d think that all shopper money would be welcomed. But fashion is decidedly social, and its social aspects seep through into our seeking and purchasing behaviors.

Image courtesy get directly down.

Originally posted 2013-06-06 06:29:16.

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51 Responses to “Shopping Stigmas”

  1. Sara

    I find it plain ironic that some women are stigmatized in this age and day because they choose to wear homemade or artisan-made clothing. If you sew your own dress, you can be 100% sure that it is sweatshop free. You know it has not traveled around the world because it was cheaper to cut the fabric in one country, sew the dress in another and add final touches in third. Probably, the materials used for said dress are way higher quality than materials used in cheap mass-made clothes. Probably you love your dress more because you invested your time, skill and work in it. So basically, you are wearing a dress that meets very high ethical and quality standards and are facing criticism from folks that happily contribute in exploiting the Earth and people in poor countries? And you are supposed to take that criticism to heart? How crazy is that, really?

      • BC

        I really believe that the author was referencing teenagers and young kids who might have teased her for not having “brand name” clothing, not adults. That’s what kids do, they tease anyone for being different. I don’t know any grown women who would stigmatize someone for wearing something self-made. All the women I know would be extremely jealous, including me! Sewing involves math and position in space skills that I simply do not possess. I could invest more time in learning, yes, but I have chosen to concentrate my efforts elsewhere, instead of trying to beat something into my brain that just does not come easily. If my mother could have made my prom dress I would have loved it! But I wouldn’t make her feel bad for buying it at the store simply because she did not know how to sew, nor would I accuse her of “happily exploiting the Earth.”

        • Kate

          While I agree that kids can be very cruel to those who do not “belong”, some adults can be judgmental too, especially when they are trying to maintain a socio-economic/class/whatever status or establish some sort of pecking order.

          My family was middle-class but financially struggling during my teens for reasons outside of our control. My mother was acutely embarrassed about it and strictly forbade me from revealing to my friends that we shopped at thrift stores. Ironically, my school friends (all from wealthier families) didn’t care at all and loved to thrift and sew. Unfortunately, in my mother’s eyes, it’s socially acceptable (though strange) to thrift/sew if you can afford not to, but it’s shameful to thrift/sew because you have to. Somehow, in her mind, by hiding the fact that we wore second-hand clothes, we could somehow appear more “respectable”.

  2. LK

    I have to agree. I use to say there was nothing in J Jill I would wear until I saw this amazing flower tunic on sale. Now I own 2 items. Ann Taylor Loft was another pleasant surprise because not only is their stuff well made and cute but they also have my size. I stuck with things like Express and H&M forever until I found some ladies stores that could fit my small frame. Now I don’t have to replace my clothes every year because they don’t fall apart!

  3. Patti @ NotDeadYet Style

    Good article, Sal. While I’m a confident 58 year old, I def. got the side eye in one consignment store in NYC. It was full of tall, thin 20-somethings with *attitude*. I felt stigmatized, and therefore uncomfortable, by my age. And there’s nothing wrong with my age! So they won’t get my $$$ there. : >

    I work at a mental health center and there are no clothing stigmas there – we wear what we like, and the vibe is all good.

  4. kayBug

    I was in my early teens when I was first humiliated for my home sewn clothing. And I was in my 20s when I realized that a certain store (which has now become famous for it) would not ever have jeans in my size, ever.

    As a 45-year-old stuck between two massive generations (Boomers and Ys), I find that most mall stores have very little to offer for my body type or life needs, and I almost never find anything in those storefronts.

    So I have to be a little bit more creative in how I source, and every once in a while I stumble across a store that unexpectedly has trendy skinny jeans in my size. a cool boyfriend sweater that still fits my womanly curves or a hot dress that’s date-friendly. And I’ve just started some truly elemental sewing, to creatively alter some items that I’m not in love with any more.

    But, when shopping, do I occasionally still feel stigmatized for not being part of one of those generations? Yes. Ignored by marketers, given the “side eye” by employees, frustrated by cuts and sizing that are either too boxy or are too junior, even when numerically in my range.

  5. T.

    I am 45. Funny thing about J. Jill–when I was in my early 30s, I adored their clothes. They had a funky, bohemian vibe. Their style has changed over the past decade, though, and now that I am closer to their target age, I find their clothes too “old” and frumpy for what I want. I still have and wear some of the things I bought from them 10 years ago (and get compliments when I do!). I miss the old J. Jill.

    I buy my clothes almost exclusively online; therefore, I don’t get that feeling of being too old or too young when I’m shopping. When I take my young teen daughter shopping, she is mortified if I see something cute I would like for myself where she likes to shop. I am not allowed to purchase clothing where my daughter does!

    On the occasion when I am out shopping for my daughter without her, I do feel a bit silly going into places like Forever 21 by myself.

    • N

      T., I totally agree with you about J.Jill! They had really interesting clothes before, and then I look away for a moment, and when I look again, they carry only superboring overpriced clothes! I would swear they turned around overnight!

      • LauraFW

        I’m glad I’m not the only person thinking this. Some of my favorite things in my closet are from J.Jill and they don’t feel too old – but I think I bought them all several years ago. I rarely find anything interesting there now and am usually the youngest person when I go in the store – and I’m in my mid-40s. I was wondering if they changed or if it was me.

    • Annabeth

      Another one chiming in to agree about J.Jill. I still find some good pieces there, but fewer and fewer. It feels like the styles there have become significantly dowdier in just the past five years.

      • GingerR

        It may be because I’m old and plump, but I always give the JJill catalog a look. If you’re a devotee of Eileen Fisher, but short on cash, similar looks can often be achieved because many of their styles follow that vibe.

        I don’t care for their pants, and some of their tops are for gals with bigger boobs, but I often like their sweaters, cotton shirts and dresses. They also have a good markdown policy.

        I wouldn’t do my entire closet in JJill, but for me it’s always worth checking out.

  6. Karen

    I can’t say that I have actually experienced any odd looks from sales clerks, but as I move further into middle age, I’m surprised to notice that I’m becoming apprehensive about going into “younger” stores that have previously been my favorite places to shop, like J. Crew. I love their colors and some of their styles work well on my small frame, but lately I have an impulse to tell the sales clerks there that I’m looking for something for my (nonexistent) daughter, as though it’s somehow illegitimate for me to want a colorful tee-shirt or pencil skirt for myself. It’s easier to just shop online, where no one knows my age. This is an unexpected and entirely self-imposed limitation. I guess my attachment to younger stores that nonetheless aren’t quite comfortable places for me speaks to the general strangeness of dressing the 50-something body—so many garments seem too trendy/young for me to wear, and yet the things that are specifically marketed to older women can be so dreadful (boxy, oversized, drapey stuff), and they don’t come in my size anyway.

  7. Molly M.

    My family moved the summer before my 5th grade year. I exclusively wore clothing from garage sales and had never known anything else or felt bad about how I dressed. Suddenly, I was in a suburb where all the kids were wearing dark neutral colors with GAP and other clothing logos plastered on them, and I was the girl in oversized pastel sweatshirts with cartoon characters on them. I had never really noticed clothing before, and this was truly awful. I just wanted to shop at the stores everybody else did, and wear clothes that would allow me to blend in. But we couldn’t afford to plaster brand names all over me, and my parents refused to get me new clothes when I had a bunch of perfectly good clothes that fit. In a couple years, I’d get to pick out some new things from Kohl’s for myself, but most of my clothing would still be dated and I’d still never have those brand names on my shirts.

    But, these years of looking awkward in dated clothing were important to making me the person I am today. I learned that the people who judge you for breaking the mold are the people I’d rather not associate with, and I’d rather be unique than try hard to blend in. Now, I’m not scared to rock my own style, even if I don’t look exactly like everyone else. When I was in middle and high school, I found thrifting was a way to get my parents to buy me clothes that I actually liked, because they were completely affordable, and I developed my own unique style (misguided in many ways, but my own).

    I pretty much only shop in thrift stores now. I used to ignore brands, but now I find them as a useful indicator of the durability of the garment. Forever 21 or Old Navy? It’s not going to last. I’m also terribly biased against the Sag Harbor brand, because my mother wears a lot of it and it has a HORRIBLE name. What aging woman would want the word SAG sewn into all of her clothing? I’ll pass. Anything else, I’ll try on, though I mainly ignore size and brand, except when I know I’ve got a skirt in that same size by that same brand in my closet, and it fits perfectly. That’s good information to know.

    • Karioki

      Yes! I shudder whenever I see the name “Sag Harbor” on a label. Such a bad name it almost seems like a mean joke. What on earth were they thinking when they came up with that?

  8. Aubree

    I love this post! I think this is especially true for style bloggers. I am getting kind of sick of looking at outfit credits and seeing J Crew, J Crew, J Crew with an occasional Gap thrown in. Don’t get me wrong, I love j crew and gap too, but my outfit credits do have things like Coldwater Creek (great jewelry), Kohls, Ross, Wet Seal, and local boutiques. I agree that you kind find great things in so many places, if only you are willing to look!

  9. Cynthia

    Honestly I haven’t felt like where you got something mattered since I was in high school, when I couldn’t afford to shop at Benetton (hey it was the 80s). Tiny violins, amirite? Then I found thrifting and got by on black trenchcoats with flowery dresses and combat boots, and vintage men’s pajamas worn as streetwear, for the entirety of college and well into grad school. I shop on the internet (where no one knows you’re a 40-something shopping at Hot Topic, haha. Not that I do.) I’m a fan of about 1% of what is offered at Coldwater Creek — but that 1% is awesome. It’s sad (as someone else noted) what’s happened to J. Jill. They used to have cool stuff but now? So boring. I think they nearly failed and got bought in the early ’00s. Because I once bought something from Pyramid Collection, I now get all manner of crazy-ass catalogs. Sometimes there’s something cool in them.

    • Val

      I think I might be you, because I have similar feelings about all of these stores.

      When I was a teenager, I wanted Benetton and Esprit clothes so badly. I found a Benetton jacket at a thrift shop once and I probably kept it for ten years. (It was pretty cool – a sort of short riding jacket in turquoise and dark red tweed with a velvet collar.)

  10. ClaraT

    Stigma: A mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.

    I don’t think ‘stigma’ is the right word for a shop that doesn’t carry one’s size or one’s style: While some stores may have an item or two that fit me and that I like, I’m more likely to shop at a store that has many items that fit me and that I like. It is purely practical and a matter of efficiency for someone like me who doesn’t like to shop. If I haven’t been in a J. Jill for 5 years, it is not because of stigma, it is because I found nothing the last 10 times I went in. Could I be missing a jewel? Maybe, but it’s a long shot.

    I also dispute the assertion that home-sewn clothes carry a stigma, either. The people I know who sew their own clothes are also admired for their style.

  11. Patricia

    When I was in middle school, most of the girls I knew shopped at Delia’s. I LOVED their clothing (it’s very cute for that age group), but while they offered larger sizes in their catalog, very little at their stores actually fit me– they stopped at the size JUST below mine, and everything above that was online or catalog only. It was aggravating and humiliating for a 13-year-old girl who hadn’t accepted her body shape yet. Still to this day, I see that kind of “size stoppage” at stores… one of my female best friends wears the size below me, and one wears the size above me. When I go to the mall with the first, we find all sorts of cute things for her (and OCCASIONALLY me) to try on. When I go to the mall with the second, we walk around stores laughing at the ridiculous clothing (what is WITH the floral denim underwear trend?), but never buy anything past jewelry because nothing fits her and very little is likely to fit me. Forever 21 and any other store that carries only three sizes is the worst culprit… would it KILL you to put out an XL, or if you don’t want that designation on your clothes, would it KILL you to relabel your smallest size as XS and then add one more size to the top of the range? I wear a size 14. That’s the size of the average American woman. Why is it I have to do most of my shopping online?

  12. Valentina

    I had a client of mine tell me that while she loved my shop (and spent well in it, too), she couldn’t bring herself to “like” us on Facebook because she didn’t want her social circle to know that she shopped in a plus size store. Honestly, I’d rather have a paying customer rather than Facebook “support,” but I found it very interesting.

  13. Catherine

    I think where you work may make a difference — I definitely have had co-workers who would make faces at the very idea of hand-made clothes or make it clear they are far too busy or important to spend any free time sewing.
    A stigma certainly exists among some people.

    • Martina

      Yes, I’ve had a similar experience. I once worked at a company where the labels on your clothes, shoes, purse, etc. were extremely important even though we weren’t paid nearly enough to support this “label habit.” Shopping was a highly competitive sport to see who could score what prestigious label on sale. No one would have ever confessed to shopping at thrift stores or buying fakes, though of course some people did.

      • Martina

        Sorry, I meant to finish this by saying that as far as sewing went, for these women, it was just a waste of good shopping time–and, of course, the finished garment wouldn’t have any label at all so what was the point.

  14. Marilyn Taillon

    Stigmas. I am hoping I didn’t cause one for Lands End. Last summer I discovered their cotton modal fit and flare dress. I quite like it on my 60 year old, plus-sized body. At a travel oasis wearing my bright green one, I ran into a lovely slim, 30 year old wearing her bright pink one. She looked lovely and I gave her a big smile. The poor woman looked utterly horror-stricken. I couldn’t tell if the horror was about how awful she thought I looked or how awful it was that she was wearing an old fat lady’s dress. Maybe she had a sudden cramp and it was nothing at all to do with Lands End dresses? I thought we both looked great.

    • Annabeth

      I LOVE the Lands End dresses, and am thrilled that they’re expanding their cotton/casual options every year. I have three of theirs in “heavy rotation” and get compliments every time. If I saw someone else wearing the same dress, I’d give them a high five!

    • f.

      Hahahahaha, oh no! My parents love Land’s End and I now have a number of thrifted Land’s End items as a twentysomething. I wear what I think of as my “dad shirts” and “mom cardigans” with pride. Because, why not?

  15. Martina

    There was a certain rather pricey boutique in my town where a dear friend liked to shop when she could afford it. (I should note, my friend is small and very thin while I’m tall and “plush.”) Anyway, my friend had one of those milestone b’days coming up so I decided to splurge on a gift certificate from this store. I went there one day and just as I stepped through the door a sales associate rushed over blocking the way into the store saying, “We don’t carry clothes in your size.” I had always felt a bit out of place there even shopping with my friend; and, apparently, the sales staff actually found it unbearable that someone my size should even darken their door.

    • Sally

      Holy crap, Martina. WTF!!?!?!? I don’t even know what to say I’m so stunned and outraged that this happened to you. To anyone! THE HELL.

      • Martina

        Yeah, I was stunned too. So stunned that her words didn’t register for a few moments so I carried on walking into the store. This SA kept saying “We don’t have your size, we don’t have your size, we don’t have your size…” as she backed away from me. Kind of funny in an awful way and by this time I was feeling really embarrassed.

        Another woman came out of the back and came up to me asking if there was a problem. Somehow I managed to say that I didn’t have a problem. The SA literally stomped her feet and shouted, “WE DON’T HAVE HER SIZE!” I then calmly told the other woman that I had come in to purchase a gift certificate. Then I reached in my purse (had just been to the ATM) and fanned a fistful of twenties at them and said, “However, I see that my business is not welcome.” And I left.

        • Sally

          It’s like something out of a poorly written sitcom. Cripes, I’m so impressed at your presence of mind. What a nightmare.

          • GlamaRuth

            Unfortunately not as uncommon as you’d hope. I haven’t shopped at a Knit Wit in years (even though they suit my style, and at least used to have some good sales), because they once told my size 14/16 sister-in-law, in a disdainful sniff, that they didn’t carry anything for her.

  16. Anna

    All these comments about home-sewn garments are an eye-opener for me. I made most of my clothes in high school and college, and many of my classmates (who like me had been through the same required home ec classes, where we were taught real sewing skills) made theirs as well. For most of my life I have moved in circles where making one’s own clothes inspires compliments and admiration, not put-downs. I’m sorry to see that it is otherwise elsewhere.

  17. Annabeth

    I, too, will purchase from just about any store. Obviously I go first/most often to the places where I have the best luck, but I look everywhere from Nordstrom’s to the local boho thrift shop. It’s a rare shop that has NOTHING worth at least checking out.

    Had I sewing skills, I suspect I’d make a lot of my own stuff, because so much of what I wear are simple skirts and sundresses that probably aren’t that tough to make IF you know what you’re doing (and I don’t.) To some extent I think the stigma against handmade items (very strong when I was in my teens, in the 1980s) has been significantly reduced now that crafting is much more respected and admired.

  18. Vildy

    The only time I’ve gotten snippy treatment in a store, I was pregnant and wanted a lower cut dress. I was 38 and the young saleswoman pityingly suggested to me that I should wait until *after* I had the baby to find something like that! I did find a matte black crepe sleeveless vee neck maternity sundress somewhere else and wore it for years afterward, too.

    The other incident was that when I was in my early 30’s I was idly shopping in a suburban middle class department store branch and began to be aware that a portly guy in a suit seemed to be following me. When I got on the escalator, pretty soon he got on the escalator. When I went into the lingerie department, there he was. It finally dawned on me that he thought I must be a shoplifter and he was store security. I’ve never been a shoplifter or wanted to and it totally upset me. I don’t know if I ever went back into that store again, where I had shopped before. Kept wondering what it could be about me that made me fit that kind of profile and anyway, whatever it could have been, doubt I could change my essential nature.

  19. Kaisa

    Once in Rome (Italy) I was told in a shop not to try on anything, because it wouldn’t fit me. I was like: whaaaat?! And then they suggested me like one shirt that might fit me. I left. Needless to say.

    Luckily I grew up in the 80s and 90s in a small post-Soviet country, so no-one had brand name clothes. I think things might be tougher now for kids. As for myself, I shop from second hand to high end (sales!). I don’t really care and I think neither do others. As long as things look good. đŸ™‚

  20. Lainie

    This is a great post. I personally like thrift stores myself. But for staples like black tshirts, I like Ross, Kohls, Target. I am 39, and find myself feeling a little too “mature” for mall stores like Express and H&M. Also, I have a Gothabilly sort of style, so I am starting to wonder if I am supposed to “outgrow” the style that I have always loved!
    I also have started reading a book called Overdressed, the shockingly high price to pay for fashion. It does speak about sewing, however, many fabrics are made in China and India, where the wages and working conditions are suspect, so that even trying to make your own clothes in an effort to be globally responsible is becoming increasingly difficult.

  21. LydiaG

    I never wore jeans as a young child. I bought my first pair when I was 21 at university, and even then, (though no one ever said so, I felt they were never as ‘tight’ on me, as they were on other women). — my mom always bought me pants when I was little, though other kids wore jeans, and her European sense of style encouraged me to wear comfortable trousers (she thought jeans were tough, and too tight when I was growing up). I felt stigmatized at school for wearing bright courderoys, or non-brand name slacks. I am grateful now — both she and I wear jeans with stretch (comfier than the jeans I tried on in my 20s), and we both like softer trousers, or pants.

    I also sew my own clothes, and rarely tell people. If they know I sew, I feel they scrutinze my clothes more closely. I do receive compliments on my sewed items, but when people ask me where I purchased it, I only tell a few people I sewed it –I mostly fib saying I ordered it online, or say the location of the fabric store. This ‘fib’ or lie I suppose is to avoid admiration — ‘wow – you made that — it looks like it is from…’ or to avoid a critical gaze as the zoom in on the garment. Maybe I am shy, but there used to be more stigma about sewing in the form of ‘ why would you make that if you can buy it?’ type. I love sewing items I can and cannot buy — I try and make current things I see online and in stores, but with a better fit for me, and in my own fabric choice.

  22. Marie

    I’m 29 and so far any out-of-placeness I’ve felt in certain stores has all been self-imposed, although I’m sure people think things they don’t say. I’ve definitely felt self conscious before, especially when I walk into an unfamliar store and realize it’s not my kind of place. I’m at the age where I feel too old to shop in teenager-targeted stores, but too young to shop in ones for more mature women, even though both have things to offer. Happily there are some in-betweens, although it can be tough to find good quality clothing that also feels young and modern. And fits my small frame (there are both extremes).

    As long as no one is being outwardly rude to me, I tell myself it’s all a matter of confidence. I’m perfectly entitled to shop anywhere they sell clothes, even if I don’t look like the kind of person who belongs in that store.

  23. shaye

    I stopped shopping at LOFT when they stopped carrying size 16 in store. The sales people tried to act like shopping online is just the same as actually being able to see whether a garment fits and flatters you BEFORE you give them money for it. (I am not a big online shopper in general for this reason.)

    I wear a medium or large in most of LOFT’s tops, but if they really don’t want to see my fat ass in their stores, they don’t get my money either. I still thrift LOFT stuff, but I refuse to buy it new.

    On the bother hand, Dress Barn, despite the terrible name, has a lot of cute stuff in a large range of sizes. I don’t shop there much anymore, but it’s for other reasons that have moved my clothing tastes away from their aesthetic. (I wear mostly vintage and thrifted natural fibers these days.)

    • Kristin

      I (thankfully) don’t have any stories to tell at this point, but I wanted to second Dressbarn as a store that has a pretty good range of sizes. The styles won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but the one I shop in is about half misses (regular) and half plus sizes. There’s a petite section as well, but the in-store selection is a little lean compared to the other two groups (which as a petite, makes me sad).

  24. Sally

    Thank you all for sharing these stories and experiences and perspectives. Needless to say, I’m fuming to hear about how some of you have been treated. Oh, the pieces of my mind I’d like to give …

  25. f.

    I will wander into nearly any store in search of good items and I shop the ENTIRE store – menswear included. This definitely results in weird glances and occasionally weird comments. But with as picky as I am about fibers, fit and quality, I’ll leave no stone unturned in my search for clothes.

    Recently I’ve started to enjoy thrift shopping a lot more, though. I’ve always been annoyed by hovering sales assistants and wish that particularly aggressive salespeople would just leave me to check the fabric composition of every single garment in their store in peace… So it’s nice to go to the thrift store where no one is trying to upsell me coordinating pieces or disingenuously compliment me on stuff I can see isn’t all that flattering.

    One place I recently felt weird about entering was a Forever-21-like retailer where I wanted to buy a cheap pair of sunglasses. It was basically the exact opposite of ethical shopping and I felt bad about it, and too old for the store. Oh well… My new sunglasses are cute and I won’t be annoyed when I inevitably lose or break them!

  26. Jenny

    What about the thing where people just can’t believe you found anything good at a chain store? I am really good at ferreting out cool, original-looking pieces at standard mall chain stores, and when I tell people where I got certain items, they gasp like they never imagined such a store would carry something so cute, as if any item you buy from such a place will always automatically look like the overly matchy outfits on the mannequins in the window.

    Like you, I find my stuff all over the place and don’t limit myself to the types of stores that are marketed toward people of my demographic. I am 40, short, size 14, busty, and apple-shaped, and buy my shorts at American Eagle Outfitters. Granted, I don’t buy their SHORT shorts, but their midi shorts are perfect for me. I also have a pair of Land’s End shorts that are much less perfect, and I find myself reaching for the AE ones far more often. But, like a commenter below already wrote, the Land’s End cotton/modal sleeveless dress fits me like it was made for me. Anyway, teen-oriented stores sometimes offer unexpectedly awesome stuff for adults. One time I was wearing a black jersey top with an off-white faux-linen Pilgrim-ish yoke neckline while shopping at a boutique that carried the likes of Ella Moss and Splendid. One of the saleswomen there complimented me on my top and was shocked when I told her it was from She said it looked much more expensive, “like Anthropologie.”

    I LOVE it when fashion defies stereotypes. Like one time there was an Us Weekly article about how to dress like Sarah Jessica Parker, and one dress they offered was from the Pyramid Collection, which is regarded as a laughable throwback to alterna-’90s breathy erotic poetry and crushed velvet, but here they were suggesting that a dress from there could pass as Hollywood celebrity-like style. My mother-in-law, meanwhile, is a huge fan of the uber-corny “Catalog Favorites” catalog with its oversized sweatshirts with Christmas scenes on them, but when I was at her house with nothing to do except look at that catalog, I noticed that there is a cute red-and-white polkadotted dress in there that could fly in a retro rockabilly scene, which is miles from anything my mother-in-law has ever heard of and comes in a wide range of sizes.

  27. S

    I’m one of those younger people who wouldn’t want to go to Coldwater Creek b/c of the associations with older women. But the weird thing is that I’m much less label conscious when I’m shopping at thrift stores. I look at the color, style, and fit first and then if I like it I might be surprised at what brand it is.

    A few months ago I found a tunic (or at least I thought it was a tunic) at a thrift store. It was in the women’s dress section but when I looked at the label, it was a plus sized Gap Kids dress! But I bought it anyway because for me, it worked.

  28. AJP

    I actually only started dressing a bit nicer very recently, before that I was a t-shirt and jeans gal and honestly felt out of place in most clothing stores because I never knew how to put together an outfit that didn’t consist of said t-shirt and jeans. I really wanted a pair of leggings after I moved to Boston, and went into an Urban Outfitters, probably on Newbury St. I definitely felt like some poorly dressed rural hick (half true) in this weird land of chic urban hipsters.

    Now that I look more put together, I still feel a bit out of place in nicer clothing stores, just thinking that I don’t really belong there, because I must be some sort of fashion impostor, but I just act confident and try not to let it bother me anymore.

  29. Megan Mae

    A bit late to this post, but actually? My worst ever shopping experience was in a Coldwater Creek. I went into almost every clothing shop when I first started trying to “grow up” my style and the saleswoman took one look at me and sneered “We don’t have anything your size here.”

    Maybe it could have been true about their pants, but I could still have tried blouses, dresses, skirts? I goggled at her and walked out ashamed. I was small, but I would expect the same respect whether I walked in Lane Bryant or Loft. She had no idea if I was even shopping for myself, just outright made it clear there was nothing for me in that store.

    I will say my favorite pants are from J. Jill. I have many pieces I love from Talbots and Karen Kane. Many of these brands have improved and modernized their styles. The best part is they have quality clothing in age-defying style.

    Ultimately, this is why I prefer thrifting. I can look at the clothing first, the tags second. I can judge quality and fit without looking at sizes or tags. I will look, but it’s not my first step to buying something when I thrift.

    Additionally, I never had any clothes homemade. Women in my family (until me) did not know how to sew. So I find handmade clothing extremely special to me.

  30. Val

    I’m in my early 40s and I like Chico’s so much. I’m tall, and their massive, weird jewelry and bright maxi dresses are perfect for me.

    They do fail by not offering my size in stores (they only have FOUR SIZES – it’s not hard, people!) but I can’t give up my addiction.

    Kind of LOL at the product reviews by 70-year-old customers. I absolutely don’t mind, though — sometimes something is just cute, no matter who it’s aimed at.