14 October 2010

On having no bearings...

My partner would love to get an affirmative answer to the question, "Does my bum look big in this?" She is skinny, and she can't find jeans to fit. When she commissioned me to go shopping for jeans for her in the States a few years ago, the shop assistant insisted I must have got the wrong measurements--no adult was that size.

However, she got wind via a friend, of a shop in St Albans (actually a menswear shop) which might well stock some to fit. She spoke to someone there on the 'phone and we drove down today, to find this little shop in a very elegant back-street. She had not mentioned prices on the 'phone, and I began to wonder when the guy found her several pairs to try on, and referred to them all by their labels--of which the only one I recognised was Versace. While she was trying them on, I browsed the shop and found a  nice cardigan--only £400. (You know you are getting old when "nice cardigan" is no longer an oxymoron.)
Fortunately none of the jeans fitted quite well enough (although there were bargains--at only £220) for her to splash out on them. But what amazed me, naif as I am, was how much one has to pay nowadays to look tatty and cheap. (Not that everything in the shop was like that...)

I wouldn't have picked that up as clearly in a womenswear shop--we went to a couple later and I realised I had absolutely no reference points for understanding "quality" in that area.

And that is the point of the anecdote. Not that fashion is silly (or indeed obscene in its self-obsessed self-indulgence, although it is) or that prices are ridiculous. No, it is the disorientation which comes from having no point of reference, no sense of standards by which to judge--anything.

I'm pretty sure that it is key to much marketing-oriented business to keep consumers on the back foot in this way, so they can provide a spurious "solution", such as a brand, to the intolerable abyss of disorientation. At least to the extent that they can be parted from a couple of hundred quid.

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