Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Great Debate

In-person vs. online

A few weeks ago, I had a most traumatic and contradictory experience: I went to a mall and I hated it. 

To start, let me say that I've always found my excitement for shopping, in any duration, to be similar to my excitement for a holiday. If I had to name my top five holidays, including shopping, from top to bottom, it would be as follows: my birthday, Christmas, shopping, Thanksgiving, New Years.

I've prided myself on being an excellent, if long-winded, shopper. I'm not often deterred by crowds (although I'll never brave Black Friday in person) and have excellent stamina – perfect for rifling through racks, slipping into outfits and spending 90% of the day standing. 

I've tried to examine my unfortunate experience from multiple angles. Maybe I wasn't in the mood. Maybe it was the post-Fourth of July weekend sales that brought entirely too many people to the mall, bringing about that dull headache of annoyance every time you realize you'll have to wait in a line for the dressing rooms, then the checkout. 

But I was in the mood. And, like I said, crowds don't generally bother me. It seems every year I'm out shopping in the brief week between Christmas day and New Years. (And that, my friends, takes patience.)

So what was it? 

My blissful veil of ignorance was pulled back, revealing a number of things that have perhaps changed my view of in-person shopping forever. Going to a mall reminds me of everything that is wrong America: that we are fat, terribly dressed and like to blatantly disregard rules (since when has it become acceptable to walk on the wrong side of the supposed shopping-street, cut in line or indefinitely block off that one section of the rack I'd like to have a look at?).

My (and many others', I presume) preferred method of consumption has now, and possibly forever, shifted to the ever-massive plunders of the World Wide Web. I've always been a huge fan of online shopping, because what's more fun that sitting on the couch with a cup of tea, quickly converting your bank account into incoming packages filled with personally picked presents?

It can be argued that shipping costs and the possibility of something not fitting or not looking as it did in an online picture are deterrents for shopping online. I agree with that. What must be realized is there's a tradeoff that must be made, and it's that convenience has a price (usually, $7.99). 

Fortunately, most websites offer free returns, and many free shipping (shout out to Shopbop, Piperlime, Zappos and Nordstrom). Another plus: if Neiman's doesn't have your desired size in that Equipment blouse you've been staring through the screen at for weeks, just hop on over to Saks, Bergdorf, Bloomingdales, Net-A-Porter or Nordstrom. You're bound to find it somewhere.

I'm sure you've experienced the harried excitement while awaiting a package to land on your doorstep. Not much is more satisfactory than tracking your package from "origin scan" to "out for delivery." (Random facts: Gilt ships from Louisville, Kentucky, J.Crew ships from Roanoke, Virginia and Shopbop ships from Middleton, Wisconsin.) And once it's out for delivery, there's almost nothing that gets me home from work or class faster. 

Our entire lives are being transferred to the Internet. Friendships, correspondence, photo albums, money management, ordering food, watching movies and TV shows, reading newspapers and magazines and any kind of shopping you could think of. I hate the word literally, but we literally do not have to leave our homes (or couches) to do anything. 

So please. Sit back, relax and join me while I online shop.

Photo: Interview Magazine, March 2013

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Seeing Double

Having a déjà vu moment
In many cases, imitation is the best form of flattery. This is often true in fashion: how nice it must feel to be the mind behind a trend that launched lookalikes (or, in simpler words, a trendsetter). Surely the Olivia Palermos, Mary Kate and Ashley Oslens and Karl Lagerfelds of the world take at least some pride in their sartorial creations that spread like wildfire. 

Although as far as product creation and design goes, while copying an idea might be flattering, it also infringes on certain creative rights. Intellectual property, copyrights, patents–it's all about protecting what's yours. Is it fair that another piggybacks off your success? I recently listened to a This American Life podcast about the inner workings of patents. It's an interesting institution, to say the least, although I'm not going to venture into that realm of discussion because a. it hurts my head, b. it has little to do with fashion and more to do with business and tech and c. because there is entirely too much legal jargon involved (hence head-hurting). 

It's not a secret that trends move from the runways down to mainstream stores. How would us mere mortals be able to take part in the graphic black and white, peplum, pointed-shoe trends without that? In part, I think that's one of the functions of high fashion: to inspire mass-produced brands to follow suit.

Often, there are cases that go past this norm, which leads to what appears to be utterly complete imitation. 

I think I was first affected by this phenomenon with J.Crew's bubble necklaces. A few years ago, they were, as I've heard from a friend, brought back on the market by the company, and became a huge hit. They were everywhere, and everyone wanted them. Despite that J.Crew is known for affordability, the necklace rang in at about $150–a price I thought was a little steep for a necklace made of metal and plastic, even if it was gold-plated. 

Naturally, some clever product designer came up with the idea to create a similar necklace– so similar as to not solicit a difference from its original "designer" necklace– at a price the general people could afford. What does that sound like? A lot of business. 

I know this isn't a new idea. In the food and drug industries (for clarity: not the illegal kinds of drugs), cheaper generic brands are the norm. I almost always buy the generic brand of Claritin, but that's because it's chemically exactly the same as the real thing. When it comes to potato chips, though, I'll never buy the generic, because, in my opinion, it's simply not as good. (Food is very important to me.) 

I've done a bit of research, and have found three non-J.Crew necklaces (pictured on the right side) that have an eerily similar appearance to those from J.Crew (pictured on the left side). Am I defending J.Crew because I have an unabashed love for the Blythe blouse and everything Jenna Lyons does? Well, maybe. At the end of the day, discounting competitiveness, it must feel good to be a J.Crew jewelry designer. 

The blatant copying of things really creates a catch-22 type situation. On one hand, as I've said above, I'm all for brands staying true to their creative integrity, and only creating things that stem from original designs. On the other hand, my snarky inner self wouldn't mind paying less for something that looks exactly the same. If I'm being dramatic, I'd say it's a battle of my  conscience vs. bank account. 

With the Internet, particularly Pinterest, it's easy to be "inspired" by something. People throw the world "inspiration" around all the time, but what does it really mean? It could mean "I like this," "I want to do something like this," "This idea brings me to a new idea" or "I want to do something exactly like this." It's a slippery, slippery slope,  being inspired by something versus duplicating it.

Everyone is guilty of copying (or at least really, really wanting to) a good idea. I know I am. What the heart of this piece is getting at principally comes down to this: where has creativity gone?

"Believe in who you are, and do what you love. Do not try to copycat people. You can be influenced by people, but do not do a photocopy of someone else's work. There is no limit to imagination, you just have to let it grow. That's the important thing—that's what people see at the end of the day, when you're true to yourself. If you're just a big copy, you can please [when it comes to] marketing and money and blah blah blah, but you can't stay for a long time when you're not being dictated by what you love deeply."
-Christian Louboutin on the Coveteur

Image credits: Top, John Rawlings for Vogue in March 1956; jewelry images on left from J.Crew 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013


Thoughts on the tell-all Internet culture

Social media is a creepy thing. 

Like an intimate look into your bedroom window, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and Vine allow others to get a good glimpse at what it's like to be you. I don't want to alarm anyone or talk about how unsafe broadcasting yourself across the Web is, because "How to Catch a Predator" aggressively did that. But, it's crazy to think how much our perspectives on online presence have changed in less than a decade. 

I remember in seventh grade when I first embarked on my social media adventure. MySpace was my first conquest, and I loved it. As a shy private school girl, I stalked all the wild older high school kids – a world I was about to enter. I commented on my friend's pages (it sounds weird not to say "wall") constantly: writing about inside jokes, plans for the weekend and filled out questionnaires, signed with a charming (and ingenious, I thought) "LOVElizabeth."

My glory days on Myspace were short-lived. My parents quickly discovered my profile, and while they weren't going to force me to delete it, I was so embarrassed that I did anyway. How could I think it was O.K. to upload information and pictures of myself for the entire Internet audience to see? 

My hours of crafting the perfect profile page were ruined: compiling the perfect list of favorite musical artists, choosing my "top eight," agonizing over the appropriate words for my "about me" section, selecting a few of my best photos to create an exact brand of myself. (Question: how much did everyone hate the "top eight" feature? The act of publicly declaring and un-declaring your best friends always seemed wrong to me.)

I eventually recreated my Myspace profile, although quickly graduated to Facebook once high school hit. (I recently logged on to my long lost Myspace account, and insist you do the same as soon as you can. Nostalgia and self-loathing in its best form.) 

Nowadays online, anything goes. Headed to the beach? Tweet about it. Got a new haircut? Cue Instagram selfie. Not happy with the latest results on The Voice? It's time for a Facebook status. Gone to a concert? Vine it. 

It's terrifying, really. All it takes to learn the details of your everyday life is a quick Google search of your name in quotations. My results include my profiles for LinkedIn, Pinterest, Twitter, Facebook and Etsy, numerous articles from my local newspaper where I'm mentioned, the student newspaper I work at, a camp I attended years ago, Ladies' Home Journal from when I contributed a photo and a couple random websites. 

To avoid being hypocritical, I will say that I'm not at all in favor of abandoning widespread sharing on social media. It's the way of the times, and to ignore it would be archaic. As both participant in and observer of the "social media age," it's necessary to note the change in personal censorship over the last five years. 

"The idea of social media–having an audience and taking pictures for people to see–that's a scary thing. When I was young, things were simpler." 
-Sofia Coppola to W Magazine, June/July 2013 issue

Image: collage by Moshekwa Langa