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The Changing Retail and Fashion Landscape

I’m going to share something with you that will show my age. You’ve probably seen those 80's movies with the groups of teenage girls wandering through shopping malls, spending their allowance or paychecks on the latest fashions and accessories, grabbing a snack at the food court, dreaming of buying those designer handbags, and loitering in the stores with the cutest clerks. Can you picture it? Can you hear the water fountains, smell Mrs. Field’s Cookies, and hear the soft music playing overhead?

That was me. I was one of those 80's girls. I am now one of the many grown women feeling the nostalgia of passing an afternoon at the mall, in the air conditioning, giggling with friends, buying the latest record or cassette tape, and collecting designer jeans, Izod shirts, Vans, neon legwarmers and scrunchies (OK, maybe I don’t miss everything). But…the shopping mall. A central gathering place around which our young lives were centered, a safe place where we could cut our fashion teeth and start to define our own style, like a living beauty magazine. Fashions we saw in pictures from months ago were now hanging on racks in front of us, ready to touch and try on. And it served as much more than a shopping mecca - our social lives where shaped, defined, enhanced, and defined by which logos were on our shopping bags.

Of course, maybe it wasn’t all roses and rainbows (my lackluster budget usually forced me to choose between an order of fries and those cute new socks), but it sure was a fun way to pass an afternoon with friends.

Sadly (from my sentimental perspective), those days are fading. Shopping malls have relinquished their popularity to digital carts, shopping in our pajamas from the sofa, and home delivery. Gone are the days when you’d see the weekend sale ads in the newspaper and rush to the mall, hoping to find your prize in your size and preferred color. Now if one doesn’t have what you want, a few clicks later, you find it. Boom. Satisfied. Move on.

Malls are dying. And the recent pandemic has made an even stronger negative impact on many companies already planning on closing brick-and-mortar stores in favor of e-commerce sites. This year alone we have lost or will lose 25% of Express stores and 20% of Macy’s stores - and Macy’s is considering opening smaller sites in strip mall locations (what??). Nordstrom has or will end up closing 16 stores. Lord & Taylor will only have 40 stores remaining (and how much did it hurt when their flagship NYC store shuttered?). JC Penney will only have 600 stores, Gap is closing around half of its stores, Sears is all but a lost cause…I could go on and on.

As I shift my moping from being a consumer to one of an image professional, I find myself scouring the news for updates on store closings, bankruptcies, and shopping trends. I do get the appeal of on-line shopping, of having almost endless options at my immediate fingertips, but I’m not sure I’ll ever lose my personal bias toward feeling the fabric, seeing the drape on the body during a fitting, and comparing the subtleties of the cobalt blues from different designers, in person. Even when shopping for myself, I still prefer in-person. Although I do love a good deal.

Fashion in a virtual world

And speaking of in-person…the entire fashion world has been thrown into a virtual setting, including fashion shows and weeks. With the pandemic still holding its grip on the world, designers have pushed their creative talents into new territory: virtual and digital shows.