The Conditioning of the Female Consumer

Welcome to the second installment of my "Curating + Collecting" series I started a few weeks ago. Class was cancelled today thanks to Hurricane Sandy, freeing up time for me to blog again :) For those also on the Eastern seaboard, stay safe, warm and dry!

I decided to dedicate this post to trying to understand why the idea of curating is such a foreign concept for your average female consumer, but is a kind of a no brainer for male consumers. This was a topic I raised during my first post in the series, on why fashion curatorial advice on building the wardrobe heavily discussed in style forums and in the male fashion bloggersphere but so rarely on the online domains of the other sex. I will start out with the hypothesis that the reason why so little women think about the idea of curating is because of massive brainwashing on the part of the womenswear fashion industry and therefore curating one's wardrobe becomes more of a menswear phenomenon.

Personal anecdote first: Before I discovered the concept of curating one's wardrobe from reading menswear blogs around when I was seventeen (which would be around 2010 when menswear blogs really took off), I chased trends too. It didn't help for a while that I bought mainly Japanese fashion magazines like Vivi that encouraged young teens to chase trends to the extreme. Even though I eventually moved on to more adult publications such as Pop or Vogue Paris, it failed except to only further stoke my "habit". Though my parents taught me to think before I buy (or as my mother would say, "don't buy it for the sake of buying it"), the lessons of how to find basics as the foundations of the wardrobe were only spelt on for me pointblank through menswear blogs (for a list of some that I read regularly, see my links tab). That was the only time when I really internalized the importance of finding such basics so that I could properly start curating the wardrobe.

But wait you cry, there is after all the 4-5 piece French wardrobe concept that has been followed by a great number of women already now, surely this is sufficient evidence to disprove your hypothesis. While this minimalist concept is a great idea for many to begin curating their wardrobe, I wonder how many people started to do this due to American women's idealization and adoration of the French women and all things French, or from actual true understanding of the practicality of the approach? You cannot deny that anything French still holds great cultural cache in Western society. Does your average female consumer even know about such an idea? Highly unlikely. Furthermore, all the top fast fashion/high street labels are all European in origin: H&M from Sweden, Zara and Mango from Spain, Topshop from the UK for example. This illustrates that the lack of curation of the female wardrobe is neither just a problem endemic only to the US nor is it a cultural one.

Though it's been a while since I've read strictly fashion-only magazines, I can guarantee you that any big fashion publication by Hearst and Condé Nast will feature some kind of "trend report" that will most likely read: "How to Wear Fall Trends Today!" or something of the sort. The article will mostly select different themes reflected in different collections and the trend will be labeled with some exotic name like "oxblood red" (when really it's just good ol' maroon folks) or the like. Why is this mostly be a female consumer problem? The most cynical response would be that it makes for good business. By brainwashing the female consumer that if they are not au courant with the trends of the day they are lesser beings, most women would be convinced that they need to stay ahead with the "right" material good. A deeper way to go about the question would be perhaps that physical beauty has always been more important for women historically, that men could rely on wealth and power alone to attract mates and thus the female pursuit of trends is a modern way of peacocking oneself. GQ too has a trend report of its own, but how many men do you know, subscribe to it with same degree of fervor as women? A small minority at best.

What really enables the womenswear fashion industry to brainwash and make it so hard for your average female consumers to curate her wardrobe is ultimately because of the large variability of styles in womenswear. I've touched upon it in my Happy Birthday to Mr. Porter post (which you should read if you have time since it's relevant), where I explained that the amazing variety of different silhouettes, cuts, fabrics that mainstream society allows women to wear (capes/dresses/rompers/pants/skirt/shorts/shirts etc.) vastly outnumber the kinds allowed for men (mainly suits/shorts/shirts). While this is great for those who adore experimentation, it makes it much easier for any fashion marketer to slap random labels on similar looking pieces together and call it a 'trend'. On the other hand, the menswear industry would be much more hesitant to call anything a 'trend', since there are only a limited ways you can label things before they repeat again, allowing them to instead publicize the detail and quality of the garments to attract customers (the only except being Thom Browne).

While the fashion industry as a whole is to blame for making it hard for female consumers to learn how to curate their wardrobe, it does not fully explain why it is so. The absence of curation in your average female wardrobe is simultaneously a psychological, cultural and sociological and historical problem. For anyone to start learning to curate their wardrobe, requires the undoing of years of constant conditioning by media and society and further avoid temptations available to them left and right. The problem persists not because men are necessarily better, more economical or more informed. Just taking the first step is a formidable challenge in itself and accounts for why the idea of curating one's wardrobe have yet to seep into mainstream female consciousness.

Edit: P.S. Please check out this post from Kali here.

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