Chico’s: I Just Don’t Get It

Anyone who knows me even a tiny iota can tell you that I am not what you would call “fashionable.” I wear what is comfortable, and what looks (to my eyes) “decent.” If I could get away with it, I would wear flannel pajama pants and long-sleeve t-shirts during every waking moment. I am not really interested in fashion, and I shop for clothes primarily at Goodwill and Salvation Army — especially for work clothes, which I otherwise would not be caught dead in, and which I shed in about 30 seconds after I walk in the door at 5:00.

I get tons of compliments on my outfits at the office, and I LOVE telling people I got it at Goodwill, when their idea of a good deal is a $75 shirt from J. Jill. In fact, just last week I looked down and realized that every article of clothing I was wearing — including my shoes — came from a thrift store.

I imagine it’s easier to get away with being a thrift store fashionista somewhere like Brooklyn. But here in the South, there are still clothing commandments, like Thou Shalt Not Offend the Almighty by Wearing White After Labor Day. So it’s not quite as easy to pull off. This is something I’m having to relearn too, after moving to a rather conservative Southern city with pockets of true affluence, from ten years in the Hippie Capital of the South, where the president of one company I worked for showed up for work pretty regularly in hiking gear, and the president of another could usually not be reached in the afternoons because she was out on the tractor mowing.

Today I went shopping with a friend at “real” stores for the first time in possibly years. We went to the mall, which I desperately try to avoid. It’s mainly because I think it’s ridiculous to pay high prices for things that are poorly made by sad, destitute people in third world countries, just because someone here figured out how to market it. I am not that gullible. I mean, I work in marketing. I get it. And I no longer fall for it. I think it’s actually a really interesting commentary on our society when you start examining exactly what marketing works on us best (collectively). Even politics nowadays is just about marketing the right image to the right audience. We are a superficial culture.

For example, today I saw UGGS of Australia, which I found out are the “in thing” right now. They are these (to me) hideously ugly boots with fur lining, which conjure up images of herding reindeer in Finland. Looking at them, I thought, “I wonder if it even gets cold enough in Australia to wear fur boots.” Then I looked a little closer at the label. These $120+ shoes are made in China, just like everything else. By contrast, last week I bought a sweater at Goodwill for less than a dollar that was 100% Alpaca, handmade in Peru. It kills me that people are desperate to spend that kind of money to look like poor farmers from Arctic climes.

Then there was the GAP. I used to actually like GAP clothes. When I was in high school, I lived in a tiny town where we had nothing but a J.C. Penney. So going to the GAP (and all the big, fancy malls) when visiting my grandmother in Atlanta, ending up with school clothes that actually were not available in our entire county, was the height of cool for a teenager.

But the GAP made me sad today. It’s full of 80’s era clothing. (Apparently this is back in style now?) And I LOATHE 80’s era styles. People, it was not cool in the 80’s. What could possibly make it cool now? Everything LITERALLY looks like the majority of stuff you can still find in thrift stores, because it’s still not cool. Eighties clothes are not flattering on any body type I can think of, and they make even the cutest people look like they need a makeover.

And let’s face it, the majority of America has a body type that needs as much help as it can get (myself included). We need clothing that helps us, that works with our flaws. Not clothing that accentuates our issues. As a short person, I hate how all these clothes are made for long-waisted people, and skinny leg jeans make even girls with skinny legs look…just bad.

I was a little happy that the flaming boy who checked us out was wearing eye makeup. Even though I typically despise that look (I’m talking to you, Pete Wentz), Matt at the GAP did it very well. Brought out his eyes and did not make him look like a douche (Pete). But anyway, folks, this is why I”m not “cool.” Because I find these things hideous and outdated. I get that things come back around. And other decades had styles I find worthy of a resurgence. The 1980’s do not.

This was funny: Over Christmas, some of my cousins were making fun of me for being a hippie (they think that’s funny because they’re farm kids) and because I didn’t know what Sperry’s are. Today at the mall, I saw some! And they are effing TOP-SIDERS. They must have needed some brand name to market to all the brand-conscious tweens.

But by far, the craziest experience of my day was when we ended up at Chico’s. My friend had received a gift card for Christmas that she wanted to cash in.

Now, I know people who wear Chico’s clothing and carry it off really well, looking insanely fabulous and stylish. (Granted, none of them are under 40.)  Both my aunt and my Nana (age 85) love the Chico’s and wear it well. And I definitely think of both of them as people who have good taste in general.

My Nana’s got some rad acid-washed jeans from there with rhinestones on the back pockets that she wears with her little sweater sets and kitten heels, and she is like the most fashionable 85 year old you will ever meet. Never without coordinating jewelry. Add a pair of cat-eye reading glasses (which she only puts on when ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY) and you have a picture of my awesome grandmother, whose one health issue in the last 20 years was falling and breaking her hip in the Atlanta airport on her way to Europe. And she still always covers her transparent coiffure with a scarf (specifically polyester and not silk — too slippery) when there is, as she calls it, “weather.”

But back to Chico’s. It’s like the strangest place on the planet. Okay, that might be a tad strong. But it is rather odd. It’s like their marketing plan is 1) Put sequins on it. 2) Jack up the price. and 3) Change the sizing so older females feel thin. There were a few things I saw that were…okay…but then you’d pull it out and it would be ruined by rhinestones. Or the $99 price tag. Or the fact that who the hell knows what size you wear when they only have 1, 2 and 3 (which doesn’t mean the same thing as 1, 2 and 3 at any other store). I finally figured out it must be their strange equivalent of S, M and L.

For the life of me, I couldn’t decide what their market niche was supposed to be. I couldn’t figure out any age group of people that their clothes seemed appropriate for. It was all a little too gaudy for really old people, but a little too matronly for middle aged people who were trying to be stylish. I was astounded to see 2 or 3 girls my age (or younger) shopping in there. Granted, they were with their moms, but they were looking at things like they were considering them personally. Everything seemed really chintzy, and even the jewelry was plasticky and yet $60 for a necklace.  Now I know why my Nana is continually sending me jewelry to repair. They had stuff hanging on mannequins that was broken already.

And most perplexing of all? The place was packed. At one point I caught my friend fanning herself and looking pained. I said to her, “Are you having a panic attack? Is it too crowded?” Not because she has them (that I know of) but because I recognized that look as stemming from true anxiety. She said, “No. It’s just that THESE CLOTHES ARE MAKING ME NERVOUS! They are so. Garish.”

And that, my friends, sums up Chico’s, I think. Oh, and the fact that “chico” means “little boy” in Spanish. I think I will leave it up to you to figure that one out. I am still working on it.  It’s a strange world we live in.

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5 Comments

  1. Aaron Lesher said,

    January 18, 2010 at 6:14 pm

    Priceless! I agree with EVERY word you said. MOst of us are slaves to marketing forces we don’t even know are there.

  2. Johnc160 said,

    June 22, 2014 at 10:05 pm

    whoah this blog is wonderful i like reading your articles.

  3. Johng816 said,

    June 22, 2014 at 10:06 pm

    Wow, marvelous blog layout! How long have you been blogging for? you made blogging look easy. The overall look of your website is great, as well as the content!

  4. Christine said,

    September 6, 2014 at 3:59 pm

    You’re funny. Chicos may mean “little boy” but it was named after a bird. Its a fun store. Their styles are not for everyone but where else does the middle aged woman shop. The mainstream clothes are cheap and slutty. Who wants to dress like their daughter. Many women do and its embarassing. Chicos has reasonable quality clothes that fit well and are tasteful with a little fun. Not slutty and/or too young. Yes older ladies shop their but where else…penneys, Macys, the sorely declining in taste and quality Nordstrom? I think not.


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