They’re All Made Out of Ticky-Tacky and They All Look Just the Same: Why and How I’m Quitting Forever 21

They’re All Made Out of Ticky-Tacky and They All Look Just the Same: Why and How I’m Quitting Forever 21

Oh how I wish the second half of this post’s title was “Why I Don’t Shop at Forever 21”. But I can’t write that yet. The earrings I’m wearing right now were purchased from the Christian sweatshop giant. So were my jeans.

I am well aware that Forever 21 and other throw-away fashion dynasties are not paying their workers enough, that cheap labor goes hand in hand with cheap fabrics and poor construction, that they steal their designs from others, and preach with their bright yellow “LOOK AT ME I AM A CONSUMER” plastic bags. And yet, I still find myself wandering in semi-regularly, and often wandering out with some mass-produced somehow already cliché thin-as-a-tissue article of clothing I will only wear a few times before it either rips or bores me because I’ve seen a version of it on sixteen other girls in one day. My point is, I know better. I’m embarrassed that I do it. I beg them not to bag my purchase and instead surreptitiously stuff it into my purse, which I also purchased at Forever 21.

But then I’ll get compliments when I wear these items, which also shames me to no end. I admit my folly in an Eeyore voice with my head hung low, unintentionally advertising for them, which makes me feel even worse. One would think that after all of this remorse, I would have enough self control to stop shopping there. So why do I keep going back?

Well, I’m poor as shit and I want to look cute.

Always the first excuse. I live in Los Angeles. Everything is expensive here, and though some are just fine with riding the bus to the laundromat in sweatpants and holey socks, I am not one of those people.

And I know I could buy used clothing. Thrifting has been in my blood since I was a below the poverty-level 6th grader. But back then, I’d drop $20 for several Grocery Outlet bags full of awesome 70′s blouses, flowing maxi skirts, and kooky wooden parrot necklaces. These days, the only “vintage” stuff you can find at Goodwill (at least in LA) is from the mid-90′s and almost as expensive as it was when it was new. And sorting through the mounds of stained, synthetic, cargo-pocketed nightmares for that one gem you just know is in there somewhere is exhausting and time consuming.

Excuses, excuses, right? I could make excuses all day. But being broke does not a saint make. Sure, I’m broke. Most of us are. But buying “affordable” new clothes is such a waste of money in the long run. Not only are these purchases physically not going to stand the test of time, Forever 21 and its competitors release so many new collections a year that by the time their cutesy 21 day return policy runs out, your adorable new jacket is already “out of style”.

I could also go on a diatribe about how even the name of the company is unsettling, how the focus on eternal-just-of-drinking-age youth is enforcing that “little girl in the form of a woman” stereotype I so despise, dismissing the idea that there is any point to life if you aren’t young and attractive, but I don’t want to get angry. Again, WHY do we (I) keep going back?

We (I) forget.

It’s the first warm, sunny day of spring. You weren’t prepared for the weather, since you left home early this morning. Now you’re off work, which happens to be right next to the mall. You have a date later and the thought of bare legs on a balmy beachy afternoon with your lover sounds too divine to deny. You could go home to change, but there are at least 150 different brand new dresses in one store 30 feet from you that could be yours right now in exchange for the meager tips in your pocket. And even if thoughts of sweatshop labor and copyright infringement pop in to your head, hey, its only one dress. And three necklaces. And four pairs of tights. There are so many adorable items at your fingertips (that someone else designed first and that were sewn by workers making less than minimum wage)! And this dress is only $19.95! And this is the last time you’ll ever shop here. You swear.

Every little bit adds up. And if you’re like me and you impulse buy when you have a spare few bucks, you end up with a closet full of mass-produced junk.

If only I put that petty cash away, I could afford to buy quality clothing. I’m not talking about overpriced just-because-its-designer items, but a few well made trend-proof pieces that will last. Jeans, versatile dresses, jackets. Sure, they’re a little pricier, but that’s because the company who made them thought enough of their employees to pay them a humane wage.

Buy quality staples, and if you’re craving seasonal pieces and good deals, don’t lazily duck into the mall. Shop like you mean it. Take the day and drive out to estate sales, where all the awesome vintage shit is in pristine condition. Or hit up thrift stores in weird little mountain towns, where they haven’t been picked over and the dresses are only six bucks. If you must stay in the city, visit buy-sell-trade places, where everything is still cheaper than at the mall, but the mountains of junk sorting has been done for you and you’re still recycling!

I am making a resolution to never buy from Forever 21 again. And if you’re reading this, I hope you’ll join me. Consider it spring cleaning for your conscience.

Even though the number of ethical reasons for making this stand is out of the ballpark, the main reason I’m making it is that I don’t want to be a cookie-cutter American Millennial. In high school, I showed up to school one day in the same shirt as a classmate’s and something in me snapped. After that, I prided myself on dressing “different”. I came back after winter break wearing layers of my dad’s discarded 70′s clothes, mixed with weird pieces I made myself before I really knew how to sew. I may have looked bizarre, I may have been acting out, but I was 100% me. My style has since balanced into a neutral heavy, travel inspired, vintagey-modern, subtly feminine mix. I don’t have a concept of my style. We’ve all seen those “what’s your personal style?” quizzes that only have like 5 outcomes. Why do I have to be categorized, I wonder? Because then I can be put into a target market and advertised to. Please join me in saying a very ladylike “fuck that”.

Don’t let anyone tell you what you want to wear. And the next time you find yourself staring in the window of a Forever 21, watching three cloned girls with ombre dye jobs try on the same dress, you can proudly turn your back because you are trend-proof. You are uncategorizable.

I’ll leave you with this bit of brilliance:

When I ask for a garment of a particular form, my tailoress tells me gravely, “They do not make them so now,” not emphasizing the “They” at all, as if she quoted an authority as impersonal as the Fates, and I find it difficult to get made what I want, simply because she cannot believe that I mean what I say, that I am so rash. When I hear this oracular sentence, I am for a moment absorbed in thought, emphasizing to myself each word separately that I may come at the meaning of it, that I may find out by what degree of consanguinity They are related to me, and what authority They may have in an affair which affects me so nearly; and, finally, I am inclined to answer her with equal mystery, and without any more emphasis of the “They” – “It is true, they did not make them so recently, but they do now.”

-Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Now go change into something “weird”. If you feel like it.

12 comments to They’re All Made Out of Ticky-Tacky and They All Look Just the Same: Why and How I’m Quitting Forever 21

  • BSprouts

    I know that shameful admittance. I never say to myself “I feel great!” after purchasing items from F21. I made the same resolution two months ago and have stuck with it. It is hard, but possible. YOU CAN DO IT! (It helps to put blinders on)

  • I totally understand and I actually do not shop at Forever 21 one for the very reasons you mentioned above. I do shop at 2nd hand stores mostly and enjoy investing in great quality pieces. Thanx for sharing!

  • I totally understand where you’re coming from! I actually don’t shop there for those very reasons. I enjoy shopping mostly 2nd hand and investing in 2nd hand quality pieces. Thank you for sharing here!
    Lagelle´s last [type] ..Vintage floral blazer + Vintage silk blouse + Madewell skinnies + Rachel Comey booties

  • This blog is amazing. I realy love it! johnny

  • jheri

    I have gone away from cheap poorly made clothing entirely. I strongly recommend reading Overdressed by Elizabeth Cline. Now I have a yearly budget and only buy a few good pieces that will last a long time and have a classic style. I spend time in vintage stores and pay to have everything I buy altered (ok – I’m very tall, so I have to do that anyway). Here is a great little piece on buying vintage btw

    Now that I’ve been doing this for about three years I’m much happier with the result. Getting away from the cheap and tacky clothes habit was good for me (and I like your little boxes title!)

  • YES! Adore this post for so many reasons! First visit to your blog. Love your writing style and your message… subscribing now. And sharing this post.

  • Yes! I am ALL in!

    And I am with you on the ridiculous name!!
    Alison Chino´s last [type] ..Done and Done with Standardized Testing

  • I completely agree with this posting, however, where I live, (behind the redwood vail, as its called) we are secluded and quality purchases must be done online. If we cannot shop at Forever 21 (not that I do) where can we shop? For people who don’t know (and I apologize, I am sheltered and do not know) where can I buy quality clothing that will last?! What are some good online stores or brands? I’ve tried ordering from different catalogs and online boutiques but they always disappoint and any sweater usually ends up being used for scrap yarn after a year.
    Thank you!

  • Aw thanks, you guys! April, if there aren’t any good thrift stores near you, I’d recommend purchasing used/vintage instead of new clothing online, either through etsy or ebay boutiques. You can make sure the seller is legit in the reviews, and most clothing that has survived at least the last 10-15 years is made to last. A couple of my favorites are ZiaVintage and Violetville. If you prefer new, try eco-conscious boutiques, whose owners actually care about their products! There is a great list here.

    (Also, I urge you to avoid Urban Outfitters/Anthropologie/Free People too. Their clothing may be a little higher quality, but the C.E.O donated thousands to bigot Rick Santorum. I don’t want that man’s hands on a cent of mine. Besides, no one selling mass-uniqueness needs my support. Not F21, Urban, H&M or pretty much any mall store. We deserve better!)

  • I love the way you write and I fully share your petard and it’s not just one brand either. Your battle with F21 can be raged with most brands these days as so many share the sweatshop horrors – like Bangladesh! It is hard but we must vote with our spending and resist the impulse to pay for the quick fix. A smell a 12 step program in the making. The anguish is being human.
    Serena Malfi´s last [type] ..Can Stretch Marks Really be Removed by Revitol Cream?

  • this is just an amazing blog so informative…humans are inclined to do the same mistakes everytime especially women on buying items and sometimes really they end up only on closet to be never worn at all…so smart enough to think like this

  • Michelle

    Well, we (West Australian’s) don’t have Forever21, so, we don’t have the temptation, however, we still have stores like TEMP, Valleygirl, Supre, Chicabooti and Ally–to name a few–that take after Forever21, and I must say I walk in, do the rounds and walk out with maybe one or two pieces. If that. It’s all garbage, overused, cheap crap.

    I always look for key pieces–I have enough basics to start my own Target–so I look for those seasonal winners and colourful it specials that will add to my wardrobe. I find myself attracted to brights, neons, prints and statement T’s with some subtle humour or cuteness…and I always turn up empty handed.

    I’ve actually converted myself into a DIY queen; I started creating my own designs, prints and adding that little-bit of lace to old sweaters and skirts to give them some new life.

    I think with time come individuality and also my care-factor towards ‘what others think’ drops…dramatically!

    PS: I just found your blog and am hooked, line and sinker. Love your work!

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