Should I like… Buy the dresses I want from them first, and then cripple the oppressive capitalist overlords?
What a complicated situation for a person of color.
This (undisclosed) company has historically sought to target a demographic of tall, skinny, white girls/women to fit their brand’s image.
In particular, one group of popular sister companies reinforce problematic representation of women through white idealism, socially-constructed gender roles, unrealistic beauty standards, and, oftentimes, impossible body measurements.
Presently, only one of these sister stores superficially exhibits seasonal models of various ethnicities in the dress category of their online store menu.
I browsed the dress sections on the other two fashion retail stores’ online shops to find that the majority of models were, indeed, pretty, skinny, white girls and women. The BIPOC models made up such a small percentage of the dress category, you needed to scroll down, or sometimes click to the next page in order to part the sea of boho-chic archetypes.
I don’t mean to bring shame on any models for working with these companies — modeling is highly coveted and competitive work, and I’m sure all of the women who were selected as agents for COMPANY X were extremely proud of themselves. I would be… If I fit that mold.
I am not completely versed on what happens behind closed conference room doors, or with international marketing direction, but when a company’s (white, male) CEO uses his predominantly white and light-skinned female models to represent his multinational fashion company, the company as a whole is not catering to a certain demographic — they are subliminally (and sometimes overtly) rejecting would-be consumers who they consider “outliers.”
The ads, billboards, webpages, catalogs, and storefronts that all feature a majority of girls and women “of a certain type,” attract attention to the brand by tempting consumers with alluring women wearing popular fashion.
Contrarily, these ads also repel those of us who have never looked like that, don’t look like that now, and will never look like any of the 30 models on page 1 of COMPANY X‘s various websites.
Sure, you may like what they are selling, but will it fit the same way it fits the mannequin? Will the security guard be eyeballing you in particular as you browse? (It’s happened to me, and I’m sure I’m not the only one.)
Do the salespeople and managers look more like the models than the citizens of the multicultural cities where these stores are frequently erected? Was the staff helpful, or did they make you feel rushed? Even worse, were they downright rude? If there were employees of color, did it seem like they were treated differently than their white coworkers?
This white-owned fashion/houseware retailer eco-system employs white and white-passing models, higher-level personnel, and even floor staff to fortify its exclusion of women-of-color, gender-non-conformists, persons with disabilities, and those with body shapes deemed “atypical.”
People of any races, genders, body types, and/or sexualities who deviate from the countless examples of this brand’s personification are presented with an image of white superiority. We are being told that these things are not made for us.
The reason I feel so strongly about being underrepresented by this brand is because I actually love this company’s apparel. I’m sure many other customers feel similarly. It might not be for the same store, or even the same situation, but many of us are forced with decisions to either forgo purchases on principle, or financially support businesses that have no interest in serving us.
I have been shopping at these stores since I was a teen. I had never heard of it until a school trip, when I awkwardly followed my peers into COMPANY X at Quincy Market in Boston during free time. I was awkward, gothy, and the only black person in my group. Perhaps my schoolmates didn’t mind my race, but I’m sure they were aware of it — I certainly was. It wasn’t just my style that clashed with the selection of quirky home goods and colorful, knitted garments inside, it was the very real sense that I did not belong here in the store, in Quincy Market, and perhaps even Boston as a whole.
Despite my exterior appearance as an unattractive, quiet, freaky kid, I became enamored with the store’s novelty mugs, sweaters, and flasks. I wasn’t given much spending money, but a colorful pair of glittens caught my eye. Was I subconsciously trying to fit in with everyone else? Maybe. But I loved those glittens to death and wore them until the dirtied fabric unraveled at winter’s end.
I digress to mention that I had returned to Boston some time later on a family trip with my dad, sister, and step-mom (who is also black.) If I didn’t notice the way people looked at me on my school trip, I absolutely noticed the way our family was scrutinized by the hordes of white guests in Quincy Market, and the subtle disdain from the dressing room attendant at the same COMPANY X where I had bought my beloved glittens hardly long ago at all.
That was over 10 years ago, yet the security guards still watch me suspiciously when I go into any of these stores. Loss prevention always targets POC because we are targets anywhere we go. My friend works in the same store where the security guard watched me as I shopped. This happens all the time. If I am with my partner, I resort to holding any items I’m viewing high in the air, far away from my bag or pockets. I loudly exclaim when I’m replacing something, “so they know I’m not stealing.”
It’s clear by the stores’ branding that the only people who should shop at COMPANY X are white ladies, so naturally the one black woman coming in to try on holiday dresses that were picked out by her store manager friend was actually there to secretly steal instead. (Sarcasm)
It didn’t matter that I spent over $500 that particular day; the next time I walk in there, all that security guard will see is someone who doesn’t belong.
I’m sure it’s easier for some to write off companies on principle and simply stop shopping there. I do this all the time whenever I hear about companies scandalized by animal cruelty/testing, being Nazi sympathizers, being outspokenly anti-LGBTQ+, and so many more issues.
But, why are we being victimized by this subtle (yet glaringly obvious) exhibition of white supremacy? I want to wear that dress, too. I should be allowed to buy and wear it without silent accusations of larceny, or judgment from other shoppers who feel that I am infringing on their territory.
Why do they deny BIPOC job positions at these stores? Why are the clothes measured for a particular body type throughout all of their clothing stores? Why are only girls/women wearing dresses in their ad campaigns? Why don’t any of the models look like me? If there are any employees who are like me, why are they still outnumbered at corporate, in photos, or in the stores themselves?
And the internal dilemma is a killer, too. I’ve been treated poorly by so many people who work at these stores, but I want to wear their clothes because the things I pick make me look good and feel good. I have spent thousands of dollars at these stores over many years, yet they check on me to make sure I am not stealing every time. They never looked at any of my white friends or partners.
I am dedicated to the BLM movement, but am I a hypocrite if I buy this one last dress?
They don’t want us to model for them. They don’t want us to go into their stores. They won’t want us to wear their clothing.
If they did, we would feel comfortable and represented throughout their companies.
My thoughts are this: Keeping buying from BIPOC-owned businesses.
But, while the billionaire oppressors are still in power, do what they hate: go into their stores, question workers and guards who are blatantly racial profiling you, exaggerate your shopping to prove that being black in a store is not a crime, (especially if they get paid on commission) ask that employees-of-color assist you, TRY ON WHAT YOU WANT, BUY WHAT YOU WANT, make sure all of the security tags are removed before you leave. If you didn’t buy anything, don’t feel ashamed or fearful for leaving. If you are searched despite making it obvious that you were shopping, not stealing, accuse the guard of racial profiling. Call it out!
Report stores that discriminate against you immediately. Every incident, every time!
Report stores that do not overtly appear to have a diversified range of employees, including BIPOC, persons with disabilities, LGBTQ+, and persons of certain age groups. Don’t let socially-constructed biases stop you from speaking up when a business is clearly reinforcing pro-white-het-cis-ableist-ageist culture.
You might say, I was shopping at ____ and noticed there were no employees-of-color on the floor, only in the stockroom.
Or, this store is not ADA compliant because _____.
Or, I am a victim of racial/prejudicial discrimination at your store. Who can I report this incident to?
Save all of your emails. Proceed with caution if you record anyone without their permission, as laws for wire-tapping vary state-by-state.
IF YOU BOUGHT THAT DRESS:
Model it. Take beautiful pictures. Post them. Make anti-hashtags. Show them you that you will not be excluded.
Create tags like: #DIVERSIFYCOMPANYXMODELS #DIVERSIFYCOMPANYX #MODELINGWHILEBIPOC #POSITIVEBODIESFORCOMPANYX #BOHOFORALL #DISMANTLECOMPANYX
Don’t forget to tag the actual company as well, so your anti-hashtags get pushed to the top.
Some say, why give them money after all of that? I say, it’s just a tactic. You buy those clothes that you have a right to wear, the same way any skinny/white/cis/her/able-bodied person would do.
Oppressors care about money and power. We buy their clothes they don’t want us to have. They accept it because they got paid. Then, hit ’em with the power of social media. Keep it intersectional. Get people to join the movement. Pressure them to change!
If you could push change in the world for only $100, some selfies, & a few hashtags… wouldn’t you?!
BY THE WAY:
My featured image is shopped. 😉
If someone wants to shop that into some models you’d like to see, please send them my way.