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December 15th, 2017

Insight

Not Your Father's Lifestyle

Greg Crosby

By Greg Crosby

Published May 20, 2016

Latest reports show consumer spending is up, but sales are down with the major retailers like Macy's, Kohl's and Nordstrom. Shopping on Amazon.com and other websites is where the uptick is, along with spending on entertainment, travel, restaurants and other services. Big department stores and many other traditional retailers are just not where the money is being spent today.

Most analysts explain this trend on changing shopping habits of consumers from brick and mortar stores to Internet shopping. Citing data from the Commerce Department, The Wall Street Journal said that the numbers showed an accelerating turn toward online shopping and a widening of the divide between in-store retailers and Internet outlets pitching lower prices and convenience. That's part of it I'm sure, but there's a bigger thing going on here than shifting shopping habits.

Look around you. Check out what people look like today, how they dress, how they groom. Notice what people are doing, how they spend their free time and where they go. Then look in the mirror and ask these same questions of yourself. We're not in Kansas anymore, Toto. This is not the nineteen fifties. Hell, it's not even the nineteen nineties. The world has changed; people aren't shopping in the department stores because the merchandise they sell doesn't go with the lifestyle of today's people.

The new generations, people in their twenties and thirties, don't buy furniture as past generations once did. The idea of moving into a new home or apartment and "furnishing it" is outmoded. It isn't done. Well-made hardwood furniture is actually made fun of by young adults today. They scoff at traditional china cabinets, secretaries, and bedroom and dining room sets of oak, cherry wood and mahogany, calling them "brown furniture." They don't look to furnish, they just buy what they need, and when they do, they buy their things at Ikea, usually inexpensive mid-century modern style.

Silverware, china, and glassware have no place in the lifestyles of today's people. Eating on paper or plastic is considered better because it's easier, no washing, just throw it away. Most of the time meals are eaten out or take-out fast food is brought in. When food is prepared at home, much of the time it is frozen microwave meals that are heated, eaten, and thrown away in their own containers.

Since nobody gets dressed for anything anymore, there is no need to buy much clothing. A few T-shirts, hoodies, sweatpants, jeans, and a couple of pairs of athletic shoes and flip-flops are all that are needed for anywhere you go. How many young men own a suit today? How many have a necktie in their closet? How many young women wear skirts and blouses? How many own a cocktail dress or stockings?

The very idea of dressing differently for where you are going is laughable in the world of today. People go out to a restaurant in the same clothes they would wear to go grocery shopping or mow their lawn. Department store clothing is not what young adults want; they buy their stuff at the twenty-something specialty stores.

And the older generations are following the no-dress-up trend as well. After all, why should a fifty year-old man wear a sport jacket and tie to go out for dinner when he knows he'll be the only one looking like that in the whole place? What is the motivation for a woman to put on a pretty dress and heels to attend the theater when everyone around her will be wearing jeans and sneakers?

Even though people are more self-centered than ever before, they aren't spending their money on traditional things that have been mainstays in department stores for generations. They spend their money on entertainment activities, traveling, electronics such as iPhones and PlayStations, personal services like Netflix, and personal indulgences like tattoos and piercings.

Lifestyles have undergone drastic changes in the last couple of generations and the good old department stores and traditional retail outlets just don't address them. They're attempting to sell 20th Century goods to 21st Century people. It's much more than fashion and style swings, the world is in the middle of a major transformation. We live in a time of redefining. Every segment of society that was once considered normal is being re-examined and redefined. Consider what has happened to traditional marriage and sexual identities.

The elegant world of Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, Fred Astaire, and Grace Kelly is gone. They aren't here to shop at the department stores anymore. And if they aren't, you can bet today's crowd won't either.

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JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. He's been a JWR contributor since 1999.

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