over the last few weeks, several stories have hit the media involving fashion and race. one, an african-themed halloween party in which guests, including designer alessandro dell’acqua of no. 21, showed up in blackface and dressed as slaves. as a lover of the no. 21 line, i was extremely disappointed in this, and while i wishlisted pieces from the fall collection, i felt i couldn’t purchase them knowing that the creative director acted in the manner he did.
the other is the lawsuits filed against barneys and macy’s by shoppers that claim they have been racially profiled when at the two retailers. racially profiling in shopping is nothing new, just like profiling in other instances isn’t new. what does seem to be new is the social uproar about it and the desire by some to want to boycott barneys (and for jay z to abandon his upcoming holiday collection for the store). robin givhan wrote very eloquently that no one is asking the same of macy’s, where sean “diddy” combs is a dominant part of their marketing, because for jay to condemn barneys would make it “less cool” (even though other black designers are sold at barneys).
the first time i went to barneys, i was a teenager visiting new york. i have an aunt that lives there, and if i did a good job in school, my parents would let me stay with her for 1-2 weeks in the summer. to be honest, i was intimidated by the store—i thought you had to have money to even spin in the revolving door. but once inside, it was bustling with energy and people (many of them could have been tourists) and music was playing. it reminded me of going to wanamaker’s in philadelphia with my grandmother. i used money i had saved from my job at (ironically) macy’s to buy a lipstick that was wrapped up in a mini shopping bag. even though i was young, i don’t remember feeling singled out or followed in the store. and while i could have purchased that lipstick at a dozen other stores in the city, i was proud to have that little barneys bag. it was almost like a badge of honor. as i got older and i could actually shop at higher end stores, going into some of them, like prada, hermès, gucci, left me feeling unnerved, and once inside, sales associates were sometimes baffled that i had seen photos of the collection and knew about the pieces. i’ve also received looks and follows from sa’s, maybe because i’m wearing something designer. this past september when i was in new york, i went into several madison avenue boutiques wearing distressed jean shorts, a camo jacket, and converse, and felt on edge at a few. at times, i can’t tell if i was being treated the way was because of the color of my skin or what i was wearing but in either case, it wasn’t a good feeling.
i’m not trying to diminish what happened to those filing lawsuits, but in this day and age, anyone going into any store deserves to be treated well. this should be the case no matter if you are buying a lipstick at a macy’s or kohl’s, or a $3,000 bag at barneys, neiman marcus, or saks, or if you are dressed to the nines or wearing your most destroyed boyfriend jeans and carrying a bag from h&m. i’ve seen it all too often in san francisco, where it’s likely the big tech thing walks in wearing a north face fleece and a backpack, not a birkin bag. back in the day, certain retailers may have been the only game in town, but now there are countless, online and off, that people can spend their hard earned money at. so why spend yours at a place that doesn’t make you feel welcome?
would you boycott the designers or stores in either case? is one worse than the other? i’d love to hear your thoughts…
“crazy shopping” from elle taiwan january 2013 / model: atong arjok / pic from because i’m fabulous