Instagram posts are filtered faces and foods. Trailers are better than movies. And first dates are—well, generally terrible, but then you have that one exception where you laugh nearly nonstop for five consecutive hours and when they kiss you your mouth tastes strongly of onions but they honestly don’t seem to care and your body is slow-mo melting into theirs while a live band plays “Chan Chan,” making you believe that maybe connection with another human being is possible and then they never text you again. Ever.
Appearances and first impressions are deceiving. We get it! Nothing is what it seems, and it’s not really something you can ask of this world. But if there’s one simple exchange we expect to live up to the “what you see is what you get” standard, it’s shopping for clothing online.
When you make a purchase from an online retailer, you’re entering into a contract with that company, and it’s their responsibility to deliver a product that matches what you ordered. There are measurement charts. There are reviews. This should not be that hard, folks! Unfortunately, in recent years, scam shopping sites have proliferated, taking advantage of remote customers who receive poor-quality knockoffs of what they think they’re ordering. The ads are often targeted at women. CAN’T WE HAVE JUST THIS ONE THING?
But wait, there’s more! Apparently the ruse is bigger than e-commerce schemes. Female consumers have been duped in other, less obvious but more pervasive, ways for a lot longer than sketchy companies like DressLily and RoseGal have been around. Don’t let the (overpriced imitation) wool be pulled over your eyes! Read on to learn the eight sneaky ways the women’s clothing industry may be scamming you—as if you haven’t already dealt with enough this year…
Fabric In Your Clothes May Give You Diseases Or Cause Birth Defects
Skin is our largest organ. It provides a barrier between the outside world and our insides, but it still absorbs a lot. Certainly whatever you’re rubbing in or around it every day can have profound effects on your health.
Shannon Whitehead, an advocate for a more sustainable fashion industry, writes in an article for Huffington Post that, “[a]ccording to the Center for Environmental Health, Charlotte Russe, Wet Seal, Forever21 and other popular fast-fashion chains are still selling lead-contaminated purses, belts and shoes above the legal amount, years after signing a settlement agreeing to limit the use of heavy metals in their products.” Potential risks of lead exposure include infertility in women, increased risks of heart attacks, strokes, and high blood pressure. “Many scientists agree there is no ‘safe’ level of lead exposure for anyone,” writes Whitehead.
A Cracked video calling for a boycott on women’s clothing posted in January 2017 says that the T-shirt you’re wearing could have “more than eight thousand synthetic chemicals seeped right into that shoddy stitching.” For one, formaldehyde, a known carcinogen that the United States still hasn’t banned in clothing .
So what’s a gal who wears women’s clothing to do? Fight the power. Make a conscious effort to, at a pace that’s financially reasonable for you, shift your wardrobe to items of clothing bought from non-toxic materials from smaller organic labels.
Their Material Is Geared To Keep You Cold And Broke
As Maggie Mae Fish, the speaker in the Cracked videos, notes, many of the affordable and fashionable clothes marketed to women are made of material that might as well be “butterfly wings” or “old spider webs.”
Those are both fitting comparisons, along with cheesecloth, single-ply toilet paper, and the edible material that spring rolls are wrapped in, none of which will keep you warm or protect your skin from the elements.
“Thin equals cheap,” says Fish. “And if you’re only weaving half the thickness of regular fabric, you can make twice as [much] in a shorter amount of time.” That means the clothes you do buy will have to be replaced more often because they’ll soon dissolve in your hands like an ancient papyrus scroll.
How can you fight the power? Feel up your clothes before you buy them. In an article titled “To Dress Well, a Woman Should Shop Like a Man,” Cristina Binkley advises those of you about to make a clothing purchase to scrunch up the fabric tightly in your hand in a ball. If the material feels itchy or scratchy or, after being released, remains wrinkled, you may want to consider something else.
Discounts Are Fake
If you consider yourself a successful bargain shopper, you may be about to have an identity crisis. If you scour the racks at outlet stores looking for good prices and get excited when you’ve found the cutest designer thing you never dreamed you’d own for so little cash, we’re sorry for your loss.
Because there’s a dark designer secret you may not know. Are you sitting down? Those cute designer things aren’t designer.
As Jay Adams and Katie Doyle write in “The Myth of the ‘Maxxinista'” on Medium, “Despite common belief, outlet clothing often does not enter a ‘regular’ store and is most likely produced in an entirely different factory than the ‘regular’ clothing.” In order to keep up with the pace of “fast fashion giants” like Zara and H&M, big brands “produce lower cost and lower quality clothing specifically for their outlet stores.”
How can you fight the power? Move past your designer fetish. Is it well-made? Do you feel and look good in it? We know a popular brand is sexy, but these attributes are ultimately more important.
Sizes Are A Conspiracy
Have you given up on knowing your size in pants, shirts, or bras because they change so often? If so, you’re not alone.
As Christina H. writes in the article “The 7 Most Baffling Things About Women’s Clothes” for Cracked: “Women’s clothing manufacturers have been making up sizes as far back as sizes have existed. According to one fashion historian, a 32-inch bust would have come out to a size 14 in a 1937 Sears catalog, while being labeled a size 8 in 1967, and coming down to a size 0 in today’s terms.”
Nothing has changed about that confusion today. “[Y]ou apparently inflate and deflate like a balloon when you go from brand to brand, according to their sizes. A woman who is size 6 at American Eagle might be a 0 at Ann Taylor…”
How can you fight the power? Buy men’s clothes, which are often higher quality for lower prices, and get them tailored to your body. Take that, women’s clothing industry!
Embellishments Are Cute But Useless And Sometimes Cruel
Pockets that aren’t really pockets. Buckles that don’t buckle. Beads and gemstones that fall off after the first wash. All so decorative. All so useless.
Christina H. isn’t having it. “Sure, there will be unsightly bulges if they put too much in their pockets, but the solution isn’t to take them away…” she writes. “…[I]t’s stupid to not give anyone that option because some idiot might try to put, I don’t know, night-vision goggles or a piece of cake in their pocket.” Preach!
Shannon Whitehead says these details may have more sinister implications, too. “While there are machines that can apply sequins and beading that look like handiwork, they are very expensive and must be purchased by the garment factory,” she writes. These kinds of embellishments are often done by home workers from some of the poorest regions in the world. “Often with the help of their children, the home workers sew as fast as they can and for as long as daylight allows to embellish and bedazzle the clothes that end up in our closets.
How can you fight the power? Buy stuff that’s ethically made. And buy stuff that’s functional, or at least comfortable. “Unlike men, women frequently settle for garments that don’t fit well and don’t feel good,” says Cristina Binkley . Doesn’t that feel symbolic? Cut it out! Demand the best.
Styles Are Too Trendy
Too often, “trendy” translates into “not timeless.” We bet you can guess what that means: this item of clothing won’t live very long—maybe just a season—and soon you’ll be putting your hard-earned moola into the hands of folks who just don’t deserve it.
As Maggie Mae Fish points out in the Cracked video: “Back in the 1940s and ’50s, there was only the spring/summer season for lighter clothing and fall/winter for jackets and warmth. Fast forward to today, and now every two weeks is a new ‘micro-season’—and that is a very real fashion term designed to make you feel like an ugly geek nerd right after the charge on your credit card has been cleared.”
Trends also encourage you to prioritize a fad look over the best look for you. Case in point? Bubble dresses. While it’s true that a small fraction of the population can “pull off” bubble dresses, there are no known cases observable in nature of women flattered by bubble dresses who wouldn’t be more flattered by any other kind of dress. We saw it on a documentary!
How can you fight the power? Where there is demand for an item, someone will supply it. But how does demand get created? Advertising, for one. Be conscious of the ways these cues subtly influence your aesthetic preferences and urge to spend , and make sure it’s what you really want, not because everyone else has it or you feel bad and want to buy something, but because it’s a quality product that flatters you specifically.
Its Labor Practices Are Exploitative
It’s no secret that the fashion machine is dirty. To produce clothing at the volume big companies demand requires a lot of human beings, and many of them are not treated as such.
A 2015 article, “The slave labor behind your favorite clothing brands: Gap, H&M and more exposed,” covers a Human Rights Watch report that exposes “often criminally abusive” treatment in factories for big-name brands. Patrick Winn writes, “Outlets such as H&M can sell hoodies for as little as $25 because Cambodian women (almost all the workers are women) will sew for roughly 50 cents per hour.”
These same women are yelled at for going to the bathroom, scammed out of cash, fired once they become visibly pregnant, and “routinely flop on the floor in mass fainting episodes.”
How can you fight the power? Unfortunately, even bigger companies whose corporate leadership may have good intentions, like Patagonia, often fall short in their mission to produce ethically in all facets of the process. If you want to ensure that you’re buying from a place that doesn’t use exploitative labor practices to produce its goods, our guess is that you’re best bet would be with a smaller company. But do your own research.
Factories That Produce Their Clothing Are Bad For The Environment
The fashion industry is capitalism in full-force, and capitalism isn’t exactly known for its sustainability initiatives.
How can you fight the power? Avoid fast-fashion retailers, who thrive on a model that’s inherently unsustainable, despite some established companies’ attempts to focus on specific aspects of being green or ethical.
Instead, try a combination of splurging and recycling. Make less frequent, higher-quality purchases—as Marc Bain suggests in “The Case for Expensive Clothes”—and supplement with clothing bought exclusively from consignment shops, where you can afford higher-quality items for less.
Plus, secondhand clothing has at least one quality you can always feel good about—it’s recycled. Whether fashion follows suit is up to us.