I will never forget the moment I first stepped inside Le Bon Marchè in Paris. I was mesmerized. Established in 1838, Paris’s (and the world’s) first department store perfectly capture every per-conceived notion I had of Parisian elegance and style. But it was not simply the stunning design and designer labels that captured me. Standing inside, I could not help but think of the importance of the early nineteenth century department store – when publicly shopping was a radical act for middle and upper-middle class women as it gave them their first taste of freedom.
Today, shopping is no longer a radical act. In fact, it is closely associated with women, often in dismissive and demeaning ways. But in the nineteenth-century, unescorted women were not allowed to roam Paris, or any US or European, city freely. Lower-class women, maids, laborers, and prostitutes moved about the city, but a respectable woman risked being associated with these women is she did the same. That all began to change, however, with the advent of the department store. Women finally had a public space where they could socialize, consume, and even work.
Today, Parisian department stores still retain their nineteenth-century elements of fantasy. In order to entice women, and get them to risk their reputation by traversing the city’s public squares and streets (full of maids, laborers, and prostitutes), early department stores like Le Bon Marchè put on a show. They displayed exotic items from around the world, showcased the latest fashions with pageants, and hosted concerts in their tea rooms. It was a city in microcosm, where women ruled and could marvel, eat, drink, and socialize as they wished.
But just like society and culture at large, the department store and shopping in general have changed dramatically in the twenty-first century. Women are no longer relegated to the home and lack the need of a male escort or “female” space. Today, as wives, mothers, and bosses, women prefer the convenience and variety of the internet over department stores and malls. Fashion has also gotten faster. We consume clothing at a rate unfathomable to nineteenth-century women. Decreasing price points and lower quality have created record consumption patterns, particularly in the US.
Global connectivity and fast shipping mean that we can have whatever we want whenever we want it. And yet, I still stare into my closet every morning and think, “I have nothing to wear to work today.” Sometimes I fear that, because of our affordable and over-access to clothing and “trends,” my appetite for fashion has become insatiable. More importantly, it is not sustainable, nor is it environmentally or fiscally responsible. That is why I am so excited that we, once again, are amidst another revolution in shopping – renting instead of owning. Rental services like Gwynnie Bee allow you to indulge in fashion in a more responsible way – with less waste, less spending, more fashion, more fun, and even more self-expression. Gwynnie Bee is the latest rental service to catch my attention. They have an amazing and inclusive selection of clothing that is perfect for working women.
Have you tried a clothing rental subscription yet?