They’re called “ward-robers”, and what they do is stretch their clothing allowances by borrowing those items they’ll only need for an isolated occasion. Items that, even if the occasion weren’t so isolated, you wouldn’t want to show up wearing if you’d already worn the same item at some prior occasion. Items like party dresses.
But ward-robers don’t do what the rest of us have done for as long as there have been friends and sisters within one standard deviation of our own size. I.e., borrow those items.
These days, borrowing from friends and family is, apparently, passé. After all, what you get that a-way is apt to be the wrong color. Or last year’s model. Or a bit off in size. Or already been worn for a special occasion.
So ward-robers take themselves shopping.
And once they find an item they like, they actually buy it.
They then get to wear it.
Ah, the benefits of ownership!
And then, once Cinderella returns from the ball, the ball gown does a disappearing act. But the ward-rober isn’t stuck sitting around in rags.
No, the cagey ward-rober just returns the “gently worn” item and gets her money back.
This is a big problem: retailers estimate that about 3 percent of their returns involve some type of fraud. Like returning something that you’ve already warned.
As with so many other things these days, the problem of:
…wardrobing has been exacerbated by social media. Call it the Instagram effect. “We love our selfies,” [Susan Scafidi, a Fordham University law professor who specializes in fashion] says. “More items become single-wear, in effect, because everybody has seen you in it.” (Source: Business Week.)
It’s a bit difficult for someone who wore a green jumper and white blouse every day for twelve years to get too excited about everybody having seen her in something, but there you have it.
Bloomingdale’s, for one, is mad as hell, and they’re not going to take it anymore. They’re affixing big chunks of black plastic to items:
The tags, fixed to high-fashion garments in highly visible places, are the department store’s new strategy to keep crafty shoppers from buying clothes, wearing them, and then returning them. Once buyers remove the tags, Bloomingdale’s, a unit of Macy’s, won’t take back the garments.
I don’t know how this is going to work if an item turns out to be defective in some way, and someone has a legitimate reason to return it. But maybe that’s just a problem that occurs when the hem unravels on a twelve-dollar tee-shirt after a couple of washings, and not on a “$1,100 red leather dress.” (Not that wardrobe malfunctions never happen…)
Some industry watchers think that this is a bad idea:
“In an era when the shoppers have all the power, the last thing you do is anything that might alienate them,” [Mark] Ellwood says. “It’s the retail equivalent of not dating anyone until you’ve seen their STD tests.”
Well, if Mark Ellwood has a better idea for catching ward-robers…
As a matter of fact, he does. In the world of big data, stores can:
…flag shoppers who return items frequently.
And just how does this help them thwart ward-robers? Can they refuse to sell to, or take returns from, frequent returners?
If I were a store selling the sorts of upscale items that lend themselves to ward-robing, I think I’d hire someone to monitor social media for signs that frequent returners had gotten some wear out of something. It might actually be kind of fun confronting a ward-rober with evidence of her malfeasance. (Sorry to keep referring to a ward-rober as “she.” Guess I’m profiling a bit here.)
Nordstrom’s, by the way, has no intention of tagging their items with big chunks of black plastic.
“Our experience is that if you treat the customer with respect, they respect you back,” [spokesman Colin Johnson] told Bloomberg.
I love Nordstrom’s, and wish one would open nearby. (There is a Nordstrom Rack, but it’s not the same.) But what about those 3 percent scofflaws who are shoplifting or ward-robing, which, as far as I can tell, is pretty much just risk-free shoplifting? Maybe the 3 percent violators don’t count as customers to begin with.
Many long years ago, I was actually the victim of ward-robing. And it had nothing to do with a red leather party dress worth $1,100.
I had purchased a madras shirtwaist dress at Filene’s Basement.
It was a good bargain. I loved the colors (purples and blues). And I figured that, coupled with a navy jacket, it would make a decent enough work outfit.
It was just the right size. I didn’t even bother to try it on.
Until I got home.
And realized that it had been previously worn by someone with incredibly powerful BO – far more potent than anything that could have been given off by merely trying an item on. Nope, this was the real BO deal: that sucker had been worn on a very sweaty day.
Ugh, ugh, ugh.
I really wanted that dress, so, rather than bring it back to The B, I tried to wash it out. A couple of times. But that was a pure Lady Macbeth effort. No matter how hard I scrubbed, I was never able to get that whiff of some complete stranger’s BO out of my nostrils.
The dress ended up in the charity donation bag. Unworn. At least unworn by me.
So to hell with ward-robers.
I hope Bloomingdale’s nabs them all.