Worse Than No Clothes, The Emperor Has Crappy Clothes

by Katy on March 31, 2011 · 26 comments

My week has been pleasantly busy, with tasks and outings related to hosting a 15-year-old Japanese speech contest winner. And Monday, after he presented his speech on Bushido: The Samurai Moral Code, we spent a few hours downtown, as the teenagers shopped and did some sightseeing. Now you, as regular readers, know that time spent shopping downtown is about as usual for me as inviting ChemLawn over for a spray-fest. But not wanting to start an international incident, I shepherded the kids around, even ushering them into the downtown mall. (I consider this to be my ticket to heaven, as it was an entirely selfless task!)

The one store they seemed most excited about was a large Swedish department store that sells everything from shoes to slutty underwear. The joint was hopping, with loud rock music, prominent displays featuring supermodels attired head to toe in their merchandise, and store personnel with edgy piercings and Crayola hued dye jobs.

In other words, fashionista heaven.

But a closer look at the merchandise revealed that everything in the store looked like crap. The jewelry appeared about the same as gumball machine stuff, the towering heels were constructed from vinyl-esque material, the clothing was made with really thin fabric and the seams all looked wonky. And yes, everything was made in China, not Switzerland.

So yes, crap.

I looked around at the crowd of weekday shoppers, yet everyone seemed to be enjoying the illusion. And the phrase “Sell the sizzle, not the steak” began to swirl through my head.

Then I started to think about the Hans Christian Andersen’sΒ The Emperor’s New Clothes. The story of a King, duped into believing in clothing that is only visible to the worthy.Β In the story, no one except a small child has the cojones to inform the king of his rather, ahem . . . nude status. I wanted to run an intervention with the people standing in line or at least scream “Does anyone else notice that everything in here is a piece of crap?!”

But then I took a deep breath, waited patiently while the Japanese teenagers made their purchases and then took everyone down to the food court.

And that night, I had a glass of wine.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without”

{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

Bets March 31, 2011 at 8:03 am

Am Swiss and absolutely curious to know which of our shops has made it to the US – and meets this description! I am living in the UK and find it very hard to find anything Swiss (although cheap jewellery is not what I was hoping for, to tell the truth)


Erin March 31, 2011 at 10:39 am

I’m guessing she meant Swedish instead of Swiss and it’s H & M. I agree about the quality!


Jen March 31, 2011 at 10:46 am

I think the company she’s talking about may be Swedish, but either way yes, it’s crap. πŸ™‚


Susan March 31, 2011 at 10:57 am

I felt the same way about this store. We were in Seattle in December and had some time to window shop. Curious about all the hype, we stumbled inside and thought, What?! There’s nothing here I would *wear*, let alone buy for anyone else. Cheap is as cheap does, or something.


Laura March 31, 2011 at 11:44 am

We’ve actually found some gold nuggets among the dross at H & M, but you have to look very carefully. A couple of the shirts bought there are on the third sister now and holding up well (we shopped up in Seattle a few years ago), so we have more than gotten our money’s worth. But I agree, most of it seems like junk, plus it’s just not my style (or my daughters’ for the most part).


Maryam March 31, 2011 at 12:19 pm

First off I hate stuff and am paring down my belongings and clothes. That being said, I have kids. Kids have stuff as u know. What struck me as funny while reading this is that I actually buy most of my kids clothes from the H&M’s in Switzerland (And yes they r a Swedish company) However the H&M’s in Switzerland and I’m assuming the rest of Europe r a whole diff animal than the crappy ones here. For one thing they have kids clothes lol. And pretty darn good quality kids clothes at that. They also sell mens clothes and womens and plus size clothes. It makes me mad that we get the crappy “forever 21” style of a store that’s actually pretty cool and practical everywhere else.


Twyla March 31, 2011 at 4:27 pm

I wish you *had* yelled that and then I wish someone there had the cajones there to step up and say it.
I look at people going to malls and I think, what the .. are you duped? and yet; they are the ones who pull all the strings. They are the ones in control of the world. Well not really, but you know what I mean; the cliche cliquey people who have the aura and snottyness to believe that if you’re not “in” then you’re … just a waste of space.


Dwell Richly March 31, 2011 at 5:20 pm

An apt observation and great demonstration of restraint! ; -)


Carla March 31, 2011 at 6:37 pm

good post on the illusion of things
but so you know:
cajones in Spanish means drawers (as in dresser drawers)
cojones is probably what you meant, which means balls, as in having the balls to do something.


Katy March 31, 2011 at 7:30 pm

Thank you!



marlo March 31, 2011 at 6:37 pm

i think about this often- how we want the semblance of someone else’s definition of luxury rather than making our lives the way we want them. it seems like a strange fantasy where everything is a facade and we’re all pretending. it freaks me out, really.


Jessica Wolk-Stanley March 31, 2011 at 6:44 pm

Like the story by Mr. Anderson, it is all about the marketing and sizzle.


Erin March 31, 2011 at 6:48 pm

There is an H&M in Toronto and they have kids clothing as well thatis quite good. I have never bought anything for myself there, but let my daughter play dress up in the women’s dept. Sometimes it’s hard to bite your tongue, but they will figure it out eventually.


Deborah March 31, 2011 at 8:14 pm

We must be on the same wave-length. First, our cars are at the same shop and now, we’re having the same conversations! I was at said shop last week and had a similar reaction. Yuck.


Katy March 31, 2011 at 9:01 pm

It was surreal how excited the shoppers seemed to be.



Sue March 31, 2011 at 10:12 pm

My son recently bought some jeans from H&M (I’m in the UK) . There were a good 8 inches of unsewn seam in the leg. Quicker to get the sewing machine out than take them back. My two younger kids love the place.
And don’t get me started on Primark.


Valerie Heck April 1, 2011 at 4:19 am

For years i’ve been all about american made. I go into a mall maybe twice a year and normally I have a game plan or a list. I don’t go just cause. But the quality of things is continuing to drop. This fall they had pleather jackets everywhere. From a distance they looked like leather but close up they were total crap. They were in all of the stores. Luckily my mother in law and I are going to try our hand at making some clothes, it will be challenging but fun! : )


Cyndi April 1, 2011 at 4:36 am

I read somewhere that H&M can get a piece of clothing from idea to stores in 8 weeks. I really wish I had written down that reference! Perhaps a reader will help me. But the point is, how can it be anything but crap when you are dealing with that kind of pressure?


Katie April 1, 2011 at 7:32 am

I actually taught myself basic tailoring skills and pattern drafting in high school in order to make myself sweaters because I was tired of my clothing not fitting correctly and then falling apart. Modern clothing just makes me cringe all the way around.


Tracy Balazy April 1, 2011 at 8:39 am

Egads! I haven’t been in a retail store in so long! I could just feel the stress of the place from your description, Katy. This reminds me again how glad I am that I only shop resale. On Monday, I went to Value World with my half-off coupon and got (I bought some of these items for my sister and husband; also, this haul might seem excessive, but I recently donated to charity A LOT of clothing): a pair of Abercrombie & Fitch jeans, an Aeropostale jacket, an Old Navy hooded jacket, a long-sleeved scoop-neck T-shirt, a visor and a baseball cap both new with tags, a pink baby-cable zip-front Tommy Hilfiger cardigan (which, incidentally, was made in Japan, not China, go figure), an American Eagle messenger bag-type purse, two shower curtain liners new in their boxes, navy-blue athletic (or in my case, “loungewear”) pants, a Banana Republic camisole, Ralph Lauren white jeans with an outrageous flower design down one leg, a pair of Keds Grasshoppers, a navy-blue satin dressy purse covered in butterflies in flight, and a pair of sunny yellow and orange polka-dotted shorts I will wear for sleeping. Grand total at the cash register: $28.65.

All the clothes, and the shoes, are in like-new condition. It never fails to amaze me that I can find this stuff so cheap and in such great shape. I mention the brands because I’ve found that Tommy H. and Abercrombie tend to make their stuff durable. Although, I won’t buy it new. πŸ˜‰


Katy April 1, 2011 at 1:06 pm


Great finds!



Ellie April 3, 2011 at 8:44 am

@ Cyndi –

I think the information about H&M getting from idea to store in 8 weeks was cited in one of the two following books: “The Story of Stuff” by Annie Leonard, or “Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture” by Ellen Rupel Shell.

I read both of those books one after another, and I seem to remember that the H&M reference was in one of them.


hippierunner April 3, 2011 at 12:03 pm

If something is Swedish, it’s from Sweden. Lol not Switzerland! πŸ™‚ I had to say something because my boyfriend is Swedish and I know this drives him mad! If that was H&M, most of the stuff there is wildly expensive especially for being such thin fabric and cheap at that but if you look carefully they have a few cute, quality things that can last a while. (Usually not in the hip teen section but in the granny section lol, but I have no problem with that.)


Raffaella April 4, 2011 at 9:26 am

I’ve found some good stuff too – classic shirts and skirts, for example. I wouldn’t say it’s granny stuff, but yeah, compared to the average client I’m a granny. πŸ™‚


Stephanie November 5, 2015 at 6:20 pm

I picked up a brand new with tags H&M kids sweatpants secondhand, got them home and part of the inseam had never been sewn- seriously the thread skipped a good six inches and then kept on going. I ended up hand sewing them because they were my daughters favorite color but do they not have quality control?


Donna November 6, 2015 at 7:35 am

Here in Dallas at Northpark Mall yesterday there were huge crowds with all the manners of Black Friday as H&M had a wristband event for French Designer “Balmain”. Ridiculously long lines and tempers flaring as people grabbed as much as they could regardless of whether or not it was there size. Part of the allure is the designer is a favorite of Kanye and Kim K. Good Lord…..
In an not entirely unrelated event, I read in the business section, they are still pulling bodies from yet another factory collapse in Pakistan. When will we ever learn?


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