Just Order All Three Sizes.

Besides, the shipping and returns are free. Um. NO. They aren’t.

While I was at the gym this morning, I watched a short piece on returns. This year, retailers are expecting $100 billion.

Yep.

You read that right.

While their piece was a jocular discussion about how easy retailers are making it for us to send stuff back, IT’S NOT FREE.

Not even.

Let’s start with this:

So those very expensive, designer duds you ponied up treasure for are now land fill? Why don’t they just give them away if they’re that useless?

Not only that, but please: all the costs of airline fuel, the semis and trucks and cars that clog the air and road and add to our pollution just so that you can order all three sizes and send two back? The human cost of the inhuman conditions of folks who work for Amazon?

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Photo by Jordan Beltran on Unsplash

How big? This:

Five billion pounds of returned goods end up in US landfills each year.

Today is now dubbed “National Returns Day” by UPS, whose emissions double or more as they work to take back (and potentially damage) all the stuff you and I bought, tried on and returned. All the dumb gifts that we purchased, knowing that returns would be a breeze. Yah they are, at a huge cost to all of us.

I feel the same way about this that I do when I was in the Safeway produce section two days ago. I picked up a ripe pineapple; the produce manager said he was throwing it out. I offered to buy it. NO he said, I have to throw it out. I said look, if that’s the case, just let me take it. NO, he said, I have to throw it out.

DON’T. FUCKING. GET. ME. STARTED.

But that’s a whole other issue. We could learn something from the French.

Add to that the business of fast fashion, which most of you likely know about. If not, please see this and this. Since I’m talking shopping, this is a piece but that’s a whole other topic.

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Photo by Marcin Kempa on Unsplash

For those of us who grew up with malls (good riddance, thank you), a great many of us grey hairs still value the brick and mortar shop. It’s not just that Wally World wiped out Main Street. Amazon has done far more, not only to damage many small outfits, including beloved book stores, but a combination of poor labor conditions, the vast impact of emissions and the pure unadulterated waste are appalling. Because those who compete with Amazon are playing a deadly game of one-up-manship. Today’s consumer wants free shipping AND free returns.

For those of you who really don’t think that there is a cost to the consumer, I’d like to offer Exhibit #1: the JPeterman Company. Not long ago, they offered a long velvet coat with gold lining for $298. It of course would go on sale for less, but that was the price. These days, just a few years later, that same exact coat has gone up to $545. It’s on sale for $298. Look. There is no fucking way the cost of that coat could have skyrocketed that high in just a few years. But that is how the cost of servicing fickle customers gets passed along. Interestingly, Peterman also takes $8.95 our of your refund, after charging you fully $30.00 to receive this garment in the first place. So while they aren’t free (not at all) they are hedging their bets against the inevitable returns.

I’d expect to see an awful lot more of that going forward.

This year retailers are allowing some sixty days for us to return that Butt Ugly sweater. You’d be far better off taking it to a homeless shelter. At least there, the fashion police don’t patrol and your sweater will serve a purpose.

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Photo by Alina Lin on Unsplash

Look. Back around 1997 when I first moved to Spokane, the area had a slew of charming, interesting boutiques. Downtown Couer d’Alene did too. Those are all gone. The city fathers did a deal and a big new shopping complex grew up on the river: River Park Square.

Before all the Usual Suspect stores showed up, the same damned stores that have vanilla’d (no, that’s not a word) American retail for years, Spokane had a network of above-the-city -street walkways that featured quite a few very cool shops. Those shops, as has always been the case in American retail history, reflected the personalities of their owners. They are all gone, mowed down by Average, Predictable, and Boring.

Except for one unbelievable, fantastic store which is damned near worth going to Spokane to visit just on its own: Wonders of the World. I hope it stays there forever.

With Amazon, you can find cool stuff, which mind you, can often be hard to source in parts of America. That makes Amazon the Sears of today. I grew up with that massive catalog, which for kids in our rural area was like Christmas. People actually made those things? WOW. Yeah, I’m old.

But when stuff arrived, it stayed. If it didn’t fit, Mom worked on it. Or we sold it, at a discount, to another kid’s family. Such were small, rural communities in the Sixties.

This is not some angry bark about the Good Old Days. I am, however, making something of an argument for shopping locally as much as possible. Not only do you make friends with the owners, which is nice for the social aspect, but you support your local community. And kindly, for those of you who are not accustomed to putting stuff on at a store, the whole point is to not go home with something stupid.

Years and years ago, when the original discount designer store Loehmann’s was THE place to shop for a deal, the dressing rooms were wide open. We’d crowd in, drop our drawers and try stuff on. Hilarity ensued. We’d opine about the clothing (sometimes because we wanted what SHE had and it was the only one left). We commiserated with the woman who had just had her breasts removed. She still had the surgical markings on her chest. Here she was, ballsy as hell, trying on pretty clothing. God damn that was impressive. That happened forty years ago and I still remember her.

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Photo by Becca McHaffie on Unsplash

The Loehmann’s dressing room was ridiculously fun, I spent a fortune there, made friends with the staff, and it was a major social outing. I miss it.

Look. I don’t miss the money I spent there, which was way too much. But I do genuinely miss the chance to touch, feel, try on and play with items. That’s how I taught myself about fashion, that and the input from a thousand thousand smart, funny women who knew much more about fashion than I did.

Entire generations of women have grown up without the benefit of that kind of feedback, which, frankly, for me was a rite of passage. These days, because of body shaming, most of us would be frankly terrified of an open dressing room. In those rooms, nobody gave a shit. You had flab, a muffin top, surgery scars, cellulite…Look.

WE ALL DID.

Being in that communal dressing room normalized everyday bodies. Real women.

I was regularly surrounded by women of every shape, size and type, who laughed, giggled, jiggled and make fun of their jelly rolls. Then they dressed up in beautiful clothing that complimented their curves. Hid their scars. As a group we often would jump in and compliment, coo over a pretty blouse, suggest a belt or change of button.

Unapologetically terrific dames.

Now, too many of us hide out in our homes, obsessing about our (normal, bumpy, lumpy, aging, pregnant, scarred) bodies. We order three sizes, send back what doesn’t fit and add far too much burden to the environment.

I am coupling these together because in my mind, they are connected. Amazon supports our isolation. Shopping is social. Because buying stuff can and should be fun, and doing it with friends makes a great day out.

I’ll end this rant with a story In Real Life.

I recently spent five weeks in Mongolia. My first guide, Naka, worked for the Mongolian equivalent of the National Association of Women Business Owners. I was doing some interviews. I let it slip that I wanted to get a custom-made deel (pronounced DELL).

The deel is the traditional one-piece garment. Three kinds: light for summer, quilted for fall, and fleece lined for winter. I wanted the fleece-lined.

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Getting measured Julia Hubbel

Well, holy shit. You’d think I had announced that I was marrying the Director’s son. Before I knew it, the entire staff of some six women hauled me from one store to the other. First, to the sheepskin store to get me a full-length white sheepskin, which would constitute the warm lining.

Next, to the fabric stores, where I would pick the outer colors. Here, I was measured top to bottom, side to side, while surrounded by five women all competing to find the BEST seamstress at the BEST price for this American woman. Took all day. It was bedlam.

And monumental fun.

Then, when Naka and I returned to the capital city of Ulaan Bataar after our 1400-mile trip around the Gobi, the Big Moment. I had invested $313.00. In the Mongolia currency, that’s 836,023.00. So, to them, this was a HUGE event. Naka called and said that she and the tailor were on their way over.

The smallish woman came in with her two grandkids and Naka. We all crowded into the hotel room. They took the deel out of the bag. Damned thing weighs more than eight pounds. Eight pounds.

I’ve owned dogs that weigh less than this thing. But consider: when you live in a country where it can get down to minus 50F, let’s just say that you’re totally cool with the weight.

I was stunned. Not only was it gorgeous, but the woman had made a custom purse, handmade custom buttons, and she was there to hand finish the belt precisely to my waist. Now that’s a shopping experience.

I wrote about this elsewhere but here’s the picture of the deel and the tailor:

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Julia Hubbel

Amazon cannot deliver anything even close to this. It isn’t just that I was in Central Asia. Because this is a communal event. Always has been.

It combines the joy and laughter of a bunch of people. People who get it that the body is imperfect at best, and shopping for it is both an art and a pleasure when others make you feel just fine the way you are. You don’t get to gawk at yourself in your bedroom mirror and demean yourself for having hips. Good friends won’t let you. Because, after all, so do they. God, that is fun.

When Amazon allows us to hide out, we miss out. I miss the times that my buddy Sonja and I used to shop all day, opine about each other’s purchases and laugh ourselves stupid when something was too small, too big, or just dumb.

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Photo by Artem Beliaikin on Unsplash

It’s not just the pollution. It’s the isolation. For my part, and call me old-fashioned, I hope to return, when I move, to a town where getting to know your shop owners is a thing. Where supporting your local boutiques is a thing. Where being able to hang out with folks with real bodies and no pretensions about them is a thing.

Where all these things: buying locally, supporting the economy, getting to know the folks who serve us, and making a fun day out of spending our hard-earned cash is again a thing. Because I can’t see a way forward continuing the way we are.

This kind of shopping isn’t gone yet. But it is disappearing fast.

This is not about going backwards.

It’s about how we rethink retail going forward. Because for those of us who are so vocal about the environment, we are all part of the problem if we shop on Amazon regularly and return those goods without owning what we’re doing to our world in the process.

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Photo by Clark Street Mercantile on Unsplash

Horizon Huntress, prize-winning author, adventure traveler, boundary-pusher, wilder, veteran, aging vibrantly. I own my sh*t. Let’s play!

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