It came upon me gradually. I used to love shopping at outlet malls and upscale shopping centers. In fact, when I first moved to the Dallas area in the mid 1980’s, I learned my way around by driving to North Park Mall or The Galleria or Los Colinas. On my way home from work I would often stop at the Plano Mall and wander through Lord & Taylor, Dillard’s and Foleys. That was before leveraged buyouts and the homogenization of department stores. Each store had its own character and the store’s labeled items were often as high in quality as the national brands. (Of course, I later learned they were all made at the same factories). Now, most department stores offer the same merchandize. I’ve grown to hate visiting shopping malls. They all now seem boring, soulless and uninspiring.
Outlets carried merchandise from the front line stores that were from a past a season or two, or returns or overruns or seconds. It was possible with some diligence to find a gem, a bargain so delicious that my heart would sing for days. My best find was an Albert Nipon tea length black whisper silk dress with gold embroidery marked down from $980 to $75 at Loehmann’s Back Room. I wore it for black tie events for 10 years! Every time I wore it I felt like royalty!
Today, however, outlet malls are populated with stores that manufacture merchandise just for the outlet store. While the clothes may look similar, they are not. The fabrics look cheaper, feel cheaper, the fit is inconsistent, and the prices are not great. Outlet stores also seem to have perpetual “sales” so that the consumer believes they are getting a bargain. However, I’ve found, that the sales prices at most front line stores are ultimately better because the merchandise is better.
Friday afternoon I went to the Prime Outlets in Hagerstown, Maryland specifically to visit the Soma outlet. One of my friends had said she’d gotten some great deals there and I was intrigued. She was right about Soma. The Soma at the Hagerstown outlet mall sold first line store merchandize at full price as well as discounts on styles no longer sold in the front line stores. The prices were about the same as if I were buying at the sale price online – but there was a greater selection.
But Soma was the only store worth visiting. The Chico’s outlet sells only “outlet” merchandize. The Talbot’s outlet only sells items manufactured for the outlets. The merchandize at the Ann Taylor outlet was sub-par. The items at the Ralph Lauren outlet seemed the same as what is sold at T.J. Maxx under that label rather than what one would find at Neiman’s. Seriously, with the exception of my purchases at Soma, the experience was completely uninspiring.
So, other than the occasional foray into Chico’s, Soma, Talbot’s or Nordstrom, I shop online. There are no crowds. The prices are good. Shipping is fast. Returns are easy. And the selection is amazing. It is necessary to check often and always Google for coupon codes. But, I believe I’ll continue to avoid the shopping centers to keep my sanity.
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