The Economy and The Sock Market

The original, flagship Dayton's department sto...

A Guy Could Get Great Socks Here -- In the Dayton's Era.

Whatever happened to unique, stylish, and luxurious socks?  I mean the thick comfortable ones made of wool, cashmere, and blends of both.  The kind that fit well and right.  Whatever happened to those?

I am going to make a useful observation that I think will be easy for everyone to understand. 

We see economic measures like our country’s GDP and points rising and falling on stock market but how does that really relate to the quality of every day experience for most people?  While our economy was soaring several years ago, for example, a few people made out like bandits — or robber barons — while most people simple got their lives tussled up a bit in the economy’s slip stream. 

Economic growth hasn’t really “trickled down” to most people very well.  Real wages have been flat — or even declining — for most of our working and middle class while the top 1% of us have managed to hoard more than a quarter of existing wealth.  So it seems to me that judging how well we are living based on economic figures might not really be a good measure to judge by.

So I got to thinking about socks.  I like socks, especially nice socks…maybe exclusively nice socks…and it is getting harder and harder to find unique, stylish, and luxurious socks anymore.  That got me thinking about why.  What has changed?

It used to be easy for a guy willing to spend an extra few bucks to find a wide assortment of great socks.  I thought about this.  Not so long ago — say 20-25 years ago?  Certainly 30 years ago — a guy could go to a retailer like Dayton’s Department Store here in Minneapolis and bypass the Gold Toe and find racks and tables full of great socks.  In fact, not so long ago, a guy could find a great selection of all sorts of things at a place like Dayton’s ranging from relatively affordable to somewhat upscale.  There was a nice vertical element to what was offered.    In one store a person might be shopping for Docker’s khakis or Armani slacks.  And you did it in relative style and comfort.

The store itself had class and style.  Well-dressed adults were happy to see to your needs at the store.  You could go to a great little restaurant — a real restaurant — or grab a great snack.  Sales were real events and infrequent.  In short, it was a civilized way to shop and you didn’t have to be a Vanderbilt to enjoy it.

Dayton’s acquired Marshall Fields of Chicago and things changed a little, but not too much.  I could still find my socks.  But things were indeed beginning to change.  Stock became more horizontal in quality and price point.  You could choose a blue polo from Tommy Hilfiger or a blue polo from Ralph Lauren or maybe select one of the new store brands which were essentially the same thing.  Instead of local style the stores adopted more of the Marshall Fields chain uniformity, but still a notch above more discounted retailers.  Nevertheless, the layered sense of variety and the open mix of practical with luxury was disappearing. 

Some of My Favorite Socks...

Today it is hard to find my socks even at high end retailers.  Places like Neiman Marcus really don’t even stock them anymore.  Nordstrom has some, but only some.  Retailers like JC Penny’s never carried them.  Discounters like Target never have either.  You can try perusing catalogues, but good luck.

This is about more than socks, however.  In the last 30 years we have gone from taking a level of quality for granted to having it all but disappear entirely.  People might argue that we have more selection and more choice today.  True, perhaps.  But we also have more crap.  Do you really need a dozen Old Navy shirts or two or three good shirts?  Does it matter that you can choose between colors differentiated as lavender or lilac? 

The reality is, I think, that the more choices you have, the less important that choice becomes.  Sometimes choice means we don’t think about what we really want, we just take the easy route.  Think of it as a dating situation.  If you go online and see thousands of profiles on a dating site, it is pretty easy to start eliminating options.  There are so many so why not wait for the perfect one?  (You will wait forever.)  But people eliminate potential dates based on what is easiest.  No grad education?  Next profile.  Doesn’t like badminton?  Next profile.  The same thing happens with buying now.  The proliferation of choice hasn’t really made the quality of our choices better, it has only made choosing easier.

So I’m supposed to be happy choosing between different shades of tan socks.  They lay out essentially the same sock, but slightly different, so like in a dating situation, I can easily eliminate one and take home the other.  But I don’t really get what I want. 

And in the retail environment look at what has happened.  You would have a mix of incomes and classes shopping in one place together.  Everyone had the same opportunity to buy up or buy down, to see and experience and mix it up a bit.  Maybe you would buy the inexpensive loafers but dress them up with high end socks!

Now…well, we have retail stores like Macy’s that have an aesthetic that recalls 1970s era Soviet chic.  shockingly banal promotional signs in overly lit monotony offered in a perpetual sale of discounts is what you get.  “Take an extra 15% off when you use your Macy’s card!”  Every day.  And no selection. 

Stores like Dayton’s filled a niche — an accessible niche — between places like Penny’s and Sears and places like Saks and Neiman Marcus.  That niche is gone and with it the variety of quality choices that once came with it.  Now you have a growing gulf between the sameness of the shopping mall retailers and the increasingly inaccessible luxury retailers.  It is a pretty good reflection of what is happening in our country economically and socially, I think.  But as long as people have the “freedom” to choose from a never ending stream of faux variety and crap, they seem not to notice.  Or care.  We need to focus more on the value of quality of choice rather than quantity of choice.

I want better socks and all that comes with them.

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2 thoughts on “The Economy and The Sock Market

  1. Pingback: What I Am Wearing Tonight « A Little Tour in Yellow

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