A year ago, I bought a pair of shorts at Old Navy. Beautiful, lovely, olive green shorts that might be among the most comfortable pieces of fabric to ever have graced my thighs.
(No. I know. Only cheap, tawdry romance novels start this way. But trust me, this doesn't get too gooey.)
To say that I love these shorts is an understatement. They are my comfortable shorts and in the past year I've worn them in three countries, dozens of states, countless road trips, on airplanes, on weekends, and to work. They are nothing short of completely phenomenal. To say, however, that they are masterfully crafted would be folly. They have worn through in spots, and have been somewhat subtly patched using remnants of other pieces of clothing. I spend a fair amount of time cutting pieces of loose thread off of the bottom of the legs, and I’m careful not to do anything really active in them for fear that they might one day disintegrate completely spontaneously and leave me violently naked in public.
I would buy another pair of these shorts in a heartbeat. If I could, I’d probably replace my entire wardrobe with them, and perhaps even wear them instead of shirts, shoes, or hats. So, like a good consumer, I returned to the store where I had found these lovely leggings only to find that, sorry my good man, seasons change, but if you’d be interested in this orange stripey turtleneck sweater…
As one might imagine, these shorts have never existed again. If I didn’t own a pair myself, I might question their existence in the first place, perhaps ascribing them to some magical pantheon of mythical shorts worn only by heroes in folk tales.
This makes me wonder: When did innovation become so important that it overshadowed the tried and true? I’m all for new items, but commerce is all about balance. If you created a truly superior product, why on earth would you stop making it just to make something new? A doctor would never forgo the known and proven way to perform routine surgery simply because the season has changed!
“Well sir, vaccu-suction is this season’s way to clear the arteries. Perhaps I can interest you in this orange stripey turtleneck hospital gown?”
Certainly, innovation has its strong points. In fact, without innovation, one would assume that my favorite shorts would never have been made in the first place -– unless they were a product of immaculate conception, which I’m willing to believe. But at some point someone has to decide, “Hey, these are great! We should make whole new product lines of just these!” Just think! At one point, nobody had ever seen blue jeans before, and when someone came up with the idea and tried it out, somebody else realized that they were really brilliant and devoted entire companies to them.
In the medical profession, new theories, drugs, and practices are conceived and refined in research laboratories, tested in clinical studies, and finally filtered down to doctors through medical journals and, most often, company representatives. I sometimes imagine hordes of scientists in a clothing laboratory at Old Navy headquarters, or maybe somewhere at a cutting-edge research-based fashion university, all standing around an incubator filled with small swirling pipettes containing the squirming embryos of new shorts. After months of waiting, careful testing, and steady refinement, the lead scientist gently picks up one full-grown pair of shorts, checks that the size is medium, looks at the location of the pockets, counts the belt loops, and finally reverently slides his skinny, pasty legs into them.
“Eureka!” he cries.
Sometimes I think it’s really just a bunch of marketing undergrads sitting behind a door labeled, “R&D” flipping through 30-year-old Vogue magazines and saying, “Omigod. Wouldn’t it be soooo hein if that came back into fashion? We should soooo totally do it.” They try to drive the trends, rather than flow with them, and their innovation is just 30-year-old patterns with new colors on them (or sometimes 30-year-old colors with new patterns on them.) In their haste to create something new, though, they forget that when they get lucky and truly make a superior product, that people might be interested in buying them again a few months later when they ones they originally bought wear out.
They’ll learn. 70s and 80s clothing can only be worn in so many decades before people catch on that they are death-ridden polyester firetraps (and ugly.) Colors can only be combined so many ways, and many of them shouldn’t be done as making other people go suddenly blind is not good manners.
Fortunately, I have a theory as to what creates this phenomenon of constant recreation, rather than a balance between the proven and the innovative. Some might say that it’s a leftover reaction from the quick-moving 90s technology market, or that the public is so fickle with their purchases that they must be constantly provided with something new, or even that Hollywood, television, rock music, video games, the damn conservatives, the damn liberals, the damn moderates, the chorus line at Minsky’s, space aliens, or the roaming ghost of David Koresh is to blame. But I’m sure my theory is the truest.
It will be coming out this fall as a new product line of designer gym sock perfumes. Look for it in stores, collect all 16 bottle and sock designs, and watch for our co-branding effort with the remake of Citizen Kane starring Cedric the Entertainer (children under 13 should have parental supervision before using our gym socks.)
In the meantime, perhaps you’d be interested in this orange stripey turtleneck straitjacket.
IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
7.13.05 @ 12:42a
Very interesting theories here. The one that really baffles me, though, is one I suspect you won't be able to answer: how come they discontinue an entire line of bras the day after I buy one that fits? I mean, come ON - this is underwear, how many "trends" can they try out?
7.13.05 @ 8:19a
See.. that's my problem. If it works, why stop making it? I understand changing items to keep up with trends, but changing your ENTIRE product line every 3 weeks? C'mon!
I didn't even approach how this applies to electronics.
7.13.05 @ 8:59a
Maybe no one else liked your shooooooooooooooorts (!!) and they were a huge dud so they discontinued them?
7.13.05 @ 9:23a
Then they were fools.
Fools, I tell you!
7.13.05 @ 9:23a
7.13.05 @ 9:25a
Another anecdotal example: Wonder Bread used to make an oat bread with sunflower seeds embedded in each slice. I bought and ate that bread for about ten years. Then all of a sudden it just disappeared. Poof! Gone! I emailed Wonder Bread about where could I get some more, since "obviously" my retailer had discontinued it. The reply informed me that they don't make that product anymore. They will never make it again. Then they said, "So, you're the one?"
7.13.05 @ 9:30a
Does Hostess still make Chocodiles? It was like a Chocolate frosted Twinkie. SO GOOD. Non-existent! FOOLS!
7.13.05 @ 12:10p
Orange stripey! I love it!
I hate Old Navy. It's major thrift shop in there. Nothing like dropping $24 on a "faded" "Pablo Cruise" concert t-shirt. I was also interested to find that most of the men's apparel was wrinkled.
I'm very product loyal if I like it and it suits my purpose. For work, as an example, I love flowy slacks and little tank tops in gauzy fabrics. Dress 'em up, dress 'em down, everything matches and it's machine washable. I had about 5 sets of these - now they're all worn out and I CAN"T FIND THEM ANYWHERE. I'm caught between middrift-baring tanks w/ barely any straps (something the dean of the law school might appreciate, but you know, not generally good work attire in my environment) and loud flowery grandma jackets, which, of course, I refuse to wear. Curses!!
I'm searching online, tho.
I also miss Gatorade gum, 'cause it was great to chew while biking, Lovepats undies and a special kind of lotion I can't recall.
You can only get shelf space if you reinvent, babe. What's old is not necessarily new again - it's just old.
7.13.05 @ 12:24p
Tracey - look into this: www.devalifewear.com
7.13.05 @ 12:47p
Burger King has had the fast food rights to the last three Star Wars movies.
Where the hell are the Burger King Star Wars glasses?
I didn't think anybody else could miss Gatorade gum. I LOVED that stuff.
7.13.05 @ 2:46p
They don't make Gatorade gum anymore? I could have sworn I saw it not too long ago. WAAAAY better than actual Gatorade, which tastes like sugary sweat to me.
7.13.05 @ 4:40p
They now have Gatorade power bars. I've been afraid to buy them.
7.13.05 @ 5:05p
It was only a matter of time before Erik wrote an article on shorts.
7.13.05 @ 9:10p
I suggest scouring the Internet for the brand name or original maker of the shorts. I rarely shop in a store. I love the cold lifelessness of cyber space for shopping at 4 AM.
7.14.05 @ 10:32a
You mean Old Navy?
michelle von euw
7.14.05 @ 4:22p
I had this happen to me twice this summer -- once with a brand new tank top from Kohl's that I washed with a pen. About a week after I bought it, the color and style was mysteriously sold out in every Kohl's store in the DC/MD/VA area, and then online. Now, I'm struggling with replacing a white V-neck tee shirt from J Crew. You would think something that multiseasonal, unisex, and absolutely cheap to make would be easy to replace, but, no, we have to have tissue fabrics and weird colors instead.