JACQUELYN ORTIZ scours her favorite cheap-and-chic fashion outposts once or twice a week to stock up on a season’s worth of flowing dresses, tank tops, sandals and tees. “In the summertime I do a lot more shopping,” said Ms. Ortiz, who works at an advertising agency in New York.
Yet she finds that she is spending less. She can afford to indulge in an occasional mini-splurge, since she rarely parts with more than $30 on a single clothing purchase, and even less on accessories: feathers for her hair, headbands or the $10 fedora that crowns her summer wardrobe. In keeping with the season’s carefree spirit, she snaps up eye-catching pieces that she may wear the next day, then simply forget.
“In the summer,” she reasoned, “you’re in the office one minute, and on the jitney to the Hamptons the next. If you’re feeling spontaneous, you might jump into a pool in your silly clothes. So you need to be buying something easy, adaptable — and maybe disposable.”
A halting economy, steamy pavements and long hours at the office have done little to dampen her enthusiasm, or for that matter that of her peers. She typifies a breed of budget- and style-wise New Yorkers who haunt fashion chains like H & M and Mango to engage in a bit of ritual hunting and gathering.
Their frequent store visits and swift response to trends suggest that they have returned to the kind of recreational shopping that has been rare of late, but which, in its pre-recession heyday, was as popular a pastime as a jaunt to the beach. They shop because it’s easy (fewer layers to impede their progress or obscure their bright new clothes) and, as some will tell you, just because they can.
Sure, apparel sales have slowed, at least outside the luxury sector. “The fashion consumer is being more cautious than ever,” said Howard Davidowitz, a retail consultant in New York. At a time, he said, when 80 percent of the population is still struggling to make ends meet, “they really are watching their dollars.” But even a lethargic recovery has done little to curb an acquisitive streak that is ingrained in the consumer psyche.
Trend-watchers point out that a succession of sun-drenched days only intensifies the impulse to buy, to cast off cool-weather layers for looks that are lighter, simpler and more vibrant. “People shop and dress differently in the summer,” said Catherine Moellering, the executive vice president of the Tobe Report, a trend forecasting firm. Summer, she added, “is the sorbet of seasons — the palate cleanser, if you will. Dressing is simpler, not as tricky. We all give ourselves a bit of a break.”
And conserve our energies, she might have added, for the challenge of chasing a deal.
“The availability of inexpensive, high-turnover, trend-driven fashion encourages people to shop more often,” Mr. Davidowitz said, “because they know that each time they’re going to see something different, and that’s what they’re looking for.”
Catering to an appetite for novelty is a proliferation of wallet- and trend-friendly stores: standbys like J. Crew and Topshop, and a string of recent arrivals like AllSaints and Aritzia, a Canadian brand with an cavernous new outpost in lower Manhattan. Many offer temptations priced at well below $100, a retail sweet spot for aspiring frugalistas.
“Fashion chains like Zara and Forever 21 are very well positioned for the shopper who wants something new,” said Candace Corlett, the president of WSL Strategic Retail, a consultancy in New York. They serve those consumers who are “determined or simply not able to get back into the vicious cycle of credit and debt.”
Replenishing inventories daily or weekly with items inspired by the runways, such fashion chains draw people on the prowl for peasant blouses, street-grazing skirts, tunics and tribal prints, and the kinds of flat sandals meant to complement a raft of maxi-dresses. In summer, fabrics are lighter and less expensive in every segment of the marketplace, Ms. Moellering noted. “That kind of levels out the playing field,” she said, making it easier “to browse the high street stores and pull off a high-end look.”
That’s certainly no secret to Ashley Basius, who shops “at least twice a week,” she said. “I buy more in summer because I’m outdoors more and I can show off what I’m wearing.” Ms. Basius, a fashion intern in New York, collects pieces like the yellow J. Crew sundress she wore in Midtown last week, bought for $90, and which she wore with $40 taupe-tone sandals she found at T. J. Maxx. “Dresses are cheaper, and they’re practical,” she said. “They give you an entire outfit that you can accessorize.”
Or outfits, as the case may be.
“In the summer there’s a lot more to choose from, so I buy more things,” said Lindsey Ibarra, managing editor at BurdaStyle, a magazine for sewing enthusiasts. Like many of her contemporaries, she buys inexpensive things to mix with a handful of luxury purchases. “It’s more interesting when you pick and choose from different sources at different price points,” she said. “It’s more creative than just going to a department store and buying a runway look right off the mannequin.
“Besides, you never know when you’ll find a diamond in the rough, a piece that you spend $20 or $30 on and end up wearing for years.”