I Looked Deep Into My Soul and Found the Real Me: Just Another Anthropologie Customer

comments: 75

Companyinfo_homeYesterday, my friend Ellen sent me a link to an article about Anthropologie in the New York Times last week called "Peter Pan Collars in a Vintage Never-Never Land." I read it and then looked down to make sure I had clothes on -- I fully expected to be stark naked. I felt that the target customer described me to an embarrassed, gulping, wistful tee -- I had no idea that my personal longings were simply a very well-understood profile circumscribed in corporate offices by the Anthropologie marketing department. I feel played like a fake vintage viola.

Alex Kuczynski, the writer, describes the new 12,000-foot Anthropologie store on Rockefeller Plaza, and discusses the general aesthetic of the brand in a way that makes me cringe with recognition and admission. She says:

On a philosophical level, there is something about Anthropologie that is well intentioned but makes me profoundly depressed. The old bicycles, the old-fashioned Marvis toothpaste, the etched-glass candleholders, the calico pajama sets, the teacups and saucers -- all are the trappings of a grandparent's or a parent's home.

But the 30-something generation that shops at Anthropologie, among the first to be widely defined as children of divorce, no longer has access to those homes, which have long since been dispersed. There is no longevity in their parents' houses. The romantically weathered chests of drawers and stacks of pristinely aged National Geographic magazines were all put into storage, sold or dispersed among the various interested parties.

This is where Anthropologie steps in: It helps the shopper create the illusion of household continuity by allowing her to reimagine a place where Grandma might leave out her pre-fluoride tooth powder, to simulate a life in which Mom and Dad still live together in a house with European teacups and flocked bedspreads. In a world of Anthropologie furnishings and clothing, the consumers can reclaim lost childhoods, lost marriages, lost virginities. The store's philosophy takes the colloquial and sad world of regrets and realities and wraps it up in a swath of vintage calico, tied with a satin bow.

Lord! What I'd thought was simply my own personal motivation for my aesthetic preferences -- admittedly a little precious, self-consciously twee, flush with a manufactured nostalgia for a past that was only vaguely ever mine, haunted by homesickness and longing for the butler's pantries of my old neighborhood -- is actually just a corporate brand, a brilliant marketing campaign! That is depressing. And it's manufactured overseas and can be bought for the (too high) price on a computer-generated Urban Outfitters-ish pricetag. Crap. How irritating! But man they've done it all so well that I sort of, in spite of myself, want it anyway!

Nevertheless, I insist that, whatever else I am (and come on, you love/hate Anthropologie, you [maybe] are, too), I'm not longing to reclaim my virginity. It was overrated anyway. Peter Pan collar or not, I'm glad that's long gone. And my vintagey bicycle works great and I think mountainbikes are just plain ugly and I ALWAYS WILL. So there. Hrumph. (Cringe. Hide. Laugh. Back to sew some calico flower pins.)


Well, isn't it just another case of a big corporation putting their money-grubbing finger on the emotional pulse of the women in this country, and then diddling until it runs out of steam?

Don't let yourself be pigeonholed like that. As far as I'm concerned, you were here way the hell before Anthropolgie. And? I love that style too. But not that pricetag. $89 t-shirt indeed.

Wow, that is interesting. That reminds me of a conversation I had a few years ago with a co-worker (fellow graphic designer) about Restoration Hardware. This was before they morphed into a vintagey Pottery Barn, when they were more about scouting the unique, vintage finds and bringing them to the masses. She said that she did not like going to any store that was basically selling her lifestyle...that she was trying to live the authentic version of their brand. I think that holds true with Anthropologie. They are basically spoon-feeding a lifestyle to the masses that some of us just live naturally. I mean, it isn't like any of us crafty bloggers surround ourselves entirely with Anthropologie goods...we go there for a "quick fix" between trips to the antique fair, garage sale, thrift store, as well as making our own beautiful goods that are as cute as any Anthropologie goods. We go there because we want to, not because we have to...

"And it's knocked-off, manufactured overseas, and can be bought for the (too high) price on a computer-generated Urban Outfitters-ish pricetag. Crap. How irritating. But man they've done it all so well that I want it anyway!"

As I read those lines, I was reminded of an episode of Friends where Rachael buys an apothecary table from Crate and Barrel, and Phoebe's reactions...especially at the end of the episode when she discovers Rachel's "betrayal." I know you'd understand just how Phoebe felt...

I so totally agree with Tanya. My, still-living, grandmothers have given me lots of very cool stuff but I think if anything we are the "more" generation - why have one when you can have tons? - and whose grandmother has enough for that? Plus, what are the chances of your grandmoher having a coat hook with your initial on it?

Yeah, all those marketing people want us to think they know what they are talking about, when all they are doing is promoting themselves as "experts" on the minds of customers. Its all a bunch of hooey, they just picked up on a style trend that has been popular since forever, hired some great designers and stylists, and spent a lot of money to put it all together in a fun colorful way. I think one of the earlier comments had it right, the author of that article is projecting her own opinions of Anthropologie onto the rest of the population. Stuff and nonsense. I am beyond 30-something, not a child of divorce nor wishing for things from my grandmother's house (I HAVE everything from my grandmother's house!) Sometimes it is just about the style!

i'm sitting here at work in my anthropologie sweater (yesterday was all anthropologie: skirt and top, the day before was just an anthropologie t-shirt with lace). Um, you could sorta call me a fan. once again, alicia, you're enticing me to leave a long comment. why must you do this to me?

anyway, i just wanted to say that i've acutally been quite surprised by anthropologie's success. i have always had an affinity for "grandma type" things. I've always been very girly-girl. I love wearing tops with ties or bows 5-6 days out of the week i wear a skirt or dress, and my entire house is filled with old things (except the sofa and chair). I used to love wearing laura ashley dresses with doc martens. My parents are divorced, but I don't think that has one single bit to do with why I like anthroplogie. Even when I was a young girl, I always searched through pattern books at the fabric store, trying to find those vintage inspired patterns. Well, in those days, they simply didn't exist. I grew up in a home full of antiques. My mother has held on to every piece of linen, quilt, afghan, teacup, serving dishes, etc. that she has acquired through he family. I was raised to have an appreciation for these things. I always felt like I was born in the wrong time.

Once I was older, I started wearing vintage dresses and tops, and still looked for patterns. (i didn't have the ability to make my own).
As soon as Anthropologie came to town, one of my friends told me I HAD to go because she knew I would love it. And oh, it was indeed love at first sight. I could not have planned a more perfect store for my aesthetic.
so, now I have way too many anthropologie clothes. I rarely buy their housewares becuase I don't like buying the new reproductions. it's so much more fun to find real antiques.

I felt like I had found MY place, and I really never thought so many other people would adore it as much as I did. I had this one friend in particular, who totally just copied my style (so lame), and it used to irritate the crap out of me. She would buy the exact same thing, or the same thing, but in a different color. ugh.

when I started my new job this year, it was funny because I instantly connected with the "anthropologie crew" there are a few here who shop there all the time.

I remember shopping at anthropologie one day, and I was wearing this really cute pintucked floral blouse from the GAP (I hardly ever go there by the way). One of the employees said, "I love that shirt, where did you get it"? She was stunned when I told her it was the GAP and made some disparaging remark about the GAP.

Well, anthropologie has become just like the GAP. I'm sorry, but it has. Yesterday I was reading on dioramarama all about how evil urban outfitters is. well, they are owned by the same company, and I think they end up doing the same thing, just with a different aesthetic. Especially now with Anthropologies cute little screen-printed shirts.

wow, talk about rambling. I think I may have to take this subject over to my blog.

sorry again, alicia.

I stand somewhere in the middle. I have an old bicycle (1969 - year of my birth - Schwinn Starlet - stock purple!) that I *love, love, love* and I just bought an ugly new bike because I have a bad (broken awhile back & three surgeries later) ankle that requires gears for any real riding. My lovely Schwinn is best used for flat trips around the block looking ever so cute. I guess my bikes help sum up a lot about me: I like the look of old & the convenience of new.

And no one likes to hear they've been suckered out by some creepy marketing department...

Very interesting.

I'm divorced and my parents are divorced and I don't like Anthropologie at all.

I've visited their store once and I snorted with disgust at the prices.

I admit that my aesthetic, and my appreciation of your work, is influenced enormously by Martha Stewart and her work (books, magazines, shows). It's an appreciation of nesting and creating and a deep appreciation of color.

Here's the thing - the quote about Anthropologie stepping in to make a home for all those poor, grandparent-less "divorce generation" shoppers comes not from the store itself, but from Alex Kuczynski. If you've read her other stuff in Critical Shopper, you'll find that thread of psychobabble running through a lot of it. (When she isn't telling you that the $4700 cocktail dress she bought at Dolce & Gabbana was a bargain.)
Design repeats itself again and again, each generation slightly reinterpreting it for themselves and each generation finds something good or comforting in objects from a previous era. In the Renaissance, the young Michelangelo made fake Roman sculptures for people who felt more at home with the past than the bustling 15th century.
If you only look at houses and decorating, in this country we've had since the late 18th century, Neo Classical, Greek Revival, Gothic Revival, Renaissance and Italianate Revival, Romanesque Revival and Tudor Revival. In the 1920's Colonial decorating took off as it did again in the 1950's. Liking these things isn't a sign of pathology - it's a sign that we're human! Our tastes will always say something about us – they’re formed by our lives and the times in which we live and yes, our dreams, but that doesn’t mean that there is anything sad or twisted in liking vintage bikes (comfortable and easy to ride) or Peter Pan collars. My own personal interest in vintage objects comes not from a longing for a return to the 50’s, the 30’s or any other era, but from an appreciation for the beauty found in all periods and a desire to understand the lives of the people who came before me. All Anthropologie has done is decide to market to an audience who can appreciate these things.

Well, I think that article is a load of PANTS !
: )

very very interesting. what I find so amazing is I love the store. LOVE it. get a TON of inspiration from it-but I have bought only 2 things there in 10 years. I have had 3 gift cards form there for over 2 years, unused. i just can't purchase there. prices are too high-but there is something else. . .the manufactured quality of it all? the chase is over before you know what you are looking for? not sure. but very interesting.

and creepy profiling they do! and aren't they and urban outfitters the same owners? and how can their shoes be so much $$$???)

but we're all consumers in one way or the other. from throw away products to anthropologie to the car we drive or shoes we wear. the ad agencies and the marketing directors have it all figured out. just pick a focus group, tweak the styling a bit, and you've got a core group of people who will buy xyz.

i think that's why there has been such a resurgence of the home-crafter and why we keep seeing the "trend" in stores. we want to remind ourselves of the time when "love" went into making a product and time and patience made it better.

"...suckered by some creepy marketing department.." Ain't that the truth! IN A NUTSHELL. We need to keep our eyes open all the time. Enjoy Anthropologie and Christian Dior cosmetics and Dolce and Gabbana and MacDonalds (YES, they are in the same category) but, for heaven's sake, recognize the machine that makes them so desirable! (ok, maybe not "desirable" and "MacDonalds" in the same sentence, but you get it)

holy smokes.... good post, and great comments. someone once told me that when the folks at Ralph Lauren determined prices for their items increasing amounts were suggested and it wasn't until they were all laughing that they settled on the list price. i like anthropologie for what they do, if for nothing more than to balance the abercrombie and fitch located two doors away. and, i would imagine they are peeing in their pants because they are laughing so hard.

great post, alicia.

{i do kinda want to remind people that the nyt author is speaking metaphorically, not trying to draw a direct relationship between divorce and anthropologie-shopping. there, i did it. i feel better.}

Yes, that is an interesting piece representing one reporter's viewpoint. Valid, and could be true for some Anthropologie shoppers.

But the REALLY interesting reading about that store comes from articles that are not reporters' opinions, but direct reports about the target demographic of Anthro., how the company was created, how it feels SO different from other clothing/lifestlye companies, the lengths the store will go to to find exotic and original products from all over the world to feature in their stores, how the company creates a shopping "experience" for the customer that is like no other, etc.

THAT will give you more food for thought about how so many people end up wanting wanting wanting Anthro. goods. (I count myself among them)

Googling Anthro. and marketing will lead to some interesting stuff...

Take a look at this article--does it describe a lot of us, perhaps?


Speaking as a former employee, there's a lot wrong with this article. First of all, the founders (a fab gay couple)were antique lovers who used to troll flea markets and realized they could probably successfully market such prettiness. I believe they still hire professional shoppers who scour the world for cool stuff, so it really is less diabolical than just a bunch marketers deciding what's hip this season. The stores all really pride themselves on how they look and our (relatively small) Anthro had two full-time set decorators. You crafty types would love it: Two girls who holed up in their own craft room every day, creating those amazing displays you see in every store. Granted, they do it from a book, and the stores all have more or less the same displays, but there is still a lot of honest-to-goodness effort put into the place. And finally, the thing that really rubbed me the wrong way about the article: The offhand comment that writing a customer's name on the mirror won't last long. Uhhhh...yeah it will -- if the employees don't want to be written up by the secret shoppers. Those little niceties are company requirements and many west coast stores have been doing the "name writing" thing for years.
BTW, Anthro customers have been found to be better educated and with a higher income than the vast majority of retail outlet patrons. I'll never be rich, but I take some comfort in knowing I'm a smartypants.

I'm not a child of divorce, I've inherited lots of old furniture, hankies, aprons, mixing bowls etc from my grandmother and I still like Anthropologie's products. I'm not looking for my mom or Nana at their site- I just think it's pretty. If they sold plus sizes and I had more money, I'd even buy their stuff. I think Anthropologie is just plugged into the fact that vintage, crafts and handmade are popular right now.

Mountain bikes may be ugly, but their really fun! Try one sometime. Those shocks make you feel like you're flying!

Umm, I'm 23, from a happily married family, and my grandmother is alive and her house looks like that. Oh and so does my house because I LIKE IT THAT WAY. Ughhhhhh - Anthropologie...trots off to write email making sure bridesmaids have ordered their outfits...from Anthropologie. HA!

Great link, Jennifer! If I'd read that first, I wouldn't have rambled on so...

I think there's a lot of truth to that, but that doesn't mean you should feel embarrassed about being marketed to. That's just how these things work. You obvioulsy know the difference between the disposable stuff they have there and a real, quality piece of vintage clothing. It's my aesthetic, too, and I'd shop there more often if I wasn't afraid it'd end up going to Rick Santorum.

I think Antropologie is partly about selling a lifestyle. But at the end, it is absolutely a store. So shop there or don't shop there, but don't worry about its existence being some kind of comment on validity of your taste.

wow! interesting article and great comments by everyone. Haveing read all and currently working in retail and wholesale I can only say that Anthropologies is only doing what most beautiful little boutique shops do, only on a way BIGGER scale. One of the first things most retailers try to do is figure out who their customer base is. Then they cater to it. Add in trying to find unique products and kickin displays....well, there you go, so do most little independently run shops. In the wholesale world, our customers do not want what everyone else is selling. In retail world (or at least at our store) building displays can be akin to an art form (at our store it is a much tossed about topic - ability vs. beauty vs. speed and so on). We do the same things as Anthropologies, just on a much smaller scale.
I used to paint for a shop owner in Austin, she loved original goods and then she went without fail to the local flea market for neat crafty things to resell in her shop. Same thing, smaller scale.
I can ditto most of what you all have said. Love the store, hate the prices. I would never pay 188.00 for a tchochke (or however you spell it) BUT might try and find something similiar next time I'm at the local flea market or thrift shop. I go there for inspiration, to see kickin displays and what they are selling ware wise. But then again, I also go to Target, Williams Sonoma and Ikea and the local antique mall.
Does Anthropologies appeal to my nostalgia? Heck yeah. So what? That in itself is not a crime. I love that little trip.
Perhaps it boils down to the fact that none of us want to be put into a little box orpigeon-holed, ie: you are a. b. and c. I don't fit the profile, I'm old (47) and not fit and have only traveled in the US and certainly don't make that salary. However, I like "charming" and creativity and color and fun and a sense of adventure and discovery. I love the old shutters in my studio cause they just appeal to me as does my vintage chandi and new Ralph Lauren shams (that I found cheap at Marshall's). And just because I shop at Anthropologies it does not make me a fit, well salaried, 35-45 year old, who has been to France. But I can pretend when I drink my morning white chocolate cappuccino out of my charming $4.00 Anthropologies latte bowl.

I am completely in love with Anthropolgie. I wish we had them in Australia. It beats buying stuff on-line.

I grew up in the eighties where 'new' and the power of money defined who you were ~ Anthro challenges that at the same time as snatching our $$$$$$

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About Alicia Paulson


My name is Alicia Paulson
and I love to make things. I live with my husband and daughter in Portland, Oregon, and design sewing, embroidery, knitting, and crochet patterns. See more about me at aliciapaulson.com




Since August of 2011 I've been using a Canon EOS 60D with an EF 18-200mm kit lens and an EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens.