Buying clothes for a fancy event, tucking in the tags, and returning them to the store the next day has for years been the strategy of thrifty shoppers. Today, people are doing it just for the ‘gram.
According to a survey commissioned by the credit card company Barclaycard, nearly one in 10 UK shoppers (9%) admit to buying clothing only to take a photo on social media. After the “outfit of the day” makes it online, they return it back to the store.
The survey of 2,002 adults showed that shoppers aged 35-44 are the most likely to do this, and men outnumbered women. (That being said, the survey omits teenagers, a massive demographic for Instagram).
According to Barclaycard, the introduction of “try before you buy” policies at online retailers—where people pay for clothing they ordered online after they’ve tried it on at home—could be contributing to this trend.
But the rise of social media has meant that everyone, not just celebrities, is expected to maintain and curate a personal brand. Since we’re constantly documenting our lives and posting them online for public judgement, getting caught in the same outfit more than once—which many see as a faux pas—is almost unavoidable. And the cost of all those #ootd’s adds up, making returns an understandable tactic.
There are brands that tailor specifically to the Instagram shopper, like the uber-popular Fashion Nova. “These are clothes made for social media: meant to be worn once, maybe twice, photographed, and discarded,” Allison P. Davis wrote in her deep-dive about the company in The Cut. Another favorite of the Instagram age is Rent the Runway, which embraces the return philosophy, and lets customers rent designer clothing for a fee.
Some, however, are moving in the opposite direction. Pieces embracing “work uniforms” have proliferated in recent years, aiming to liberate women from the tyranny of outfit decisions. The concept of the “capsule wardrobe”—which calls for investing in a small number of high-quality pieces instead of lots of trendy, discardable clothes—is also making a comeback. Environmentalists have also raised the issue of the landfill waste created by returns. And then there’s fashion icon Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, whose every outfit sells out in seconds, but who frequently wears the same outfit twice (as did former US first lady Michelle Obama, another trendsetter).