Like “creative director” and “sustainability” before it, “revenge shopping” is the moment’s ubiquitous but opaque fashion industry term. “Is Revenge Shopping on the Horizon In the US?” asked WWD in March. A few weeks later, the national news joined in: “Revenge Shopping Expected to Ramp Up In the Coming Weeks,” said NBC Washington. i-D even provided a guide to what “revenge dressing” might look like. The idea is this: after a year spent mostly indoors, with no parties to attend or hot restaurants to crowd into, people are ready to refresh their wardrobes, to avenge what they were denied, in particular life’s luxurious dignities. There is also a sense of optimism, whether delusional or merely precarious, that vaccination rates in the United States will soon make partying and formal gatherings a reality. New outfits are therefore in order, and consumers are eager to move beyond sweatpants and dress up, perhaps with a panache (panache!) that they hadn’t indulged before. But besides a few bits of anecdata—consumers in China flooded stores following the end of the country’s lockdown, one Hermès store reportedly made $2.7 million in a day—mostly reporters and consultants have been acting like psychics as they await hard numbers.
Now the proof arrives. This week, LVMH released its first quarter report, announcing a 45% increase in revenue for fashion and leather goods. Hermès is up 44%. And Kering, the conglomerate that owns brands like Balenciaga and Gucci, is up 25.8%. While most of the increase is coming from China, which has always had a healthy luxury market and which bounced back more quickly from the virus, there is also some suggestion that Americans are getting in on the action. Kering reported that sales are up 46% in North America across its brands; Hermès also reported that its sales are up in America, by 23%.
So what’s this all about? One thought is that revenge shopping marks the reversal of the casualization of American leisuretime dressing: The whole of the latest issue of Town & Country is dedicated to a new lust for glamour, and features a photograph of socialite Jill Kargman blowtorching her sweatpants. (The headline: “It’s Time To Blowtorch Our Sweatpants.”)
But I sense something a little less crass, and a little more optimistic, in this new vengeful attitude. The encouraging numbers from Hermès and Bottega suggest a new respect for “stealth luxury”—a sense of well-made clothing as investments, safe from the finicky grasp of trends. But logomaniac brands, like Gucci are trending upwards in sales, too, so it isn’t merely that the world has turned into discerning snobs. Luxury in general is on the rebound.
And so, it seems, is the flaneur lifestyle—the metropolitan desire to see and be seen that Instagram can only do so much to fulfill. Also this week, Grub Street reported that a number of New York restaurants are imposing time limits on tables, because guests simply won’t leave. Michael Kors told Vanessa Friedman of The New York Times that he’d recently gone to Balthazar and relished the experience of merely walking to the bathroom, as a kind of nightclub-entrance ritual with all eyes on you. (Like the through-the-kitchen scene in *Goodfellas—*but with influencers and finance bros instead of gangsters.)
The idea of revenge shopping is that we’re seeking justice for the year the pandemic stole. But we’re recovering from more than just the pandemic! The years prior were a horror show of overconsumption, marked by a binge and purge attitude that permeated the way we ate, shop, lived, and exercised. It’s been a decade of too much food, too much TV, too much fashion. Over time, this attitude seemed inextricable from the mounting climate crisis. Over the past year, much reporting on fast fashion has been major headline news, including reporting on Xinjiang cotton made from forced labour and Bangladesh’s corrupt garment factories, have potentially armed consumers with a clearer understanding of the ethical implications of fast fashion. There appears to be a more common understanding that fast fashion is a humanitarian crisis, and a feminist issue to boot. Americans bought an average of 68 garments per year (!), the New Yorker reported in 2018.
Just because a “new normal” appears on the horizon doesn’t mean revenge means buying 69 garments. Instead, the truest revenge might look like a more respectable collection of clothes worth lingering in—worth showing off on the way to the bathroom. As one restaurateur told Grub Street, “People used to be busy. Now they like to hang out.” And living well, as the poets say, is the best revenge.