A couple of months ago (I’m late, I know, I’ve been busy), Saks announced that they would be making their nice stores even nicer and their outlets more messy. They were inspired by Nordstroms messy outlet stores and gleefully noted that “Customers love it!” when it’s messy as hell. This is cute and all, but you don’t have to glean the surface for a long time before you see what it means: there is no such thing as luxury experiences for the middle class.
Outlets and the actual stores, were at one point in the past a place where people could spoil themselves. It was out of their league financially most of the time, but for that 50th anniversary, graduation or whatever, people had the money to splurge and treat themselves. And they knew that they deserved it, they were regular people, but nonetheless people of worth. Worth enough to carry around the nice bag, be treated like a princess in the store, all that. Most of us know the feeling, buying something you’ve been looking forward to because it gives you a glimpse into a world that is different than your regular life. A glimpse into a life of luxury.
Not so anymore. This decision is very obviously a response to a society in which a wedge between the actual store and the outlet i widening. Expensive things is no longer within reach for the average American, buying such things would be absurd. Not only financially, but because the language and message from the store is very clear: you do not belong here.
Making the outlets uglier sends an even stronger signal: we do not think you are worth a nice shopping experience, and obviously, neither do you. An ugly store makes the new American middle class comfortable, because they are time and time again being told that they are not worthy of luxury. They do not deserve it, and indulging in a beautiful store should make them feel uncomfortable. Because of class. Some people, in this structure, are quite simply worth more than others. And the best way this is manifested is by having the dying middle class keep itself in check: by making it feel it deserves less, is less worthy, should feel at home in a store that is ugly and messy. Should walk into a room with pullovers on the floor and panties and bras in a big bin and think “I deserve this. I am not rich, and that is my own fault. My life is not as good, beautiful, important. If I wanted it better I could only have worked harder. Now here I am, in this godawful messy store, and I have no one to blame but myself. I want things cheaper, and this is the price I pay.”
This obviously a decision about style. Not about money. They are actively seeking to make it more messy. The middle class does no longer deserve nice things on a budget, or a good experience in a store. The guys at the top know it, and they are letting us, at the bottom, know it too.