Gen Z shoppers want cheap and cute
For every Greta Thunberg and school-skipping climate change protester, there is another member of Generation Z buying inexpensive clothes on a smartphone.
Their purchasing choices — fueled by influencer culture and catered to by a new wave of ultrafast-fashion retailers such as Fashion Nova, PrettyLittleThing and Missguided — are as much about how an outfit will look on social media as in the real world.
Two Gen Z shoppers, one in America and one in Britain, invited us into their homes to talk about what they buy, and why. All of them work after school or save money to pay for their own purchases.
Mia Grantham is a 16year-old British high school student. She lives with her father and her younger sister in Wilmslow, England. Her bedroom is small but immaculately kept, with a pillow shaped like a speech bubble reading “You’ve Got This” on her bed.
Mia’s interest in clothes ramped up about 18 months ago, when she started getting an allowance and attracting followers on her social media accounts. She has more than 1,500 followers on Instagram, gets around 500 views per story on Snapchat and spends three hours per day on her iPhone XR (about five hours on weekends).
Her favorite going-out look is a red dress. She owns 14 of them.
Q: How often do you shop?
A: I browse every single day — at least once — on the PrettyLittleThing phone app. It’s my favorite, and I don’t look anywhere else, except if I see something on an Instagram influencer I like. Normally I look at shopping apps at the end of the day before bed for about 10 to 15 minutes. But if there is an event coming up that I want a new outfit for, then I could browse for more than an hour. I don’t really go to bricks-andmortar stores.
Q: Why is PrettyLittleThing your favorite fashion brand?
A: I pay 8.99 pounds as part of a yearly subscription, which gives me unlimited next-day delivery on anything I buy. I know all the delivery people really well now — they always know when I have plans on a Friday or Saturday night. I buy something at least once a week. Seventy percent of the time I send some ordered items back.
Q: How many pieces of clothing do you think you’ve bought in 2019?
A: Eighty? One hundred? Those are pieces I’ve kept.
Q: What is your favorite piece that you’ve bought?
A: The ones I probably wear the most are gray leggings that cost 2.50 pounds. For going out, I bought a silky red dress with a cutout for a house party. I’ve worn it out three times, which is a lot for me.
Q: What else do you look for?
A: Social media is a big consideration. I’m on Snapchat and Instagram, and occasionally Facebook. I take selfies for social media every single time I go out. I’m on Snapchat the most because of its messenger function, then Instagram, where I have both a public and a private account and spend an hour per day.
Q: What do you think of sustainable fashion?
A: I am hearing more and more about it because a lot of brands are now bringing out sustainable fashion capsule collections, where clothes are made out of recycled materials, for example. A lot look the same as the normal collection but cost a few pounds more. But if I’m honest, I do think: Why would I pay more, when I can get the same for less?
Andrea Vargas, an 18year-old freshman at Hofstra University, loves hunting for sales. She looks for them on websites such as PrettyLittleThings and Boohoo, as well as physical stores like H&M.
“I go shopping when the season sales are on,” she said one Saturday night at her family’s home in Farmingdale, New York. She commutes to school and spends most weekend nights out with friends. Her plan for this particular evening was to go to P.F. Chang’s with three girlfriends.
Her absolute favorite piece of clothing is a red plush jacket. “It’s just so cute,” Vargas said. “I feel like it dresses up an outfit.”
Vargas pays for her clothes herself, using money she earns by working at Target. The red jacket cost her around $40, and she said it was worth every penny.
But, she said, “I feel like there’s no point in spending $40 on a T-shirt. Especially since I’m in college, I need to buy all these books.”
Vargas guessed she had purchased between 100 and 200 items this year, including shoes and jewelry, and that her wardrobe comprises 500 or 600 total pieces.
She doesn’t generally check where her clothing is made, and she doesn’t feel guilty about how much of it she has. After she’s done wearing something, it can have a second life.
“My mom is from El Salvador and my dad is from Nicaragua,” she said. “They’re not wealthy countries, so I like to give back to people who don’t have a lot.”
She estimates she wears each piece 15 times before ultimately donating it or selling it on Depop — but she also doesn’t want to be seen wearing the same thing every day on Instagram.
“If I have a shirt in one of my previous pictures, I try not to take a picture again in it,” she said. “I don’t like to repeat.”
Mia Grantham’s interest in clothes skyrocketed about 18 months ago, when she started getting an allowance.
“If I have a shirt in one of my previous pictures, I try not to take a picture again in it,” Andrea Vargas says.