Entertainment Style Kirstie Clements: Our sad, shabby department stores need a stiff dose of retail therapy

Kirstie Clements: Our sad, shabby department stores need a stiff dose of retail therapy

'The makeup department was so barely staffed there was an echo,' writes Kirstie Clements. Photo: Getty
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A friend suggested we do something old school last week.

“Let’s go shopping for fashion in the city and then have lunch at a restaurant afterwards.”

It seemed so quaint, something I did with my mother when I was in my early teens, when we would excitedly plan our day out and travel in by train from the suburbs. The CBD seemed so dazzling and the department stores so posh, the surrounding trendy boutiques and fabulous shoe stores staffed by glamorous sales assistants wearing all the latest fashions.

What a changed landscape it is now, even without the terrible challenges of a pandemic!

The David Jones flagship in Sydney still has a whiff of glam, as does Harrolds on Collins Street in Melbourne, but in general the other retail options are tired, ubiquitous chain stores or luxury boutiques where you have to queue to get in.

Department stores were struggling even before the pandemic.

Call me picky, but if I am going to drop a ton of money on a non-essential fashion item, I’d like a bit more fuss made over me than having to wait outside in single file as if it were lunchtime at Sushi Train.

Where will we stop now for a chic little cappuccino and raisin toast, as we pull out our new purchases to ooh and aah over. Oporto?

There are no exhilarating, bazaar-like environments where you can browse for lovely, surprising things.

The days of strolling through David Jones or Myer may be numbered. Photo: Getty 

I made a trip to a Myer store this week, on a mission to buy three items: a mascara, a cotton scarf and a black lace slip.

I am pretty sure Mum and I would have discovered several different and very thrilling versions of these items in under 30 minutes back in the 1970s. But do not expect this now. What should have been a fun experience was just plain sad, to be honest.

For a start, there was Christmas music playing and it was January 27. There were only a dozen or so ugly polyester scarves on show, and a remainder table of woollen mufflers, hugely useful on a 35-degree summer day.

The lingerie department was close to tragic, mostly a bunch of Peter Alexander sleepwear and daggy home-brand basics, sexy as a rock. 

The makeup department was so barely staffed there was an echo.

Retail is, of course, subject to enormous challenges, including high rents, the cost of salaries and 24/7 internet retailing which is swiftly wiping out bricks and mortar.

It was reported this week that the 15-year-old online fashion retailer Boohoo bought the venerable Debenhams department store group in the UK for £55 million ($98.5 million), with plans to close all stores, resulting in the loss of thousands of jobs.

Will we eventually see the end of all the lovely, large scale multi-brand stores?

There are positives in being able to shop for whatever you desire online, but the act of creating desire is also intrinsically linked to retail environments that have been artfully and expertly curated to provide beauty and feed the senses.

I would love to shop in a smart retail emporium accentuated with flowers and cafes, books, music and fragrance and beautifully chosen goods from around the globe.

Shopping is a basic human pleasure, a chance for enjoyable social interaction.

For if we are to close our laptops and physically go shopping, racks of uninspiring home-brand blandness are not going to entice us to part with our money.

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