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The Ten Biggest Retail Trends of the Decade

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Anyone who's been watching the changing shopping landscape for the past decade probably has whiplash by now. The drastic changes in the economy took us from being a nation obsessed with buying things to a nation obsessed with saving money, while chains like H&M and Forever 21 pushed fashion into warp speed.

It's been quite a ride, but that's not going to stop us from trying to mash it all into some semblance of order with our Top of the Aughts retail trends countdown. To make sense of it all, we called in the big guns: Influential industry people from Barneys creative director Simon Doonan to New York Times shopping critic Cintra Wilson. We also polled you guys, figuring that Racked readers are nothing if not knowledgeable about shopping. The results, with quotes from our experts, are below.

10.) Record stores and video stores closing. Those of us who are old enough can remember a time when it was possible to have a crush on the person who sold you your CDs and/or mocked you for renting Clueless for the 17th time. While we do love iTunes very much, the relationship just isn't the same. On a local level, we saw the tragic shrinking of the Kim's empire; on a national level, the Virgin Megastore died a big, slow, dramatic death. And don't even get us started on Tower Records.

9.) Shopping for a cause. Toms shoes, Whole Foods, American Apparel—plenty of companies spent at least part of this decade trying to convince us that buying their goods made us good people. Sometimes the trend resulted in underprivileged kids getting free shoes; sometimes, it just resulted in fashionistas spending $300 for an organic cotton t-shirt.

"I think shops also tried to chic up the eco idea in the aughts. Living environmentally isn't just for hippies. But it's more of a ruse than anything else. Now my shopping purchases have to carry a moral message besides fashion?"—A cranky Racked reader, via email

8.) Designer grocery stores. And speaking of Whole Foods, the decade's obsession with eating made high-end, socially responsible supermarkets into a national trend. When Whole Foods first opened in Chelsea in 1999, it was called the Fresh Fields/Whole Foods Market, and a representative of the landlord told the Times she was excited because ''there's nothing like it now in Manhattan.'' How times have changed.

7.) Flea markets and crafts. Remember the knitting craze of the early Aughts? In a way, it never really left. This decade saw a backlash against slick corporate production in the rise of markets like the Brooklyn Flea and Etsy, where it's now possible to make $140,000 a year solely with your two hands.

"The Outdoor 26th Street Flea Market in Los Angeles had an intelligent-sexy hybrid atmosphere of fashion, furniture, art, socializing, and shopping that retailers have been using as a marketing tool ever since. It also played a big role in feeding designers and promoting the aesthetic of vintage looks in clothing and furniture."—Marsha Brady, American Apparel creative director

"No doubt in my mind that without the Wal-Marting of America the Brooklyn Flea doesn't catch on in the same way—a big void was created and now folks are filling it in by making stuff and connecting to what they buy and from whom."—Eric Demby, Brooklyn Flea founder

6.) A new focus on men. Even before Mad Men taught us that nothing goes better with emotional unavailability than a well-cut suit, the Aughts were all about menswear. From the metrosexual to the workwear-clad urban lumberjack, guys this decade cared much, much more about dressing well than their boomer dads, and retailers reaped the benefits.

"Stores and brands that cater to boys, I mean men: Jack Spade, Apartment No 9 in Chicago and LA, Steven Alan, Atelier NYC which caters to a very specific boy, etc. I think part of the Aughts was really about making fashion, whatever that means, more widely available for men."—a Racked reader, via email

5.) Denim. There was a period in the middle of the decade when it felt like investing all your savings in a denim label was a can't-miss proposition. We hope you didn't, obviously, but brands like Seven for All Mankind and Citizens of Humanity had us all briefly convinced that jeans could work miracles for our bodies if we just spent enough money.

"The denim bar is the big innovation of the 00's. In the 90's jeans were not considered to be very groovy. Trendy gals wore black boot-cut pants from Jil Sander and Chaikin and Capone. Now jeans?skinny, wide or shredded—are the most consistent staple."—Simon Doonan, Creative Director, Barneys

4.) Pop-up shops. Like fast fashion, these played to our obsession with novelty and speed, and like fast fashion they were a boom-time trend that turned out to be quite well-suited to a recession. The very fact that WWD just declared them dead means that temporary stores have hit a certain level of critical mass.

3.) Designer collabs. Down here in the top three, all of our experts started agreeing with each other. We don't need to tell you why collabs were so big this past decade: If you read our Rodarte coverage on Monday, you know exactly the appeal (as well as the problems with the trend, but that's another story.)

"Collaborations have been the most exciting development in retail. When the Jil Sander product hit Uniqlo, it was a feeding frenzy. Anything unique and limited edition gets people into the stores. For me, the co-branded product we developed with Rogues Gallery has been a huge success and brought in a new customer base to my existing one."—John Bartlett

"The designer collaboration, as far as I can tell, is the retail trend that will not die. I think the designers who've gone that route have been very smart to do so. It's not just the high-low aspect—even though that's a huge, huge aspect of the success—that's so appealing, but the limited-edition-ness that really appeals to shoppers. Just an insanely good idea all around."—Kim France, editor of Lucky

"I think online shopping overall has had the biggest impact; however, focusing specifically on retail, I think the Target fashion collaborations were incredibly innovative (e.g. Behnaz Sarafpour for Target.) Consumers loved it, and the 'design for the masses' concept really allowed high design to grab a greater national audience. And importantly, everyone of all ages and socioeconomic status started embodying a new 'chic' by proudly mixing the high with the low! (and true 'craftsmen,' artists and designers got a needed financial boost in the process.)"—Alexis Maybank, Gilt Groupe founder

2.) Fast Fashion. A reader summed up the entire decade in an email to us with these words: "Never paying full price." Ever since H&M appeared on our shores in 1999, we've come to believe that fashion should be cheap, trendy, and faster than a speeding bullet. From the experts:

"I think fast-fashion as a concept totally changed the way customers shop and think about fashion and even accelerated the fashion cycle as well as creating the concept of designer collaborations."—Jennifer Mankins, owner, Bird

"Poverty. Luxury brands were enjoying some truly ridiculous markups, toward the end of the last administration. Now, since the economy was destroyed and nobody but the most rapacious Wall Street looters can afford real luxury anymore, brands like H&M, Topshop, and Zara are really coming into their own. It's all about the knockoffs."—Cintra Wilson, Critical Shopper columnist

"Fast Fashion (i.e. H&M, Forever 21, Topshop) has greatly affected shopping, the overall consumer spending mindset, and style. Fashion is on their floors right after it's seen on the runways. Pro: Everyone can affordably have a piece of the style pie. Con: Invasion of design copyright and consumers expecting something amazing for nothing."—Toni Hacker, Hayden-Harnett

"I would have to say Zara, H&M and those that moved us all to 'fast fashion.' They innovated in the design process, supply chain, and delivery of fashion, so that as consumers we had more change and more to choose from. From a business standpoint, these companies could make smart bets on trends much closer to sale dates. Lastly, they could do tests and fun collaborations like Jimmy Choo for H&M, without having to take too big a financial risk. More fashion more frequently at all better values!"—Alexis Maybank

1.) Online shopping. In 1999, people seemed to think online shopping was the wave of the future, and you know what? Despite the very public failure of sites like, they were absolutely right. Amazon and eBay are the obvious names to mention here, but of course fashion sites like Gilt Groupe, Rue La La and Yoox certainly had a major impact as well.

"I'm reading Racked on my Blackberry while in the midst of a corporate finance lecture, so I'm not sure if this one was mentioned yet, but—the most obvious trend seems to be ONLINE SHOPPING."—A reader via email

"Online shopping has made our lives easier and more efficient and has given us greater choices in so many ways, but at the expense of the personal shopping experience."—Cynthia Rowley

"Buying things online is convenient with a global reach, but it also lacks a personal connection that some people still crave. We want the story behind an item, a sense of the person who made it, a feeling that the shop-owner is someone you want to support. So that intimacy seems to be growing alongside online buying."—Eric Demby

While we're counting things down, stay tuned for tomorrow's list of the most changed New York City neighborhoods of the decade.


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