For better or worse, Aritzia has been enjoying a moment in the sun.
The Canadian retailer is “the hottest fashion chain in the U.S.,” Bloomberg said in January, after U.S. sales surged 78 per cent in the last year.
But with fame comes scrutiny, and the “everyday luxury” retailer has been coming under fire online for, among other things, its mirrorless fitting rooms, which force those trying on clothes to walk into a communal mirrored area staffed with sales associates if they want to see how they look.
It’s a “fashion show against your will,” said one TikTokker.
“It is a very demeaning experience,” Pamela Rutledge, an expert on psychology and the media, told CBC News.
“It’s actually very disrespectful to the customer. [Aritzia] may be trying to be edgy or modern, or emphasize that it’s not about the body, but they’re actually doing exactly the opposite.”
Mirrorless for some 40 years
Such complaints are not new. In 2012, one woman told The Globe and Mail she’d never felt insecure about her curves until she tried on clothes in front of the communal mirror in Aritzia’s Manhattan store.
“There’s a woman who’s a size 24 [waist] trying on the same shorts,” she said. “You’re forced to compare yourself.”
An Artzia spokesperson says the communal approach has been a “core component of its customer experience for almost 40 years.” The company was founded in Vancouver in 1984.
They allow “a high level of support from our style advisors, including personalized styling insight, in a welcoming environment that cultivates a sense of community,” the spokesperson said in a statement.
“Our primary goal is for every client to feel supported during their visits.”
Matthew Philp, an assistant professor in marketing at Toronto Metropolitan University, sees it as a sales and marketing tactic.
Getting a customer out of the change room gives potentially two groups of people — the employees and whoever the person may be shopping with — the opportunity to convince that person to buy the items.
Plus, because retailers want customers to showcase their products online, the lighting and atmosphere of the communal area looks better in photos and videos than the inside of a small change room, he said.
“Stores have become a lot more experiential, and stores like that likely put a lot more effort into the ‘showroom’ kind of atmosphere,” Philp said.
“They’re thinking of how this will look more online rather than how it looks specifically on the person right then and there.”
In its fourth quarter results, posted in May, Aritzia said it plans more expansion in 2024, with eight new boutiques and four boutique expansions or repositions, all in the U.S.
In the comments on a video CBC posted about mirrorless change rooms, some shoppers said they enjoyed or even preferred the experience. A few said it’s good marketing, others said they liked the space to move around and the good lighting.
“Many times I’ve seen items on others and asked for the same in my size,” one person wrote.
But others said they didn’t shop at Aritzia precisely because of its change rooms.
“Their sizing runs small and anyone above a Size 10 may not want to risk a walk of shame if it’s ill-fitting,” another person wrote.
Emerging from a dressing room can be very triggering for someone with anxiety or an eating disorder, said Dr. Susan Albers, a clinical psychologist who specializes in body image. People tend to judge themselves in comparison to others, she said, and standing next to someone can taint or skew how you see yourself.
“When we look into a mirror with other people around us, it invites judgment and the opinions of other people. It doesn’t give us the luxury or the privacy to tune into our own opinion,” Albers said.
If you find yourself uncomfortable in a communal change room situation, Albers recommends you look around and see who else is there before you get changed, so you’re prepared. Take a deep breath when you emerge, and take note of how the outfit makes you feel before you get a visual, she added.
“Tune into yourself and trust your own judgment.”
And if you’re really uncomfortable, Aritzia says you can still ask for a mirror — all stores offer at least one fitting room with either a permanent or roll-in mirror.
“Asking for a mirror is almost more embarrassing than the communal mirrors tho,” one person wrote in a comment with more than 6,000 likes on a popular TikTok video.