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Buy Me Track Pants, Love

Why do three quarters of the Czech population shop at cheap Asian markets

  • Autor: Respekt
• Autor: Respekt

The times, when a typical piece of clothing of a journalist from the Respekt magazine was a worn-out sweater and an old T-shirt, are long gone. Nevertheless, a tour around the magazine´s offices would probably not leave an extraordinary impression on a fashion conscious visitor. The employees boast anything from expensive pairs of designer heels to torn Converse trainers; second-hand shirts and brand items used for interviews at the Parliament; T-shirts with amusing (or not) signs and text, custom jewelry from Czech designers, old coats from grandma, etc.

  • Autor: Respekt
• Autor: Respekt

Whether that kind of variety is typical to the Czech society as a whole is hard to guess. Polls – if not facts – are difficult to obtain.

“The Czech Republic is a small market”,

explains

Ivan Tomek

of the Market Research Think agency. Foreign clothing companies are not interested in the Czechs and there are only a few local manufacturers. Sociologists do not seem to take interest in the issue of Czech clothing style either. The only remaining source is Incoma GfK agency, which researches this topic on regular basis. The last poll has been published in 2009 and despite the rather limited choice of sources, it provides interesting information.

Go cheap
When the researchers from Incoma GfK asked almost twenty thousand people from nineteen different countries across Europe and the United States about fashion, the Czech Republic turned out to be a state where fashion spurs very little interest. While the Romanians and the Russians care about their shoes and the Brits pay attention to their jeans, the Czechs showed the least interest in what is trendy, or à la mode. Another survey in 2006 concluded that the Czechs, the Swedes and the Germans appreciated the more ‘practical‘ side of clothing.

  • Autor: Respekt
• Autor: Respekt

These three nations answered most often that they buy clothes simply because they need them. In the Czech Republic alone, the need to buy items to ‘throw on’ was mentioned by 96 % of respondents. The price of clothes was also one of the determining factors.

Consequnetly, the Czechs buy their trousers, T-shirts or sweaters where it is cheap – and that leads to the Vietnamese markets – or hypermarkets – which can be found throughout the entire country. Interestingly, even people with above-average incomes are tempted by cheap markets. 13 % of the population spends half of their clothing budget at Vietnamese markets.

“The fact that most people shop at Vietnamese markets does not mean that they are buying everything there, or that they shop there often, “says Martina Drtinová of Incoma GfK. “It means, that even somebody with a high salary will buy a track suit for their child at one of these markets, but such an expense will represent next to nothing in their budget,“ she adds.

  • Autor: Respekt
• Autor: Respekt

Go sporty

A detailed look at what the Czechs wear the most, leads to the conclusion that they care about quality when it comes to shoes and sports clothing.

“It is typical for the Czechs to confuse or interchange sport outfits and casual wear. If we ask them where they shop for everyday wear, they say ´in Adidas´,“

underlines Drtinová.

The answer to the question “How does an average Czech dress“ may then be with a bit of humour: either cheap at Vietnamese markets, or expensive in sport shops. All in all, both leads to „tepláky“, or track suit bottoms. This „mass of track suits“ was the phenomenon during a project named Czech Original Fashion last year in which young designers observed and compared street style in fourteen countryside towns.

  • Autor: Respekt
• Autor: Respekt

“We saw people mostly in comfortable clothes: loose trousers, trainers, sweaters, not too many colours, not to many prefigurations,“ says

Jan Trnka

, one of the photograhers involved it the project.

“Besides, foreigners often say that our streets sometimes look like everybody is leaving for a mountain trip soon.“

Fashion designers and sociologists have an explanation for a „Czech fashion phenomenon“ – to be dressed well is not a crucial part of Czech culture or an indicator of the social status of the person in question. The answer to the question „why is that“ is not straight forward: traditional domestic equality, the decimating effect of totalitarian era or a traditional style of life in which most people live indoors, at their home.

“The Italians or the French live outside. They are always in a café, in a bar together with other people, while we tend to solve and resolve everything at home or at our countryside house,“ says Josef Ťapťuch from the fashion department at the VŠUP University.

  • Autor: Respekt
• Autor: Respekt

Still, the picture of the Czechs as a nation of mountainers in the valley wouldn´t be complete without the minority that takes fashion seriously – fashion students, readers of the many magazines devoted to clothing and styles, artists, fashion bloggers, etc. For all of them the country is slowly changing. ‘CodeMode’, a Prague Free Fashion Weekend, that takes place during the second weekend in April, started almost as an underground happening four years ago and this year young fashion creators will fill-up the entire three floors of the Karlin Hall.

The number of Czechs ready to spend skyhigh sums on beloved trendy pieces is on the rise too. “We are still growing, despite the crisis,“ says Martina Lewis from Louis Vuitton Czech Republic. “Last year the Czech customer base surpassed the foreign one so we are less dependent on tourists now,“ she adds.

This is a shortened, translated version of the original article "Kup mi tepláky, lásko" which first appeared in Respekt 13/2010.

Translated by Kateřina Šafaříková

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