The first time somebody told me that something I knitted looked store bought, I did not realise it was meant as a compliment. I interpreted 'store bought' to mean generic, uninteresting, lacking in special touches. Granted the piece they were referring to was a deliberately plain sweater, so I took this in stride.
On another occasion, a similar comment was made and I responded with an apologetic shrug. And it was only when the woman added 'I can't spot a single mistake and the fabric is so... even! This looks like something I'd buy at Marks & Spenser.' that it dawned on me it was meant as a positive thing (even as I winced at the M&S reference!).
I have since had a conversation about this with other knitters. And the consensus seems to be that indeed 'that looks store bought' is a compliment. It basically means that the knitting looks tidy, even, polished, professional.
Okay. So... interesting. And nice to hear that of course. But also funny, when I think about it - that the mark of good hand-knitting is when it doesn't look like hand-knitting.
I am not of the school of thought, that mistakes and uneven tension are to be celebrated as what makes an item look hand-knit. I believe in honing one's technique to avoid such things, in striving to produce skilled handwork.
But I do feel there is something. That there is a special look - even an aura - to a hand-knitted piece which gives it soul and which sets it apart from machine-produced store-boughts.
To compliment a hand-knitted piece by saying that it looks store-bought, undermines that - and reinforces the deeply held cultural perception of knitting as a necessity-based, second-rate craft with low inherent value.
Am I overthinking an innocent, off the cuff and well-meaning remark? Well yeah, of course. At the same time it is often the innocent, off the cuff remarks that give the best insight into the way we view things as a society.
While knitting has become dramatically more popular over the past two decades than it's been for some time, I am not sure the way it is viewed on a cultural level has changed all that much - or, at least, has changed in a positive way. I will try to elaborate on what I mean by this in future. But for now I am off to the shops, donning my store-bought-looking sweater ;)