Sunday, August 2, 2009

Style vs. Fashion: A Shopper's Lament

Since I love well-designed clothes, it’s remarkable to me how few I can find to actually purchase. My advice to the women’s apparel industry, whose sales have plunged as low as this year’s necklines, is to ask women what clothes they’d like to invest in, instead of trying to create clothing fads which will catch on despite a recession. A good garment industry question for us, their potential customers: which clothes do you love? What garments do you take out year after year and enjoy wearing? What are the features of your favorite styles? Garment manufacturers would get an earful!

I have always loved style, but am annoyed by fashion. Style, by my definition, is the cut of a garment, along with its quality, color, fabric, pattern, texture, intended function, and comfort. Fashion is: whatever the stores are selling at a given time.

The garment’s cut: is it attractive? Many clothes are just plain unflattering. Pants which are low-slung, showing women’s rear ends when they sit down and necklines which reveal so much cleavage that onlookers are embarrassed come to mind. Cut also takes sizing into consideration. What a hassle it is to be any size other than what the manufacturers think of as normal! Short, tall, large, small, younger, older – somehow designers think the same clothes should look great on everybody. And of course a very basic question: is it comfortable? A garment cut too high will choke, a garment cut too low will create a lot of anxiety; too tight will never do. That’s probably why capris have remained popular for many years – they are comfortable, flattering, and their length is forgiving. And of course, it’s nice if the cut is predictable, so if you find a brand which fits you well, you can trust another garment in their line will ALSO fit you. (Good luck with that one….)

Color is one of the great delights of clothing. Bright, bold are just right for some complexions; pastels work better for others. Likewise, big bold patterns might suit tall women; short women (and there are a lot of us!) avoid them. Practical shoppers know that there’s nothing easier to maintain than black. Buying a light colored anything, no matter how gorgeous, is asking for a big cleaning bill and a lot of fussing over not getting the garment dirty to begin with. The palette is controlled by the apparel industry, so if you find colors you love, don’t be surprised when they disappear for a few years.

Fabric comes in an endless variety of textures and types. Some are easier to care for than others, of course, and their eco-footprints vary as well. Some are much more comfortable than others. I am a huge fan of bamboo; it is luxuriously soft and grows quickly, requiring less input than cotton. Hemp is another environmentally friendly fabric, though hard to find. Organic cotton is better than regular cotton since it is grown without pesticides, but growing any cotton consumes great quantities of water. Tencel and rayon have lovely drape and are sourced from renewable wood. Polyester is a petroleum product, though some high-end manufacturers source it from recycled materials. Obviously clothing that requires dry-cleaning is costlier to maintain, as well as more polluting to the environment. The addition of lycra to make fabric stretchier, better fitting, and more comfortable is a stroke of genius!

Function is important. So many clothes are simply impractical. Most women I know want pockets to stash a tissue, a key, a credit card, a cell phone. People are lowering the thermostats these days – so why did bulky sweaters disappear from the earth? Why does my raincoat’shood fly backwards when it’s windy, with no fastener to keep it in place? Why doe the zippers to my winter jacket’s pockets scratch my hands every time I reach in for my gloves? And why on a bride’s Big Day are all the dresses strapless, requiring said bride to continually yank up her gown so she doesn’t accidentally expose herself? I do think designers should test drive these clothes.

Lastly, is the style flattering? I find it amazing how similar each year’s fashions are from brand to brand, pretty much all the same, as if we all want to look alike, and would all look good in the same styles. I like t-shirts which are not too tight fitting and fall, in fashion-speak, at high hip. About five years ago I found ones that were perfect and snatched them in four basic colors. They’re schleppy now, but when I went to replace them, whoa! Every single brand I tried had added a few inches of length to their t-shirts and slimmed them down so they are tighter fitting, including the petite sizes. Someone decided that they should all hit snugly at the lower hips this year. Forget it! Am I the only person in America who is not a 5’10” model? Who do they think is out there?

Maybe some smart designer will figure out there is money to be made in orders where we can give exact measurements. There is definitely a business to be made in designing clothes that are beautiful, practical, flattering, consistently sized and responsibly sourced. They would be costly, but well worth it. And of course, if anyone has found such a company, do tell.

1 comment:

Jacquelyn said...

I hear ya! I think it's such a waste of my money to buy the trendy, cheaply made clothes that most stores sell. I'd rather have quality made clothes with timeless style that I can wear for years. Of course, there's more money to be made by selling us the 'hot now' thing every season and making shoddy clothes that fall apart after a short time.