Colette

Making & breaking the status quo

64

A recent article at New York magazine proclaimed that American Apparel only wants to dress 3 types of women. Wait. Excuse me, not women – girls.

Like many large brands, American Apparel has distilled its customers down to just a few archetypal individuals. The idea is to take data about a company’s target customers and create fictional “characters” that embody their lifestyles, needs, and demographics.

The pitfalls of the persona

The ideals behind this practice are actually quite thoughtful. The point is that people relate better to an individual than a demographic, and so creating someone who can embody your customer helps people see that they are designing for real humans with complex lives, desires, and circumstances.

At least, that’s the general idea.

In practice, what’s often created is not a more nuanced and human portrait, but little more than a vacuuous stereotype rooted in preconceived notions.

Women seem to bear the brunt of these inept marketing exercises. We are “chatty texting teens” or “concerned moms” or “busy career women.”

In other words, we are so often reduced to just one or two convenient characteristics. It isn’t based on real conversations with real people. It’s just shorthand for a stereotype.

The New York article takes issue with the fact that American Apparel “only” want to dress these 3 women: the very young, the slightly less young, and the (also young) party girl.

I see two glaring issues here. First, there is the aforementioned issue of women being reduced to their most obvious and superficial characteristics.

But then there is the second issue: why do so many companies only want to design for these particular, specific kinds of women?

Design for all?

It’s a common truism in the design world that designing for everybody means designing for nobody. There’s nothing inherently wrong with limiting the scope of who you design for.

A company does need to make focused choices about the particular kinds of people their product will serve. Otherwise, the product is bland. It won’t stand out in the sea of other similar designs, and eventually it’ll be forgotten.

Even mega-brands need to decide who they want to create products for. Look at even a ubiquitous mass market product like Coca-cola. It seems like it’s designed for anyone, but do they spend time trying to convince health-conscious hippies to drink coke with their kale salad? Not really.

So no, I don’t think companies have a moral obligation to design for everyone, or even for most people. In fact, it’s a recipe for making lousy stuff that no one wants.

But there is still a problem here.

Creating the status quo

The problem is that specific categories of women are consistently left out. In the case of American Apparel, the problem is not that they’ve defined 3 rather similar kinds of women they want to dress. The problem isn’t even that these 3 women are all young. Young women need clothes too.

The problem is why so many companies only care to dress women under a certain age, or to showcase their wares on extremely thin women, or women with a particular body type, the list goes on.

Sure, they can make the case that the decision is purely one of economics. When you’re in the cheap clothing business for example, undoubtedly your customers do skew young.

And yet, something tells us that is not the whole story. When we look at advertising or runways, what do we see? Thin, white (usually), young. It does not match reality, or reflect the diversity of women out there. It doesn’t even reflect who has the most disposable income, or who is the largest group.

It’s simply the status quo. It is a self-perpetuating beauty ideal.

Yes, it makes sense for particular companies to focus on particular women. But when you zoom out to a macro level: does it make sense for all companies to choose the same groups?

It’s safe. It’s safe to align yourself with what is already considered “beautiful” than to attempt to influence the culture.

In the end, you get a double whammy. First, companies cherry pick only the safest and most glamorized women to serve (“youth sells! thinness sells!”)

Then, even those groups are reduced to dull stereotypes (“party girl!”)

Small businesses can lead the way

I believe that small companies – independent designers, boutiques, and tiny businesses – can lead the change in serving more women, and serving them in a deeper way.

Even though big companies have the most cushion of capital, they rarely take real risks. Small businesses are frequently motivated by factors other than profit, and they’re usually much closer to their customers.

No business is perfect, and small ones are under even more pressure to make ends meet, that’s for sure. But I think small businesses have a superpower, and that superpower is caring.

Are there any businesses (large or small) that you think do a great job of being inclusive, or connecting to their customers?

Sarai Mitnick   —   Founder

Sarai started Colette back in 2009. She believes the primary role of a business should be to help people. She loves good books, sewing with wool, her charming cats, working in her garden, and eating salsa.

Comments 64

Anya anna-zoe.net

What a great read! Thank you for thought provoking essays. I always enjoy these posts.

Christina

I applaud you for raising this question and addressing the fact that it needs to change. One of the reasons I started making my own clothes again is the lack of pretty clothing that is appropriate for a single, middle aged, working Mom who is not a sized 4. I haven’t been able to find decent fitting clothes that don’t bore me to death or look like they belong on a 20 something in a very long time. Nor do i have the luxury of spending a gazillion dollars on pieces that only work for a specific occasion. Until the garment powers that be decide to widen their customer bases to include real women they are doing a huge disservice to us as well as losing out on profits. Lose-lose.

Roberta

I live in a rural area of Florida, about 20 miles from the nearest mall. In our town we have 3 clothing stores for women: Walmart, Cato and Goody’s.

In answer to your question, Cato and Goody’s at least try to connect to the women around here by providing a variety of stylish clothing for more than one age group in junior, misses, petites and plus sizes.

Walmart, on the other hand is an insult to my intelligence. The clothing that Walmart consistently puts out in our local store, implies that all women go from being skinny attractive teenagers, to being married women with children that stay home all day, to being extremely obese middle aged people. In fact the junior clothing and the plus size clothing that they market, are much more attractive than the misses sizes! I don’t get it.

Sarai colettehq.com

That’s really interesting. I wonder if it has to do with Walmart being such a gigantic company that serves a huge population, and also that apparel is only a part of the huge array of products they sell.

Nancy K

I was in Asheville, NC last week and I actually bought a rain jacket that was fun and chic. The whole store had a creative vibe and the clothing seemed to be aimed at an older demographic or at least women and not girls. I generally make all of my clothes, including coats, but I really needed a casual summer jacket that I could wear in the rain and wasn’t deadly boring and I knew it wasn’t happening this summer. I spent considerably more than if I’d made it. Bellagio Everyday is a more casual, less expensive version of their art to wear store, Bellagio. Which is exquisite, but not casual. The clothing is from small companies and independent designers. There used to be a lovely boutique in my small town which had wonderful pieces for women all from small companies. Unfortunately the recession forced her out of business. It’s hard for independent boutiques to make it in most towns The lure of cheap fashion at the mall calls loudly. Asheville has lots of independents in the revitalized downtown and lots of tourists with money to patronize them. For me sewing is the solution .

Sarai colettehq.com

That is true, smaller boutiques have some very difficult challenges in competing with fast fashion. Many do well in targeting a more mature woman, because (1) they tend to have more income on average and (2) they are more likely to choose quality over quantity.

Stephani

One more reason to love Asheville!

Nancy K

We were there for my MIL’s 95th birthday. It has changed a lot in the 40 plus years since I’ve been going there. They have been very smart in their planning. and yes, we love it! There are even great hotels downtown these days.

Sallianne

I, too, miss the small stores with unique clothing. I don’t care for large, everything-in-one-place stores, I think that nothing in those places is unique or quality, whether clothing or tools or household goods. We can vote with our $. Patronize the stores we like and who provide true customer service – the independents and mom/pop stores, whether for fabrics or food or whatever. If we don’t, all that will be left is the big box stores.

SJ Kurtz erniekdesigns.blogspot.com

Oh dear, somebody grew up today.

It’s always tough the first time you realize that the shop you frequented is no longer interested in you as a customer. The implicit brand identification we make with designers or stores starts with those archetypes. “Oh no, I’m not that person they’re targeting, I can’t be marketed to”; ever said that? You are; that’s how marketing works. Designers and stores have always had a target customer, and they’ve developed story lines to better sell that customer on their clothes.

I don’t mean to belittle this, but I am pretty sure that every woman has a revelation day story (I’m in a London high street chain store, and the sales girl laughs when I ask if the pants come in a larger size). And that is why I sew.

Does McCalls/Simplicity sell to me, stout middle aged woman? You betcha. Do you? Not so much. And that, my dear, is perfectly fine. Because you don’t want to be all things to all people, any more than I do.

Revel in it.

Elle Dechene

Young and skinny is easy. Although, even those clothes are often pinned in at the back on the mannequin for illusion of shape (I’m looking at you, Ann Taylor). I love your designs for C cup women, they work for me (and my b cup daughter). The McCall companies are starting to catch on to that need, although with limited design latitude. I think that’s where designers like you can serve specific needs. I also appreciate seeing how different fabrics and your hacks can change the look of your designs, in ways that make them more appropriate to my current needs (I’m not 20-something! And I’m a lawyer).

Sarai colettehq.com

I think that’s what’s great about a lot of the independent pattern companies. Obviously, each skews toward their own aesthetic, but there’s enough versatility that the same customer can easily pick things out from different pattern lines that all work together.

Betty Jordan Wester nouvellegamine.com

I don’t really have a problem with the stereotyped interests clothing companies design for. It helps me narrow down which clothes appeal to me instantly & I don’t waste my time wading through a million pages/racks of jeans and neon knit mini dresses to find that one amazing Laurel Canyon-esque embroidered blouse. But I don’t love when everything is designed for and modeled by one physical type. So yes to the narrow interests, no to the homogeny of size, race, and age. It’s exclusive and boring.

I think Colette does a great job, especially lately of being inclusive with models. And I definitely think Colette has a brand, which is “Portlandia” or “urban/artsy-craftsy/Instagram woman.” Your branding and models were so strong that they inspired me to buy the Colette Sewing Handbook, despite knowing I’d have to do a SBA on everything. I seriously looked at your book for a year debating before taking the plunge.

I also love Anthrologie (big surprise!!!) and do feel they cater to a wide age group of 18 to menopausal standard sized women. I think teens, post menopausal, and plus women could want to wear their clothing, but then you get into fitting a different block. It would however be a great place for them to expand.

I’ve also found Burda patterns to do a great job in diverse interests. Usually each month will have a “romantic/boho/retro” or “urban space” collection that snags my interest. Unfortunately this year has really fallen off for me, mostly bc I noticed most of the HC designers have embraced a very simple silhouette devoid of any detail where the fabric is the star, which Burda has emulated. Burda’s plus section used to be a guest post by a real German Plus designer & so the designs were really strong. The last few years they moved in house & have mostly suffered.

So yeah, if someone’s branding caters to the “Amelie/Chocolat/Wes Anderson” aesthetic, then I’m in. It doesn’t really bother me if a company designs for “teen party girls” or “yoga moms.” But it does bother me when the only face of any stereotype is the same size/race, and to some extent, age.

Sarai colettehq.com

Anthropologie is a really interesting case. I read an article a few years ago talking about their target customer, and I believe she is in her 40s or 50s and affluent, if I remember correctly. Yet their styles definitely do appeal to younger women too.

Sallianne

I love your examples! You and I seem to share a style aesthetic and your tips are very helpful! I am 62, wear a size 4, and am definitely not wealthy. My challenge is finding anything to fit me that doesn’t look like a teenager, that has quality and class and creativity. Thus, I sew!

Sallianne

Betty, my reply to you accidently went under Sarai’s comment, but it was meant for you!

Betty Jordan Wester nouvellegamine.com

thank you!

Jeanette

At 67 years of age, I have struggled for about 15 years to buy clothes that are more appropriate for my age, and they are hard to find. As women age, their bodies sometimes change (and not for the better) which can make the job more difficult.

Even sewing blogs seem to be written mostly by and for young women. Don’t get me wrong. I love the blogs. I just can’t wear most of the garments. I no longer look good in sleeveless garments, short garments, or form-fitting garments. There are some catalogues geared to mature women, but my problem is that their sizing is too big. I can buy a Size Small, and it’s too big. And the pants are too short. (I’m 5′ 6″.) It seems like the mature clothing sellers think mature women are all big, and that they all shrink in height. It’s not true.

I sewed years ago, but I was no good at fitting patterns to my body. Since I began reading sewing blogs in December of last year, my enthusiasm for sewing has been renewed, and I’m now trying to learn how to fit patterns. It’s the only way I will have clothing suitable for my age and clothing that fits. Wish me luck.

I really do love the many blogs I have found, even those written by young seamstresses. I enjoy the close-ups of your handiwork and I’ve have learned a lot from the tutorials. Keep up the good work.

Sarai colettehq.com

I’d love to hear from others about blogs written by older sewists that they love! There are many, many amazing and experienced seamstresses out there. I see them on sites like Pattern Review, but I must sheepishly admit that I’m not too tuned in on all the blogs (yet).

Jeanette

I read several blogs written by young women, but the ladies who sew things I could wear include SewPassionista by Diana, ALittleSewingBlog, and SunnyGal Studio Sewing. I would like to find more blogs similar to theirs.

Francesca

Take a look at pattern review’s site. There are several women who are 50 up who have blogs, and most of them sew exquisitely. I am early 50s and my body hasn’t changed yet, but I know i will, so I making the most of my small waisted shape and love of 50s style clothes while I can…..

Jeanette

Thank you for letting me know about this.

Evonne

Jeanette, please take a look at this lady’s blog: http://fiftydresses.com. She is totally inspirational and I hope to be as talented a seamstress as she is when I get to her age. Having read many of her posts I think she makes a valid comment that sadly in order to attract many young sewers the big 4 pattern companies emphasise selling patterns that are quick and/or easy to sew and downplay acquiring fine sewing skills. However blogs like Coletterie and many others wet your appetite for sewing in general and by example can lead you to discover an amazing world of fitting and couture techniques which you can adopt (or not) and adapt to improve your garments. I’m just starting out on that journey and have found internet resources greatly helpful. Keep going!

Jeanette

Evonne, thank you for your suggestion and the link and also for taking the time to respond.

Rhea

Have a look at Lara’s blog – https://thornberry.wordpress.com

She’s a fantastic sewer based in Melbourne- well worth reading.

Jeanette

Thanks, Rhea.

Thewallinna thewallinna.com

Hi Jeanette, I could not recommend the Sigrid’s blog enough: http://sigridsewingprojects.blogspot.ie. She is not young and thin, more than that, she’s extremely good with pattern manipulations :) I hope you enjoy reading her blog as I do!

Loran loransworld.com

I’m in my mid-50’s and I blog. I’ve had all these same issues (nothing in my size, nothing that suits my “age/style” etc.). I don’t want to dress like my 20-something daughter but I’m not that ‘mom’ that most manufacturers would like to think I am. I also don’t want to dress like MY mother or grandmother! So I sew. And I try one of everything I have time for :)

Sandy magpiestitcher.wordpress.com

“It seems like the mature clothing sellers think mature women are all big, and that they all shrink in height.”

Actually, women in their 80’s and over do tend to shrink in height – but through the torso, not the legs (spinal curvature, disc degeneration, etc.). My mother and my grandmother both did this (Mom’s 89; I’m 53 and trying to stand up straight all the time!) – lost about 3″ in overall height between ages 60 and 90, but continued to wear the SAME LENGTH pants. And sleeves. Grandmother bought no-waist-seam shirt-dresses and tunic-pantsuits; Mom gave up on dresses and wears jeans and men’s shirts.

Jeanette

My mother shrank about 3″ before she died at 87. So far I haven’t lost any height. My complaint about pants length is that at 5’6″, I’m not a tall woman, but yet the pants are short on me. They are usually 30″ in the inseam. Anything made of cotton could shrink and would no longer be wearable for me. I just hope I can learn to fit so I can sew more of my clothes.

paloverdeblooms

I seriously suggest you visit Stitcher’s Guild (http://artisanssquare.com/sg/index.php) where you will find a welcoming forum of sewists that skews somewhat older. Many members have sewing blogs. There is also a wealth of information about independent pattern companies (many in business for a long time) that are geared more towards designs appropriate for somewhat older women.

Jeanette

Thank you for the suggestion.

Sandra Bennett

Hi Jeanette… l know the difficulties you face. It is a long time since l could easily buy RTW. I am not big but my figure challenges forced me to learn to fit myself. I found the best (for me) place to start was Patty Palmer’s book Fit For Real People. It is available on Amazon. As is the update of the book Looking Good. They are sensible women with excellent teaching skills. McCalls Palmer/Pletsch range also has masses of instructions in each pattern. I hope this helps. We girls sometimes need just a little idea or two and then we can power away. Regards Sandra

Jeanette

Thank you, Sandra. I will look into Patty Palmer’s books and the McCall’s Palmer/Pletsch patterns.

crab&bee crabandbee.com

It sounds like American Apparel just did their personas poorly – maybe not surprising for a company facing such serious financial troubles. When personas are researched and synthesized well, they should serve as reminders to companies to remember specifics about their customer groups – specifics that may contradict the companies’ own vision of the idealized young/thin/glamorous customer.

I think being able to do any amount of research – and being open to the results – goes a long way to expanding companies’ ideas about who they’re really selling to. I’m reminded of the recent post on Oliver & S’s blog, where one of the owners mentioned a particular customer asking for a configuration of PDF pattern that would be a better value for her. He said that Oliver & S. customers are deliberate sewists that made and altered the same pattern repeatedly – and then said that at least he hoped they were. Wishing your customers embody certain ideals won’t make it so!

Sarai colettehq.com

I totally agree, this does seem like a case of poor execution. Unfortunately, I think this is one of those tools that’s extremely valuable when done right, but very frequently misunderstood or misused.

In my former career, we frequently created design personas, but they were only effective if they were data-driven. We used quantitative and qualitative data to create a fuller picture of stuff that goes beyond demographics: needs, desires, lives. To get that information, you have to talk to people, and you have to talk to them as human beings, not demographics.

Jet Set Sewing jetsetsewing.com

What really irks me, as a 50-plus woman, is that almost no companies are targeting us. And we’re the demographic that has the most money to spend! This is why a lot of Boomers like me have started sewing again. Nothing in retail fits and the quality is awful!

Hélène

But didn’t they hire Jacky O’Shaughnessy, a 62-year-old woman, for their advertising campaign a few years ago? I wonder why. Their clothes are obviously made for teenagers.

Sarai colettehq.com

Yes, to their credit, they did! It seems to me from reading the original Washington Post article that this concept of the “3 girls” is a newer thing, although clearly they’ve always targeted youth. So I don’t know.

It’s a strange company. They seem really eager to show off progressive values in really public ways, but then take two steps backward with things like their NSFW barely-legal-teen-porn-esque advertising.

Nicole

I loved reading this. Thanks for the great article.

One thing I like about independent pattern designers is that many of them (I am guessing!) seem to be driven by their own style or by things other than thoughts about what would work with a particular demographic. This results in much more innovative and interesting stuff. I think Colette is doing one of the best jobs out there of showing diversity in a great way. Diversity seems like part of the company’s identity, rather than being tokenism.

I hope that independent companies may help to make the big commercial players one day notice that people really like and appreciate things that are designed for women of different sizes, shapes, races and ages, and the idea that young and thin appeals to everyone is a myth.

Lauren musingsofaflowerchild.com

I find it interesting that so many companies market with young consumers in mind, and yet they do not reflect the diversity of these consumers. Customers in one age range do not share the same taste and style simply because they are categorized in that age range. For example, I’m 22 and have difficulty finding clothing that flatters my figure, that is a length that I am comfortable in, etc. Younger women do not necessarily want stretchy, tight, short clothing, and can feel at a loss when companies that are supposed to market do them only provide what they do not want.

This is one reason I sew, and I don’t think one style is suited to one age, while a different style is suited to another. It is all a matter of personal taste.

Also, I’d like to point out that young and thin are not synonymous. How often do we see a younger model with a fuller figure?

As to companies who I think do a good job promoting diversity, ModCloth immediately comes to mind. They have a specific style, but showcase it in way that appeals to a diverse audience.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post, and appreciate you addressing this!

Sarai colettehq.com

Yes, exactly Lauren! That is what I mean about stereotypes. Being under a certain age does not make you less likely to be a certain size, color, body type, or have a certain level of ability/disability.

Francesca

Ha! That is the rason I started sewing again too – I could fit into clothes, could afford to buy nice quality, but couldn’t find skirts that were more than a few inches below my butt – and I hate having my legs touch chairs etc…

Ledys

What an interesting essay! And a fascinating question: why do most companies target the same demographics? My guess would be that those particular age groups are less picky about their fashion. It sounds like an awful generalization, and maybe I am wrong. But, speaking from experience, when I was that age it was great to buy more for less, and I particularly did not mind the synthetic feel of some of the clothes I wore, or the fact that most everything in my closet was duplicates of the same thing, albeit in different fabrics–I was just happy to score a bargain. I am 34 now, and I don’t know if it is my age, or the fact that I can sew and understand a little better what goes into making clothes, but I am incredibly picky about my clothes and, surprisingly, I have lost my taste for a lot of what is out there in stores right now. The really expensive, well-made garments are out of my budget, but I certainly can use my money toward good fabric and make me something that will be just what I like. It’s wonderful!

Interestingly, I observe the same issue in fashion for children. I have three kids to sew for–girls 7 and 5, boy is 2– and I am hard-pressed to find clothes for my 7-year-old that still look cute and are age-appropriate. So, I sew for her, too! For Christmas, she asked Santa for a girl sewing machine :-) I hope that I can pass on to my girls that they are beautiful just as they are and to not be misled by what others want them to believe is beautiful.

Thanks to all the Colette team for doing so much to be inclusive and to help seamstresses everywhere improve their skills, so we can be confident that our investment in time and money to sew will always turn out a great garment that we will be proud to wear anywhere :-)

Karen

Although my daughters are now 13 and 15, I also went through a period of hating everything I found in stores for the 6-12 year olds. Luckily, a lot of my daughters’ clothes were hand-me-downs from my sister’s daughters – beautiful, quality, hand-sewn dresses and sweet little hand-made sweaters. Although I can sew and knit, my sister has more talent. And with the amount of clothing that was passed along to us, I had little need to shop or sew for my girls.

I remember the administrator at our school taking me aside once to compliment me on the clothing my children wore. She complained that so many little girls at the school tended to wear inappropriate clothes – I believe she used the word trashy. But that was all that was available in the stores – for my neighbourood’s tax bracket, anyway.

It is a shame that a little girl has to come from money to actually dress in cloths that are appropriate for her age. Or she has to have a mother/aunt that sews!

Cathi

Beautifully said!

I have two daughters and while they may “seem” to fit the ideal (young, wanting fast fashion, white, pretty) even they have problems finding clothes because the ideal has narrowed to the point of tossing both of them out of the market.

They are both curvy and often overwhelmed with too many choices (fast fashion) to the point they won’t buy anything.

I guess it’s a good thing mom sews and small companies make great patterns that address these issues! Thanks Colette!

Sarai colettehq.com

Really interesting that they feel overwhelmed by choice! Fast fashion stores can definitely be overwhelming.

Dara

Very interesting as usual, Colette! With scoliosis I have to adjust patterns and RTW!!

Sarai colettehq.com

I have scoliosis too, so I hear ya.

Abby Glassenberg whileshenaps.com

Right on! Small businesses get to make different choices. Thank you for leading the way and setting such a beautiful example for the home sewing industry. I admire your efforts and they make me want to rally around Colette and Seamework even more.

Lenora

Thanks for the great article. I’ve been sewing for years as a means to have clothing that fits both my body and my personality. When I was younger, it was simply because there are just some styles that don’t look well on a full bust, and sewing my own clothes allowed me to customize silhouettes to be more flattering. Now, because I’m STILL blessed with curves, even though my figure is no longer girlish, I often need to shop the plus sizes. But I’m not the ‘typical’ body shape of the plus sized woman either, so the stereotyping you mentioned extends to the underserved portions of the women’s clothing market as well as to the “young and thin” set.

Paola lasartora.blogspot.com.au

I’m wondering if the companies that target young women do so because this is the market segment that is likely to spend a greater percentage of their income on clothes. I know I did as a youngie, but as I got older the disposable income for clothes dwindled ( hello mortgage, kids). Not having any good options to turn to in middle age had me turning to the sewing machine, and I’m not about to go back.
Btw I enjoy this type of post on your blog.

Jennifer sortingbuttons.com

This is just an idea, but I wonder if the type of young, slim customer that so many clothing companies target has as much to do with the designers/marketers themselves and their own demographics and fantasies about themselves. For example, if graduates from fashion school are starting out in design, aren’t they likely to be in their 20s, probably without children, etc.? I know that if I were starting my own fashion line (at age 29), I would feel kind of awkward or just out of my depth to design for older women, or those with very different figures or lifestyles than my own. I would be designing clothes for some version of myself, most likely – things that fitted some part of my own desired persona.

Likewise, I sometimes wonder if when these designers themselves become middle-aged, they are still creating fashions for their fantasy-selves (youthful and slim) rather than themselves as middle-aged, post-pregnancy, maybe less slim, etc.

This is all just imaginative conjecture, but I’m just throwing it out as another possible explanation. In short, perhaps fashion brands are gratifying their own desires and fantasies about themselves as much as they are trying to shape, or limit, their customers.

Becky

I think your on to something here! There is something about designing for the life the designers might wish they had – or even how they wish to see the world.

This made me think of the many designers on Project Runway throughout the years who blanch at challenges that involve designing for everyday women instead of their usual runway models. I think at least one contestant designer always says something along the lines of “I just don’t design for [fill in the blank] women, I design for the models.” What?! What a weird business strategy they are proposing for their future labels/brands!

Sallianne

I love this idea Jennifer. My granddaughter wants to be a fashion designer and is beginning to sew now (age 11), because she can’t find any clothes that are attractive for her. She is very curvy with a big middle, mixed race, so already feels “different.” I am supporting her in designing and sewing. All the clothes that fit her are those horrible shapeless polyester things that are frumpy and dowdy – even us “older” women don’t want to wear those! I think she could have a great market of younger and 20s women who don’t fit the “typical-marketed” body mold. She has great artistic vision, a good eye for color, and lots of patience – I am cheering her on!

Emileigh Rogers flashbacksummer.com

I’m thinner and younger, but I’m also short, so it can be very difficult to find clothes in small enough sizes, especially when it comes to career wear. I can get teenager-type clothing, but it’s death to try to find a suit that fits! I guess they assume that all career/adult women are bigger than me.

I do like Banana Republic for this reason. I’m not sure on the upper range of sizes they offer, but I do know they offer petites! I really appreciate stores like that. It can be frustrating ‘cuz I feel like some stores I can’t dress like a “real adult woman” until I can fit into misses sizes. Until then… light up shoes and unicorn shirts!

Tracy duckbucket.blogspot.com

I had a huge “what should I wear” crisis a few years back — and the answer (after much searching!) turned out to be Esprit. Not too young, not too old, with interesting clothes I could wear to the office, and reasonably high quality. Also they seem to skew toward modern stuff with straight lines (I don’t recall ever seeing a ruffle or high-low hem on anything), which I like.

And then (of course) they shut down all their US stores. :( I’m still hoarding most of my old Esprit clothes and thinking of tracing some of them off.

Justine

I think it’s just easier for many companies to market themselves to younger women. Women in their twenties have grown up around fast fashion, and often aren’t aware of what a well made garment should look like, so are less picky, and do more impulse buying in general. So companies can produce shoddily and cheaply made merchandise without fear of complaint. I’m 45 and started shopping at Zara and Anthropologie and Lucky Brand when they both first opened about 15 or more years ago. Going through some of my old garments from then, I’m amazed at how standards of quality in those brands have slipped, even in the last 15 years.

Jeanette

Thanks to The Wallinna for the link to Sigrid’s blog. I will definitely check it out.

del curlsnskirls.wordpress.com

Have enjoyed your thread of this conversation, Jeanette, and suggest you consider looking at any blog that has clothes you like, and would wear. That’s what I’ve done, with total disregard to age of the author; ditto for patterns. Sounds simple, but it hasn’t been. Took me several years to finally crack into sewing bloggers, then locate some I enjoy and can learn from. Have patience and do looots of reading. That’s what I’ve done, and it’s paying off in clothes I enjoy creating and wearing. May your journey be shorter & even more fulfilling! xx

Jeanette

Thank you, Del, for your comments. I have found several good blogs since I posted my original comment. I appreciate the help from all who have responded.

Sparkling

I was thinking along similar lines as Paola: young women may be more likely to spend a greater portion of their incomes on clothing; they also get sucked into every little trend more easily because they often don’t have the “I know myself” signature style of an older woman who doesn’t get tempted by every new twist that comes out (and revival styles are all new to them, so they may buy when we would not). Also, older women often have their basics covered already. One more T-shirt from a place like American Apparel I do not need!

That said, I may be older (51), but I don’t have any interest in being targeted by “mature” styles. I’m a petite size 2 or 4 and wear many of the same things younger women wear. I look current, but I know what suits me, I am not tempted by everything under the sun, and I don’t have any psychological need to dress short/tight/”sexy” that many young women do. I don’t have a need for anything AA sells and I hate their porny marketing, so they won’t be getting any of my money anyway. I have plennnnty of other choices.

I do find the persistent stereotyping of women to be a bane of our existence. It seems like it will never end.

Emily lastlighting.com

This is awesome. I was apprehensive about this article and I’m so relieved it didn’t go where most like it do, just simply bashing companies for catering to the generically beautiful. I really appreciated that you talked about how no company has an obligation to design for every person!! There is definitely people who are being neglected by mainstream fashion and that’s a real problem, but asking an entire industry to pivot is too much too fast. Definitely like your proposed suggestion–if they see that the “hip” grassroots folks are going a certain way, the industry will follow suit.

Grace restlessgrace.blogspot.com

It’s frustrating to feel like my favorite stores/brands have broken up with me, but I also feel secretly relieved. My immature relationship with fast cheap fashion was dying anyway. My most recent RTW purchase was at Eileen Fisher. I like classic clothing with an edge that is designed to last.

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