Bless you, Donna Karan!
Few designers, even those still at the top of their game and the food chain, are (as) honest about who’s really buying their clothes and what we need most when we open our closets. Pick up any fashion magazine and it’s praying-mantis 15-year-olds from the Urals stomping down the runways in six-inch-plus heels, wearing clothes that leave seasoned editors grasping for kind adjectives.
Women in their 40s, 50s or beyond, some fighting a meno-pooch and hot flashes, have no desire to wear costly clothes cut for anorexic teens. And very few 22 year-olds, even 32 year-olds, actually have the spare coin for unforgiving four or five-figure designer frocks.
“The designer business and the media spend so much time paying homage to about 7 percent of the market,” NPD analyst Marshal Cohen, tells W magazine. “That’s where all the action goes. But did everyone decide they want to dress like a 25-year-old? I don’t think so.”
Any woman who’s not a size 2 — and the average American woman is a 12-14 — knows the purgatory of clothes-shopping for items that are gorgeous, well-made and offered in good fabric like thick cashmere, soft cotton or crisp organza, at a price point less than a Manhattan mortgage payment.
Women play many roles: mom, wife, lover, boss, athlete, traveler, public speaker — each of which we want to look terrific for. Karan’s life, like many accomplished women her age and her size: “stretches from the boardroom to dinner to traveling…feeling sexy while still feeling appropriate is really important.” I don’t necessarily need to feel sexy 24/7, but appropriate matters. Not every woman wants to wear PJs (working at home) or jeans/leggings/sweats (affordable, comfortable Mom-wear) or the protective armor of sufficiently conservative corporate attire. I veer wildly between cheap-and-slobby at-home comfort and — on two days’ notice — suddenly needing to clean way up, like appearing on CNN, where a cashmere turtleneck and black blazer did the job.
This week I fly to Atlanta for a board meeting and am attending a Manhattan cocktails-and-dinner charity event, (even invited as press, you still have to look decent). It’s not a typical week, but it reflects my current interests and ambitions. But buying really lovely clothes for all these roles takes way too much time, and often becomes a wearying arm-wrestle with rude, bored sales associates and insanely priced (or cheap disposable) stuff that doesn’t even fit well.
Not only does it not fit our bodies, it doesn’t fit our lives! Very few designers produce compelling clothes for women over 40 — that don’t make them look slutty, matronly or trying way too hard. I recently saw a magazine photo of a 52-year-old woman wearing a tight T-shirt, torn jeans and Converse sneakers. She had the figure for it, but still looked vaguely ridiculous. At 45, you can look 14, or you can try a little harder.
Too bad it’s so damn difficult.