Are You Being Served? Part 1: Are You Talking to Me?

October 21, 2010 § 3 Comments

In the midst of the current economic crisis, it’s no surprise that apparel companies are struggling. At a time when the unemployment rate is staggeringly high, and consumer confidence continues to fall, new clothing is seen by most American families as a nonessential luxury.

But even at such an uncertain time, there are relatively well-paid female professionals (pharmacists, executives, lawyers, computer engineers, health professionals, etc.) who likely have additional discretionary dollars. Are these ‘top-paid’ women being marketed to in a way that would entice them to shop? And to spend?

From a broad, oversimplified perspective, most women’s clothing falls into one of three categories:

Fashion-Forward

Corporate

Casual

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Historically, of course, the fashion industry has focused most of its attention on the fashion-forward category. Designers and media thrive on what’s new and exciting in color, fabric, and silhouette. Trends cycle through season to season, year to year.  On the runway, the red carpet and the street, styles range from the artistically brilliant to the untouchably glamorous to the supremely body conscious.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yet most female shoppers in the US don’t have the occasion, figure, or budget to wear such fashion-forward clothing. Their apparel purchases are need-based: corporate for the office, and casual clothes for the weekend and family-time.  It’s also worth considering that these women with disposable income tend to be over 30, having risen through the ranks in their careers. These shoppers, despite their larger potential budgets, are often turned off by the huge price tags and small sizes of luxury apparel.  At the same time, they don’t want to be pushed into the lower quality and equally tiny sizing of the mid and low price fashion-forward options.  As a result, they tend to default back to corporate and casual buys.

Corporate

Casual

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, a few initial suggestions to designers and retailers:

If fashion-forward-centric brands want to reach a larger demographic, they need to appeal to corporate and casual shoppers, not just to fashion-followers. In addition, more variation is needed in sizing and price-point levels. The true challenge is that these changes must be made without diluting brand image, artistic vision or quality.

Corporate and casual clothing, on the other hand, is often either void of runway inspiration or represents a sad, watered-down version of a popular style.  If the mid, bridge and mass apparel markets want to court new customers, they would be smart to improve their quality levels, and to incorporate more tasteful trends into their lines.

Michelle Obama is perhaps the best representation of how it can all come together. When she wears fashion-forward pieces, she sticks to age-appropriate silhouettes that highlight her best features. She experiments most with color, pattern and fabric. Her corporate looks have an impeccable fit and are deftly accessorized with chic belts and jewelry. And her casual clothing is comfortable but never sloppy nor juvenile. She knows when to buy high and when to buy low. She always looks herself, and is confident in her personal style. Thanks for setting a new precedent Mrs. O.

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