What's New in Spring Fashion?

Teri Agins, author of The End of Fashion: How Marketing Changed the Clothing Business Forever, talks about what the fashion industry wants you to stock in the closet this year.

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: How Marketing Changed the Clothing Business Forever, and senior special writer for the Wall Street Journal. She joins us by phone from her office in New York City. Hi, Teri.

TERI AGINS: Hey Michel, how're you doing?

: Um, what do the designers want us to buy this season, and what are we really going to buy?

AGINS: Okay, we, you know, we've gone through, like the last two, three years, of a lot of embellished clothes. I mean, you know, the '90s were all about beige, and black, and taupe, and then we got this explosion of color that started after the turn of the century. And, you remember now that you've got green shoes, and orange shoes, and you've got things with sequins on them, and just a lot of embellishment and embroidery, etc. And now it seems that now, you know, the industry obviously, once you've collected too much of one thing they want you to move on to the next thing. So, this spring it's all about what they call a cleansed palate. So there's, so we're going to see a lot of white, and we're going to see a lot of things that just a lot, you know, dialed back, a not all that, you know, bright color and prints. You know, we're going to see, obviously the usual pastels and everything, but a lot more solids, less embellishment, and much more tailored styles. Even pantsuits are back.

: And let me just remind folks that we are taking your calls this hour. It's 800-989-TALK. And, go ahead Teri. It's a lot of clean palate, as you were saying. White, and the taupe, and stuff like that. So Teri, let me, trick question, what are you wearing today?

AGINS: Okay, well actually I'm wearing a very old dress. This is a black and white polka dot dress that I bought at Ann Taylor several years ago. And, you know, sleeveless, and it's something that doesn't go out of style. And this is one of the tricky things about fashion, now, Michele, because clothes do not really go out of style. You can wear something that's several seasons old and you won't look dated. I mean, even a lot of loud prints and, you know, the embellished things that women bought the last few years, they love them, people love how they look in color, and I don't think a lot of women are going to be ready to give up on that and start wearing a lot of white, which also is very hard to keep clean. I mean, we people who live here in New York, I mean, I won't wear anything white unless its something I can wash, because, you wear a white shirt and you take it off at the end of the day and it looks like you put a magic marker around the sleeves and the collar, because it's just, you know, you get all that urban grime.

: Well, you know, working in a newsroom, I always say if I ever buy a white shirt I should just take the pen and mark it myself. Because you know somebody's walking around with a pen.

AGINS: Exactly. But the white does look really crisp this season. There's a lot of eyelet, dotted, Swiss, and then the other thing, the skinny jean. You now, we've been wearing the low rise jeans, and now...

: Maybe you've been.

AGINS: Well I didn't really wear the low rise, because I had a hard time getting a good fit. But the skinny jean is thin all the way, kind of a narrow pencil. They used to call it the cigarette jean, that jean is back. And leggings. And leggings are really going to be big in the fall, but they're really going to start in the spring, but they're wearing them different this time. Instead of the, with the oversized top and the thick tennis shoes, they're wearing, the women will wear a legging and then wear a short dress with it. So it's a different look with a flat shoe. And that's going to be part of this kind of cleaned up, less embellished look.

: I have the top-ten lists from two different department stores that send me catalogs, and I'm looking at them. And, let's see, they both say, belts. One says, let it go all the way to the waist, and the other says, this essential accessory is worn with everything, and runs the gamut from narrow to O.B., in a wide range of materials. Translate please?

AGINS: Okay. Well, belts, you know, belts were something else that had disappeared a long time ago, but belts are really back. And you go all the way from the narrow ones to the real wide ones. And they've got nail heads, and sequins, and crystals, and things on them, and that's another way to kind of update your wardrobe. I think a lot of women have really gotten, I mean, now we're into this whole individual style era, where, you know, everything goes. I mean, it started a lot on Sex in the City, where you saw the mixing and matching of prints and different, you know, colors, thick shoes, shoes with narrow, with skinny heels, shoes with boxy heels, and wide pants, and narrow pants, and all these things peacefully coexist now. And so, it allows people to have, you know, a lot more leeway on how you dress. But clearly you still want to have a few things so you'll feel kind of current. So, as I said, the white, and also the skinny jean. Those are two ways to, you know, quick, cheap ways to make it work.

: Okay, quickly, because I want to bring out a caller. But, what, one of the lists says, city shorts. Now, please. Please. What's with the short shorts? As I understand it, the average size of an American woman is 12. Dare I predict...

AGINS: Size 14, actually.

: Fourteen?

AGINS: Yes.

: Dare I say it? She is not buying city shorts.

AGINS: No, but...

: So who is going to buy the city shorts?

AGINS: Well, the city short, the one thing about fashion you have to remember is, is that, you know, sometimes you will see something that's kind of outrageous that is introduced. And that's really something for the window. The stores don't put a lot of money in those goods, but that's just enough to kind of bring you in. And they need that to sell the ordinary khakis and staples that you would ordinarily buy. But that short, it's, first thing it's not as, it's not super tight. But it's just, it's an awkward length and I think it is going to be hard to wear. But you know there will always be a fashion victim out there who will jump on this, so I think you will see a lot of young women, perhaps experimenting with that. And they do kind of look cute with the high heels, the slides that a lot of women are wearing now. But it's not going to be a big deal. But it'll be a flourish that you'll see in big cities here and there.

: Let's go to Mike in Iowa.

MIKE: Good afternoon ladies. Thanks for taking my call.

AGINS: Hi.

MIKE: I wanted to ask you a question about, I'm in the hair and cosmetic industry, and what we find drives our business a lot is youth culture, and especially, like, what's going on with the hot bands, what's going on with Hollywood fashion...

: Celebrities, yes.

MIKE: Yeah, celebrities. And I'm wondering where does that intersect right now with the clothing and fashion industry, especially for the next season to come?

AGINS: Yeah, the celebrity influence is huge. I mean, and you will notice, I mean, all the magazines, you know, Star, In Style, I mean, all these magazines that used to be just gossip tabloids, the big part of their emphasis, the way that they present their stories, a lot of it has to do with fashion. And, you know, celebrities are really just the arbiters of taste and style for American women. And that's why you see so many celebrities now, you know, Uma Thurman, advertising for LVMH, for Louis Vuitton, and you see, you know, Halle Berry, with Revlon, I mean, rather, with Giovanni Versace. And you see that because, you know, they're the real role model. It's not the supermodel, but it's the celebrities. People really relate to celebrities and they want to dress like them and they, you know, and they also even buy their own clothing brands, because, you now, Beyonce's got a clothing brand, and so does Jennifer Lopez. And so this is all part of a, you know, of the, you know, the pop culture with fashion and celebrities has really intersected.

: Thanks for calling Mike. Let me just pause here to say you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. Teri, what is up with the platform shoes? Actually, you know what? I'm going to change my mind. I'm going to talk about something else.

Fashion is in our faces so much these days. There are all these TV shows telling us what to wear, what not to wear. These makeover shows. You wrote a book called The End of Fashion. It seems like, on the one hand it seems like we're obsessed with fashion. On the other hand, I think you're telling us that we're really not. That we're driving this train now, in a way that was not the case 30 years ago or 40 years ago.

AGINS: Exactly. By the end of fashion, I meant that all the old rules, that clothes were supposed to go out of style, the planned obsolescence, that people were supposed to buy, the middleclass people would have to wait for the trends to trickle down, I mean, all that's over now. You can go to H&M and stores like Target and, you know, fashion is now affordable and available to everybody, all at the same time. And so, that's a big influence now that has changed things completely. But, just a minute, I started rambling and got all off track. So you wanted to know exactly... Michel?

: Yeah?

AGINS: Yeah, so what did you want to, I said I got all off track here a second as I was rambling on about the end of fashion.

: We're just talking about clothes Teri, it's okay. But let's go to a call. Let's go to Madison, Wisconsin, and Stephanie. Stephanie, what's on your mind?

STEPHANIE: Well, you know, I am 56-years-old, and I'm your average person, woman. I'm about a size 12-14, and, you know, kind of on the heavy side, but very, very fit. And I really, kind of, I get very frustrated when people try to sell me fashion. They'll say, well, this is really in this year, and this is really in this year, and, you know, you go through enough fads, you see things that don't, really don't work. How can you, can you work it so you can wear things that really are flattering for you? I mean especially when certain colors come in certain years and some, some colors like, I, there's no way I can wear white, at all. I'm a redhead with, you know, warm, peachy colored skin. I don't, you know, I can't wear those kinds of colors.

AGINS: Mm-hmm. Well, the thing is, is this is, and this is back to the whole idea, have it your way, this is all about individual style and doing things that really work for you. And I know that, you know, once I got into my 40s and so, I really got a lot more confident about wearing the styles that looked good on me and not just what was in fashion. And often I will sit out a trend. I mean, we were talking about those shorts. I wouldn't wear those, because, you know, it's not anything that's going to look flattering. So, I think that you, you know, you know what looks good on you, by this stage of the game, and, you know, keep wearing those styles and updating them a little bit. And I know if I find, like, a pair of shoes I really like, I like to wear a skinny heel, high heel pump, I will get two or three pairs. And, you know, keep them for several years and wear them as, you know, change them as each one wears out, because I know that I will always like that particular shoe style.

: Stephanie, has anything really caught your eye so far?

STEPHANIE: You know, um, it really, really hasn't. I worked until recently in a department store, I worked on the loading dock. And, I've been kind of a homebody. I had to quit that job because of a foot injury. And, you know, I am just, nothing has really caught my eye. I, you know, I haven't really seen anything that, you know, that I like at all. I've been, I do like the bright colors, especially like the pinks, the warm pinks, and the greens.

AGINS: Listen, stay with them. If they work for you, stay with them.

STEPHANIE: You bet. You know, and some, I find that getting basic clothes, getting the best-made you can, that you can make them last, just last, they last for years, you know? I've...

: Stephanie?

STEPHANIE: (Unintelligible) maybe five or six years.

: Stephanie, thanks so much for calling.

STEPHANIE: Thank you. All right.

: Stephanie, I think she should go for some green platform shoes. What about you Teri?

AGINS: Oh, you were talking about platforms earlier. The platforms, um, you know, they're okay. I don't like them because I have a big foot. I wear a size 10 foot, I mean shoes, and forget it. And so I always like to wear a kind of a dainty shoe...

: Okay.

AGINS: And the other thing about platforms is, is that those of us that remember them in the '70s and many of us wearing them turned our ankles.

: Okay. No turning ankles here. Thank you. Teri Agins is the author of The End of Fashion: How Marketing Changed the Clothing Business Forever, senior special writer at the Wall Street Journal. She joined us by phone from her office in New York City. Thanks Teri.

AGINS: Thanks for having me.

: And this TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin.

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