RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Open up the big fall fashion issue of Vogue and you'll find an eight-page spread from an unlikely source, Wal-Mart. Between ads from high-end designers like Ungaro, one from Wal-Mart features an actress named Brooke who makes fashion on the cheap by pairing a tunic and corduroys. Total cost, $30. We called Teri Agins, who is the senior fashion reporter for The Wall Street Journal, to talk about the ad.
Ms. TERI AGINS (The Wall Street Journal): A lot of middle-class and upper middle-class shoppers are mixing and matching inexpensive clothes with designer clothes. In 1999, I wrote an article in the paper called Cheapskate Chic. I interviewed people like Blaine Trump and one of the fashion editors at GQ, and they were starting to shop at places like Wal-Mart and Kmart. And I think that a lot of shoppers have figured this out over the years, and so Wal-Mart has varied its apparel from just having T-shirts and shorts to actually selling fashion.
MONTAGNE: Well, I wonder if it's all about, also, its own customers wanting more fashion.
Mr. AGINS: Oh, yeah, well, the other thing is--too, is that now there are a lot of retailers who are in this business. You have companies like H&M and Zara who are able to really tap out the hottest looks from knock-offs from Prada, Chanel, Armani, and they look pretty hot for, you know, often under a hundred dollars. And I think Target really did drive home this point with their brands like Massimo and Isaac Mizrahi and they've been able to roll out fashion at, you know, really, really affordable prices.
MONTAGNE: But may I say that a lot of Target's appeal, known to many at this point as Target (pronounced Tar-zhay), is that it's become cool. Can Wal-Mart really become that? And should it be able to do that? What about its base? I mean, people who don't really want to be cool, they just want budget-priced goods.
Ms. AGINS: Well, I think that Wal-Mart can play both sides of the fence. They can just offer, like, great basics with a little bit more style and they can do things that are a lot more fashionable. Remember, too, that apparel is still a very small part of Wal-Mart's offerings, but the profit margins for apparel are so high that they can't resist exploring this area. And so why not give them the latest fashions mixed in with their grocery shopping and everything else that they're going to do.
MONTAGNE: So having looked this whole realm over of what you call cheapskate chic...
Ms. AGINS: Yes.
MONTAGNE: ...what's out there?
Mr. AGINS: You know, in terms of fashion, I just think that, you know, most people should look at the details. I mean, obviously, the trickiest thing for these companies to turn out are tailored fashions, things like blazers that have a lot of detail. I like to--when I shop in these places, I like to try to find things that have a little bit of stretch in them because, you know, the fit's going to be probably a little bit closer to the fit that you want. And sometimes a printed fabric is great because that hides some of the flaws, because some of these things are cheaply made. But some of them are beautifully made. I know in 1997, Consumer Reports starting testing apparel, and one of the things they tested were polo shirts. And the polo shirt that came out on top was the one at Target. It was $7.44. That beat the ones from Old Navy, from Ralph Lauren, from everybody else. And I think a lot of shoppers have just gotten so much savvier. You know, someone, whether they're in rural Arkansas or in Chicago or in New York, they want to participate in fashion. And if they want to, they're able to do it now.
MONTAGNE: Teri Agins is a senior special writer who specializes in fashion for The Wall Street Journal. Thanks very much.
Ms. AGINS: Oh, thanks for having me.
MONTAGNE: This MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
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