Listen Up, Fashion Designers

Fashion designers work in a different world. Unfortunately, it’s the one the rest of us live in. Fashion designers design for the ideal, the wonderful. In Season 9 of Project Runway, one of the designers, Olivier Green (why didn’t I notice that name before?) complained that one of his models had boobs. He didn’t like that, it ruined the line of his work. He also complained about hips, legs that weren’t long enough, and shoulders that weren’t wide enough to make his creations drape right.

Hearing Olivier complain made me realize what happens in the translation from runway to store rack–and most of it goes wrong. Here’s what I wish designers would pay attention to a few details:

You looked at the buttons didn't you? Had some weird thoughts, too. Told you so. Image: Huffingtonpost Style section.

1. Just because it’s plus-size doesn’t mean the buttons need to be the size of dinner plates. Regular buttons will work just fine. Jackets or blouses with huge buttons call attention to whatever they are close to. When these giant buttons are also white, no matter what color the fabric, they look even more ridiculous. See image on the right.

2. Cross-body bags need to fit across the body of people with breasts.You can’t be Olivier and insist that your work is meant only for the super flat-chested. Even men have chest muscles that aren’t flat, and allow a heavy cross-body bag to shift and wind up in an awkward position. In the example below, the bag is meant for men to wear in front and women to wear across the back. That would be great if we never needed to take anything out of

If the cross-body bag is going to hug your body, make sure it doesn't become a one-sided push-up bra. For men or women.

the bag, didn’t mind if the person behind us in line does take things out of the bag, and didn’t have an impossibly wide or cuttingly thin strap across the front. Try them on real people before you make a million of them. Even the guy on the right doesn’t look like a good fit for this device, which is just big enough for a smart phone, keys and plane ticket. If that’s all I’m carrying, I’ll use pockets. Trouble is, when you fly, you also have a laptop, carry-on, water bottle, e-reader, jacket–none of which will fit in that contraption across your chest, which you will have to take off and send through the X-ray machine. So you’ll take out your boarding pass anyway and carry it between your teeth.

3. Please give us colors we can wear. Want to wear. To work. Very few people can pull off the mango-tango color of the year for 2012. We’d like to pull it off and bury it, but it glows beneath the earth. No one larger than a size 4 can wear pants this color. OK, so maybe my slate-gray, navy blue, dark olive colors aren’t trendy. But give me a choice. Do the mango-tango, but also let me have granite, shale, mushroom and midnight slacks. Everyone in line will be grateful.

4. Not everyone is flattered by cropped pants or capris. I can’t find a pair of summer slacks that covers my cankles. For the vast majority of people, cropped pants are hideous, cutting the leg in two (a visual trick not flattering to those without legs that start at the armpit). The crops also hit the leg in a place that isn’t tapering so it looks like a wrapped fencepost. Please make a few long pants for summer. And don’t tell me it’s cooler. The crops were shown across the page from a matching selection of long-sleeved sweaters and knit cardigans. If I’m wearing sleeves on my arms I want sleeves for my legs, too.

5. Pants need pockets, shirts don’t. I have no idea what pockets on women’s blouses are for, but certainly not for an iPhone. I call half my clients every time I sneeze. And unless I tuck a calculator in the other side, I look like I’m pressed against a narrow wall. If I decide not to put anything in my pants pockets, that’s my choice. It’s not up to the designer to decide I shouldn’t and eliminate the pockets.

Please, designers, take a look at real people and design for them. Sew on buttons with more than two passes of thread, tack the end of the zipper so it doesn’t crawl out, cut the neckline so it covers the bra straps, and make my blouses long enough to cover the waist band when I hiccup. I will thank you and my colleagues will be able to look at me without smirking.

—Quinn McDonald is hoping to find just one pair of dark linen pants for the summer that not only fit, but have pockets.

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56 thoughts on “Listen Up, Fashion Designers

  1. Thanks so much for this–I’ve given up entirely on “fashion”–I live in dresses in summer (much cooler than any form of pants), and yoga pants and jersey shirts, with pockets, the rest of the year. You see, I use a cane, so when I’m not using a cross-body bag, I place small articles, including my cell, in those hip-level pockets. I’m 68 years old, and,,due to bilateral mastectomies, as flat-chested as a 12-year-old boy. And I refuse to wear prostheses. They’re hot, heavy, and uncomfortable. I really don’t fit into any social dynamic, and to be honest, I like it that way. I must agree about capris, pedal-pushers, and all the rest of those chopped-off abominations. I have two pairs I bought strictly for wearing to physical therapy, but, as I’m not doing that any more, they’re going to Goodwill. Your blog, particularly this article, I find refreshing and thoroughly enjoyable. So, thanks!

  2. Well, for the past 3 years I’ve dreamed of designing clothes for the young at heart and over 55 ladies (like myself) which in today’s world we have to dress with the clothes that fit and just okay, instead of; “Finally!! I Feel So Wonderful Wearing this Fashion Designer’s Outfits!!” They finally understood that we’re crying out for Help!!!! So, Please Help Us!!!!!!

  3. Yeah, I was going to suggest LL Bean’s new linen pants line; happy ironing. Sleeveless? Try Land’s End. They emphasize that the armholes will cover the bra band and not gap (I used to buy them for playing golf).
    However, I do like capris, but they require the same careful shopping that tops and sweaters need. I hem if necessary to bring them to ‘pedal pusher’ height. The ones that are just chopped off at the ankle look silly.
    I’ve sewn back pockets shut (a quick whip stitch is all that is required); and then cut off the interior flaps that make the bulge right where we don’t need it. I also agree about pockets on boobs–placement is quite frightening! The other funky trend are the long long sleeves on some sweaters. If my hands are cold, I will get gloves, thanks. Oh, and can we please go back to socks or stockings in shoes? Trying to find shoes that are comfortable in bare feet is a nightmare.

    • LLBean’s linens are not as bad as regular linen, and while I am careful to get them out of the dryer on time, I don’t iron them. And even though I live in a place where hell spends the summer, I never wear capris, shorts, or even flood pants, and never wear sleeveless blouses. And you are so right about sweaters–that waif look may be charming on 8 year olds, but adults wearing stretched-out sleeves pulled over their hands–ugh. They are so hard to keep clean.

  4. I used to teach wardrobe classes and figure flattery. Will not wear capris, cargo pants, shirts with pockets or a color just because it’s “in”.

    • A wardrobe adviser once told me, “Never wear a sleeve with a name–no cap sleeves, flutter sleeves, poet sleeves.” I thought it was brilliant advice. And cargo pants. Yeah. Just no.

  5. i am curious..has anyone ever talked to the buyer or manager of the store they are shopping in and telling them of their frustration with what they are seeing and, hopefully, not buying…
    the stores are driven by selling the garments[check out the sales racks=bad buying decisons by the stores’s buyers] ….

    or has anyone ever contacted the designers directly when you find a piece you like and can’t find again?

    with the internet, so much info is there to easily find the source and make contacts. we have the power in our wallets!

    i listen VERY carefully to my clients to see what is working and what is not working and make adjustments accordingly….

    • Managers of stores are not interested in the public, they are interested in listening to their boss. Stores don’t want to hear from my demographic. If I were younger and attractive and thin, it would be a different story. I have two very funny stories about that, but they are too long for an answer.

  6. Makes one want to trim their wardrobe to baggy jeans and tee shirts, with a sweat shirt added when it gets cool. Not classic, but easy wear with pockets and comfy. Of course, working throws a curve into that equation. Then the only option is to search for hours, say naughty words under your breath, and have a latte.

  7. Yes to all of this and so much more- don’t get me started! EXCEPT: As a less than 5′ tall woman, I find crop pants the PERFECT length for my short legs to wear as long pants- so I don’t have to spend all my creative hours making alterations/rebuilding pants hems. And since they make them in so many colors, I can have a whole summer/winter wardrobe of them!

  8. Yes, a thousand times yes! And add to that:
    6. Women over 60 have not completely lost the desire to wear smart sassy clothes without spending a fortune or looking like their grandchild!
    7. Slim people are not necessarily shorter that plus-sized people. Have you ever noticed on the rack that garments get longer as they increase in girth?

    Now, I’m going to check out my legs in my crop pants – I live in them in the summer-time.

  9. What I really hate is you find something you like, buy it, want another pair of pants or blouse or shoes or whatever in another color or something, go back and — you can never find it again. The constant change in fashion drives me NUTS.

  10. This is a big issue all over the world. I’m so lucky that I can make my own pants (clothes) , well as long as I can get hold of the right fabric that is. Many times I have wondered what the agenda really is. Make something that just 4.5 % of the population can wear? Well, they’re almost there.
    Really nice and fun post!

    • Ohhhh, sewing is almost a necessity if you aren’t pencil-thin. And even if you are, sewing can make your life fit better. A friend of mine dyes her fabrics and clothing. It shouldn’t be necessary.

  11. yes my big problem is that i am tall and oddly built have to go ino the misses or bigge clothes but then i dont have the chest to fill ot the tops. i wear an twenty in big clothes but then the jeans are to big around the waist but cant get an eighteen to close. also i have a problem with the length also or there is big bold prints with flowers or animal print not much into those style would love to be able to find clothes that fit me and not cost me an arm and a leg. thank you

  12. Not all fashion designers are created equally, but commercialism is a machine for mediocrity. I, for example, don’t want pockets on anything because I feel it puts more bulk right where I don’t want it. And if I put anything inside of the pocket, now I have a lumpy bulky bulge, right where I don’t want it. I carry a purse, I don’t need pockets. My clothing designer partner disagrees. I’m curvy, she’s straight through the body. She has long legs, I have regular stems. Designing is hard to do for the huge variety of needs and preferences that everybody has. It makes me want to run away and be an accessories designer, which *ahem* is exactly what I’ve done. Note to self: make cross body bags with an adjustable strap so that they can be worn as shoulder bags, or more forgivingly on differently shaped bodies. Love this post, Quinn!

    • I know I’m not any designers demographic, but with pockets, if I want to stuff ’em and you want to leave them empty, we can each be happy. I find pockets handy when I run training programs. I often have to step out of the room for administrative reasons, and having a phone in my pocket lets me know when the video or exercise is about to be up. In dry PHX, I always carry lip balm instead of rooting through my purse for it. And as far as accessories go, yours are drooly-lovely!

  13. I was honestly laughing out loud at this post! I remember the episode of Project Runway you refer to, my thin but busty daughter and I were both frustrated with Oliver’s comments. I also really enjoyed the comment above about granite pants. Thanks for starting my day with a good laugh!

    • I think it was the episode where Olivier got “auf’d” and he so deserved it. Granite was a color very popular about two years ago, but everyone had a different idea exactly what color it was. I have a pair that turned sort of pinky brown after three washings.

  14. “make my blouses long enough to cover the waist band when I hiccup”

    Hear, hear!
    I’d like to add to the pocket request: when they put pockets back into our pants, I’d really like them to fit more than 3 dimes and a key. I’d like to be able to put my entire hand in my pocket, not just up to the 2nd knuckle.

    And how about finding a way of making jeans with a bit of stretch that are thick enough that a chilly winter doesn’t require wearing 3 of them?

  15. Hear hear!!! I so wish I had seen the crop pants on me before the vacation with all the pictures of me in the horrible pants! And when, please when, will they make a sleeveless blouse or dress with an arm hole for women with boobs! I don’t need the world looking at my boobs through the arm hole gap!

  16. yes yes yes!!!!!
    that is why i weave and make clothes for REAL women[ and some men]. just did the sugarloaf gaithersburg show[hadn’t been there for 10 years]…had old clients come up, overjoyed to see me and tell me they were still wearing pieces they bought 10 or more years ago!

    i so agree on the capri length…and the pocket issue[i have even managed to put a pocket in my short capelet..a big salespoint!]
    i feel and feel many women also feel that i am too old to be an MTV refugee and don’t want to look likemy grandmother!
    off to make clothes for real people who have chests and tusches!

  17. The New Hampshire mining consortium appreciates your unsolicited endorsement of granite pants. They’re available in a wide variety of styles including stone washed. We in the Granite State also suggest our granite underwear, granite athletic shoes, and new for 2012, granite eyewear! Due to unforeseen issues, our popular line of granite swimwear has unfortunately been discontinued.

    • I’ll let you know. I did find a pair of full-length linen pants at LLBean yesterday. With pockets. I ordered a pair, but I’m a bit concerned because they also have back pockets–another “really?” element.

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