WSJ article "Escaping the Fashion Trap" - the Fashion Spot
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WSJ article "Escaping the Fashion Trap"
Escaping the Fashion TrapThe new rules of retail make it smarter to shop later in the season
October 15, 2005; Page P1

Looking to freshen up her wardrobe for fall, Dana Hofstetter checked out the new arrivals at a nearby department store -- and went home with a flowing sequined tunic in a gauzy pink fabric. The store was showing many tops in the same style, and she assumed it would be a good bet.

Eight weeks later, the blouse is idling in her closet. And to her dismay, she noticed it quickly hit the discount racks. "I've seen absolutely nobody wearing this," says the 47-year-old business consultant in Hinsdale, Ill.

Put down that credit card and step away from the cash register. These days, one of the surest routes to becoming a fashion victim may be listening to what the designers and pundits proclaim is "in" -- weeks before anyone knows what's catching on with shoppers. As fashion cycles get shorter and retailers crank up production of successful items at a moment's notice, less-popular looks are being dropped fast, leaving shoppers who thought they were getting in on the ground floor with more back-of-the-closet fodder.

This fall, for instance, form-fitting pencil skirts were promoted by designers including Ralph Lauren and Roland Mouret -- an "essential" fall trend, one fashion magazine said. Now, retailers say some trim-figured women are picking up the pencils, but overall, the skirts have been overshadowed by fuller -- and, not incidentally, more comfortable -- flowing designs. High-end women's label Ports 1961 hoped to sell its pencil styles to retailers, but found they only wanted roomier designs, like its silk tulle skirt. At Nordstrom's online site, full skirts outnumber straight ones by 3 to 1 on its "best-sellers" list.

Among other misfires: military-style jackets, typically with brass buttons. Some store owners say they were skeptical of the look and didn't buy any, while DKNY's are now 20% off on Bloomingdale's Web site. (DKNY says its jackets are selling well.) Pointy, high-heeled boots aren't all faring well, either, and even ones from designers like Charles David can be found for below retail on eBay. (A Charles David spokeswoman says the round toe has made a comeback but "the pointy-toed boots are always a classic.")

And then there's the poncho. After a good showing last year, trend forecasters said interest would only get stronger. One of them was David Wolfe, creative director at the Doneger Group, a trend-forecasting firm, who said the poncho's fluid shape would appeal to women who didn't want a silhouette-hugging look. He now says he made a mistake. "A lot of people, including myself, thought this would hang on and it just didn't," he says. Saks has ponchos in its outlet for 40% off, and several retailers say they decided not to stock them. (The Doneger Group says it correctly predicted velvet and fitted blazers.)

The bottom line: It can pay to hold off on shopping at the beginning of a season. With a better read on what people are wearing, you can improve your odds of buying something that will have staying power. Waiting also means you can take advantage when popular fall items go on sale to make room for resortwear and winter clothes. And items sold out in boutiques can often still be found online.

With 10 weeks of autumn left to go, we went in search of what's flopped -- and what's really catching on. We scrutinized data from market researchers, spoke with buyers and retailers, and checked sales racks in big stores and small boutiques. For example, retailers say round-toe boots with stacked heels are selling out; shoe designer Stuart Weitzman says his boutiques have had to reorder one stack-heeled model three times.

Of course, the fact that a particular look is selling well at some stores doesn't mean it's catching on everywhere -- or even that it's what you want to wear. After all, plenty of people care about what looks good on them more than they care about how many people are wearing something.

But if you're going to shell out a few hundred dollars for new clothes, you might as well have a shot at beating the hype artists. Below, a rundown of some of fall's success stories.

Platform Shoes

This fall, women's platform shoes aren't disco-ready; they're lower and more subtle than their 1970s predecessors. At Yves Saint Laurent, about half its fall runway shoe collection comprises platform styles; the round-toe Jeanne in gray suede ($695) has a waiting list. Via Spiga's four-inch patent-leather Refer ($189) is temporarily sold out at the company's boutiques, but is available at online shops like and has just been shipped to Nordstrom. Lower-priced "comfort" shoe companies have picked up on platforms, too. Naturalizer has two platforms this fall, including an embroidered peep-toe ($79) and six more styles coming in spring.

Last fall, dress-shoe sales rose 25% over fall 2003 to $803 million, compared with a 2.2% increase for women's apparel overall, according to NPD Group, a market-research firm that surveys consumers and tracks sales at apparel and footwear retailers. Much of the increase was driven by "the shift from low to high heels," says Marshal Cohen, NPD's chief industry analyst.

Designers say platforms can make your legs look longer -- especially important if you're wearing pants or skirts that expose only the calf -- and can be more comfortable than stilettos because of the extra cushioning under the ball of the foot.

Fur Vests

Derek Lam, Anna Sui and Roberto Cavalli all sent models down the runway wearing fur vests this year, and fur designer Adrienne Landau has eight vests in her collection, up from five last year.

Where are they now? Ms. Landau's ($495) leopard-print fox vest sold out three times at Vivre, a catalogue and online seller of luxury goods. Designer Andrew Marc says 20% of his raccoon-collar down jackets with removable sleeves sold out at Bloomingdale's during their first week in stock earlier this month, and Seattle's Jeri Rice boutique has twice reordered rabbit-fur vests from designer Rizal. "It's like we're back to Sonny and Cher. Remember how funky they were?" says Ms. Rice.

Midprice retailers are now carrying them, too. Esprit has an $85 shearling vest, while J. Crew has a navy blue vest with a coyote-fur-trimmed hood ($188) that is similar to a $650 vest with a coyote lining from Adam+Eve.

Cropped Pants

For women with long legs, cropped pants can be particularly flattering. Their length and shape call attention to the calves. But some wardrobe consultants say they're not necessarily for everyone. "They're a little hard to wear," says Carolyn Gustafson, a Raleigh, N.C., consultant who shops for executives at companies like Pfizer and Wachovia.

Still, retailers say they're pleased with the results so far. BCBG Max Azria says its wide-legged gaucho pants, named for the uniform of 19th-century Argentine cowboys, are outselling its regular pants. British designer Reiss sold out of its $155 Tunis corduroy gaucho pant in two weeks. Another shipment is scheduled later this month.

It is possible to find some sales. While Theory's black gaucho pant is selling at full price now, its Kahlúa-colored version is marked down 40% at Bergdorf Goodman's Web site, to $198 from $330. At J.C. Penney, a similar pair in a cotton-synthetic blend with beaded trim costs $44.

Big Skirts

Designers have modified last year's peasant skirt -- popular mainly with younger wearers -- with shorter lengths and often in quieter colors to broaden its appeal. Elie Tahari says his best-selling skirt this fall is a sequin-chiffon full skirt that sells for $548 at Bergdorf Goodman. Mitchells of Westport in Connecticut has reordered several full skirts from Etro, while more-fitted business-suit skirts have been a harder sell, says vice president of marketing Andrew Mitchell.

The look works best with a tight-fitting top. "A more mature customer should wear a short jacket with it, or a cashmere turtleneck," says Nicole Fischelis, fashion director for Macy's East.

Designer Nanette Lepore says she didn't immediately follow the long-skirt trend last year because she was afraid they would make women feel fat. This fall, she produced one that's fitted over the hips then flares out. "You want to feel like you can show off that you're small somewhere," says Ms. Lepore.

Skirt sales overall have been buoyant lately. For the six months ending in June, they were up 5.4%, vs. only 0.5% for pants, according to market researcher NPD.

Round-Toe Boots

After years of squeezing their feet into pointy-toed boots, women are getting some breathing room this fall, thanks to the return of the round toe. To see how well they're selling, just check eBay, where items sold out in stores can often be found at a markup. Bidding for the sold-out Chloé Paddington boots, which have a three-inch stacked heel, can get up to $1,350, 40% more than the retail price. Also on eBay: a slouchy Noreen boot by Coach with a starting price of $639.99 -- 30% above retail. These boots are sold out in Coach stores, but more are expected in by Thanksgiving. Equestrian boots made by Tod's, which are flat with a round toe ($745), are temporarily out of stock at some boutiques.

Stuart Weitzman's casual boots with stacked heels are selling better than dressier boots with pointy toes and spiked heels. The company three times has reordered its bronze "crushable" boot with a round toe and a 3¼-inch stacked heel ($480). "We are wondering what are we going to do next year to top this," says Mr. Weitzman.

Long Bulky Sweaters

Ponchos might not be selling, but long, thick, homespun-looking cardigans are. A $245 alpaca buttonless cardigan by Vince has been sold out since July at Bloomingdale's and Saks and are being reshipped, says Vince president Christopher LaPolice. Marc Jacobs says one of its best sellers is a charcoal-colored chunky striped sweater with an oversized collar; reorders just shipped to the company's boutiques after selling out earlier this month. Target carries a less-expensive style from Mossimo, on sale now for $22.99.

Part of the appeal of these sweaters is that they can do double duty as jackets in milder fall weather. Choose one proportional to your height; anything longer than midthigh will look as if you've walked out in your bathrobe.

Velvet Blazers

As part of a push for more luxurious material, makers threw velvet on everything from shoes to belts and handbags. It seems to have stuck on casual blazers. Cynthia Steffe's fitted black velvet blazers ($305) are about two-thirds sold out at Neiman Marcus, according to the designer. (Neiman Marcus says it does not comment on inventory levels.) At a lower price point is J. Crew's washed velvet blazer ($138), which the company says is one of its top-selling items this fall.

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I don't really agree with the writer. Some of the examples are really not good examples. What I've experienced so far is quite the opposite. Lots of nice clothes I've been waiting for are gone at full price.

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Yeah, I find I'm always having to do a bit of "fashion triage" when I'm out shopping. There are things that are so unique or desirable or limited in production that you just know they will never make it to sale season, and those you buy as soon as possible. Everything else can wait. But figuring out which is which can be a tough call sometimes.

And if you just wait on everything, you may save a lot of money on the things that are still on the racks, but you'll also have missed some of the best and most beautiful pieces of the season.

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Originally Posted by The Baron
Yeah, I find I'm always having to do a bit of "fashion triage" when I'm out shopping. There are things that are so unique or desirable or limited in production that you just know they will never make it to sale season, and those you buy as soon as possible. Everything else can wait. But figuring out which is which can be a tough call sometimes.

And if you just wait on everything, you may save a lot of money on the things that are still on the racks, but you'll also have missed some of the best and most beautiful pieces of the season.
I feel your existential angst :p

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It sounds like the writers' advice is for people who don't know/can't decide what they should wear and are only concerned with whether they are wearing the "in" thing.

I agree with Caffeine and Baron, if you know a piece has "got it", you'd best pick it up. The number of times I've seen something I bought when it hit the stores turn up later on sale is very low. And, I have definitely missed some great pieces due to indecision.

after all, it was you and me

Last edited by tangerine; 28-10-2005 at 04:20 PM.
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^me too.I've got lessons

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