Retail sales in women’s fashion have been sluggish for a couple of years. Even the mom stalwarts like J.Crew, Ann Taylor and Banana Republic have been seriously struggling and I know why. Don’t blame internet commerce giant Amazon or outdated malls that no one wants to go to anymore. Instead retailers need to blame their clothes.
This isn’t me being grumpy because I can’t wear a “toothpick jean in chimney wash.” And by wear I mean the jean wouldn’t go above my mid calf. And just in case you’re thinking, “What in the world is chimney wash?” the best I can figure out is it’s fashion lingo for slacks made out of scraps of denim. (Yeah, I could have said pants, but in an homage to my mother, I went with slacks.)
Lest you think my not-exactly-slender body is to blame, please note that last year Banana Republic confirmed it made a blazer that women couldn’t fit their arms into. Yes, you read that correctly. They were selling an item of clothing that was unwearable unless you had arms the width of an American Girl doll. Surprise, surprise, the blazer and Banana Republic’s sales tanked.
This spring as I peruse the offerings at women’s clothing stores, I’m mystified at a lot of the clothing designs — especially the tops. My personal fashion nemesis is the bell sleeve.
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Who in their right mind wants to wear a blouse in the summer with sleeves so huge they could do double duty as sails on a clipper ship? Are we landed gentry from the 1850s with nary a thing to do except pass the time by sipping tea on the veranda while fanning ourselves with our huge sleeves?
I will concede that the bell sleeve with it’s extraneous fabric does come in handy for nose wiping, cleaning up spills (but, alas, so do paper towels) and drying your tears from the pain caused when the sleeve the size of a beach towel gets stuck in your car door.
Another fashion design that has me shaking my head are off-the-shoulder tops. They are everywhere this spring, and from chambray to silk, you name it. It’s a shoulder blade free-for-all. My issue with the off-the-shoulder top is multifaceted.
1) It’s being marketed as work attire.
2) The design of the top mandates you go bra free.
3) Because of No. 3, you can’t move in the top.
OK, correction: You can move, but your upper body range of motion is limited — as in, good luck raising your arms. If you dare to throw caution to the wind and, I don’t know, wave hello to someone, it’s brace for a wardrobe malfunction. To avoid that worst-case scenario you spend most of your time in the top yanking on the elastic to ensure it doesn’t stray into the unmentionable zone.
Then there’s the Frankenstein of tops — the “cold shoulder.” (Literally that’s the design name.) Think off the shoulder with long bell sleeves that feature gaping holes, sorry cutouts, to reveal your upper arm. The blouse looks like Edward Scissorhands took a turn at designing. It would be more flattering to just stay in your pajamas.
Now, I know I’m no fashionista, but mark my words: Come July there will be oodles of clearance racks jammed with these blouses (and chimney-washed toothpick jeans). Meanwhile, women’s clothing retailers will bemoan their lackluster sales when what they really need to be doing is thinking about designing clothes that don’t look like something a serving wench would wear after getting into a sword fight with two out of the Three Musketeers.
The whole thing makes me want to take a bell sleeve and slap someone with it.
Reach Sherry Kuehl at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Facebook at Snarky in the Suburbs, on Twitter at @snarkynsuburbs and snarkyinthesuburbs.com.