Recession leads to a clothing change

Kate Betts, Time Style & Design editor


Kai Ryssdal: Although the power players in Washington and New York are still wearing business formal to the office, we got to looking around the other day and wondered whether there isn't a recession chic at play these days. You know, dressing down to reflect the economy. For some fashion help we've called Kate Betts. She's the editor of "Time Style & Design." And Kate, I need you to remind me where we've tracked you down?

KATE BETTS: You have tracked me down in Paris, France, where I am covering the Fall 2009 fashion shows, which start tomorrow morning.

Ryssdal: All right, so I probably never started an interview this way before, but what are you wearing?

BETTS: You don't want to know. As I said, the shows start tomorrow not today. I'm actually wearing jeans, which I'm embarrassed to admit.

Ryssdal: Well, that's exactly why we called. Because not only are you wearing jeans, I'm wearing jeans, my producer is wearing jeans, I mean we're all looking pretty ratty. We got to wondering whether it's just us or maybe the economy really is changing how we're looking.

BETTS: I believe very strongly that it's the exact opposite. And I call it recession dressing. It's time to really make an effort, you can just sink down into, you know, the depths and think about this gloom and doom. And fashion is something that, you know, traditionally is an escape for people, and I think no more so than right now, people will look to it as an escape.

Ryssdal: All right, but you guys are fashion professionals. What about the rest of us? I mean, you know, dressing nicely costs money.

BETTS: Well, it does cost money. But you know what, now more than ever I think there are more outlets where you can buy things at a great price -- "H and M," "Zara," "The Gap." I mean all these places have really good prices, and they have really fashionable clothing now and accessories. And you can get anything that is in fashion for a good price at this point.

Ryssdal: You know we've talked before, you and I, about how the high end is a driver for the economics of the low end. Does that still apply even in a recession?

BETTS: It totally does. You always need the high end in any kind of market to inspire the entire market. Whether its the jewelry market, fine jewelry, whether its the fashion and accessories business, in architecture, in home decor, in, you know, paint colors for wall coverings. Everything has to be inspired by a higher, more refined product that has higher-quality production.

Ryssdal: How do you translate that though when people are losing their jobs, they're trying to figure how to make the rent, and they have to choose between, you know, a $50 pair of jeans and a $200 pair of jeans?

BETTS: Well, I think the answer to that is obvious. People will either buy the $50 pair of jeans or they won't buy anything at all. The second option is the thing that has luxury executives really panicked is that the consumers basically close their pocket book. And when I was in Milan, I was kinda shocked to hear from a few luxury executives that there were certain stores in that city where on a Saturday, for example, and remember Italians are big consumers of fashion and luxury, they didn't even have one consumer, you know, push the door open to their boutique for the whole day.

Ryssdal: All right, so listen, since I got you and since you are a fashion expert, what do you to dress yourself up a little, but if you are at the lower end of the market, like, oh, I don't know, us?

BETTS: Well, I tell you, one thing I do feel very strongly about, and this is me waving the flag for the fashion business, but I do think that people who can and want to shop should shop. So I try to buy something not to just make myself feel better, but I feel like everybody has to contribute, and keep the business going. I mean we are all in business. There was a message on the runway about big shoulder pads coming back.

Ryssdal: Oh god, seriously, big shoulder pads?

BETTS: The defined shoulder they call it. Power suits. I think women are going to be wearing armor again. It is kinda like the 80s again. You do have to sort of feel stronger and more powerful somehow to beat this.

Ryssdal: Kate Betts. We tracked her down in Paris. She is the editor of "Time Style & Design." Kate thanks a lot.

BETTS: Thank you.

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