🖤 Donations of all sizes power our public service journalism Give Now

On the catwalk: Menswear for women

Marketplace Staff Feb 17, 2011

On the catwalk: Menswear for women

Marketplace Staff Feb 17, 2011


Kai Ryssdal: Every year around this time, I learn just a little bit more about women’s clothes. Let me explain. Fashion Week wraps up in New York City today. Designers and runway models all over the place. New looks as well. One of which was suits. On the women. Pinstripes, double-breasted blazers. You get the idea.

When we want to talk fashion we call Kate Betts, she keeps me out of trouble. Kate, good to have you with us again.

Kate Betts: Thanks for having me.

Ryssdal: Help me out with this “menswear on women” thing. First of all, and we’ll get to this in a minute, I’ve seen it before. But tell us what this looks like. Is it really just suits?

Betts: I think it’s a mix. I think we’re seeing some pantsuits and a more minimalist feeling in the tailoring. It’s not a literal translation, obviously, of menswear, but we are seeing a more structured return to suiting.

Ryssdal: The last time you and I talked actual fashion, it was colors, flowers, long skirts, dresses were big. I mean, make up your minds people, right?

Betts: Oh well, wait a minute. This is fashion, Kai. I mean, fashion always reacts to itself. It’s sort of the flip-flop thing — one season is an extreme floral print, feminine thing and then it always reacts against itself and goes in the exact opposite direction. Otherwise, we wouldn’t feel like we needed to find anything new every season, right?

Ryssdal: But we have seen this before, right? I’m going to date myself here, but you go back to “Annie Hall,” it’s like every 10 or 15 years, you get women wearing suits.

Betts: Yeah, I think there is always a general cycle from a more feminine, pretty, looser silhouette that gradually becomes something more structured and more menswear-inspired. And I think yes, we are going back in that direction. A lot of it has to do with the fact that minimalism is back and designers are cleansing the palette and showing plainer clothes. You know, less prints, more solid colors, and so that has something to do with it. But also, people buy tailored clothing, that’s what people invest in. They’re usually the more expensive pieces, and they’re usually the pieces that need to fit better and look better and more expensive fabrics. So, you know, the higher-end designers are sort of cashing in on that, I think.

Ryssdal: Well, so let me ask you a question on behalf of the beleaguered female American consumer: She sees this stuff on the runways, wants to be trendy and stylish and yet, it seems that every time she turns around, there’s something else that she needs to pick up on, based on what the fashion designers are saying. What’s she supposed to do?

Betts: Let me correct you, because I don’t think she’s beleaguered at all. First of all, there’s never been a time when there’s been no choice in terms of price points in fashion. When you look at the runways of Michael Kors and Oscar de la Renta, obviously those are the really high high-end, and some of those places are where the trends start. But everything trickles down to H&M to Zara to the Gap. You can buy almost any trend almost three to six weeks after you see it on the runway in these mass market retailers now.

Ryssdal: But I guess that’s my point, right? Because the speed at which fashion is moving means that shoppers — males and females — need to buy more to keep up. Or do I have that wrong?

Betts: They have to buy smarter, I guess. Yes, they do. And if they want to keep, I think also in an economy like this where everything is so uncertain, maybe the designers are offering something that’s a little bit more classical and lasting. So it’s more of an investment.

Ryssdal: Kate Betts, her new book about Michelle Obama and the power of her style is called “Everyday Icon.” Kate, thanks a lot.

Betts: Thank you.

Ryssdal: If you want to check out the menswear-for-women trend for yourself, our slideshow of styles comes straight from New York Fashion Week.

There’s a lot happening in the world.  Through it all, Marketplace is here for you. 

You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible. 

Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.