Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Design Lessons from a Pro

A fashion article in the Washington Post yesterday caught my attention. Yes, that's right--the Post. Now, having lived in DC, I can vouch for the fact that the region isn't exactly at the centre of the fashion forward universe. It has a pretty boring  conservative attitude toward dress, at least compared to a lot of other places. So, the story about Nina McLemore's jackets was interesting.
Ms McLemore has discovered a niche market--powerful women over 40, including Hilary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren, Gwen Ifil, and Janet Yellen--who want practical, good fitting clothes that send the right message of authority. While McLemore's jackets aren't the sort of style I would wear, I admire her approach which involves:
1. A fit that works for real over-40 women. That means narrower shoulders, wide backs, waist shaping, extra width in the hips, and collars that can be turned up or worn down. There's a lesson here for knit designers, one that you will notice in my own work. All of us want to look long and lean, and these shapes help.
2. Sleeves that are meant to be worn turned up. Not only does this convey the message that these women are ready to get down to work, but it's also a bit more casual and less starchily formal than a classic suit. At the same time, it means that the jackets can be worn off the rack, without the fuss and time involved in having alterations done.
3. Fabrics that are both comfortable and easy care. They are meant to travel well. Enough said.
4. A price point that is well below that of typical international designers. Now, I'm not saying that these jackets, which go for US$700-800 are super affordable, but they are in a price range that executives and women in the higher echelons of the public sphere can afford, without the charge that they are living in the fantasy world of couturier design.
I also like the bright, clear colours of the jackets. If you visit McLemore's website, notice how they are meant to go with her "essentials", pieces like black skinny pants and skirts and white blouses. I, too, ascribe to this sort of dressing, even if I prefer pieces with a bit more ease and flow.
Lots of lessons here for all of us.


  1. I appreciate this designer's look for powerful women. I also think these details work for all of us in the "over 50" group. My favorite white shirt has turned back cuffs. I always feel "ready" when I wear it...for what I'm not sure but anyway, ready. Collar stands so we can "pop" a collar are a great look - even with a flow-y cardigan. I'm hopeful that Hilary's pantsuits are a thing of the past. Great post!

  2. Thanks for the reference. I admit to admiring Gwen Ifil's clothing and wondering about Hillary's. I also appreciate the note to knitters to consider the same principles when designing for hand-knitting.