Are Fashion Experts Out Of Touch With Middle America?

OK, sure, I think we all know what the resounding answer is. But how out of touch are they? New York Times Fashion & Style writer Cintra Wilson has been catching an internet’s worth of flack lately regarding an article she penned about the new J.C. Penney store, which has just opened in midtown Manhattan. Now, anyone who’s ever tentatively stepped a Lanvin-clad flat a few miles outside of New York City knows that a J.C. Penney store opening is nothing to write home about, but, apparently, it’s a big huge deal in a town filled with Pradas and Chanels and Louis Vuittons. Not surprisingly, Wilson found little to like about the store, which she referred to as a “dowdy Middle American entity.” When she couldn’t find anything in her size, which is “2,” she delivered a shocker.

“[J.C. Penney] has made a point of providing clothing for people of all sizes (a strategy, company officials have said, to snatch business from nearby Macy’s). To this end, it has the most obese mannequins I have ever seen. They probably need special insulin-based epoxy injections just to make their limbs stay on. It’s like a headless wax museum devoted entirely to the cast of ‘Roseanne’.”

Zing!

I’m sure Wilson was proud of her snark-arific prose, but, after receiving a slew of hate mail, she repented by popping up a not-so-sorry apology on her blog, which was quickly taken down and replaced by a somewhat more heartfelt posting.

“I very much regret that my JC Penney article in the Times caused any wounded feelings whatsoever, particularly to people who already feel they take more than their share of abuse from our very shallow and ridiculous society.”

So, there you have it. While people are still shocked, hurt, upset and so not buying her retraction, I’m not surprised. I love many of the creative, intelligent, and thoughtful people I’ve met in the fashion industry, but for every good egg I’ve met plenty of magazine editors who have a ridiculous amount of trouble even imagining for a second that their readers can’t afford $500 skirts. “But that’s cheap!” is a familiar refrain. Then there are photographers who call 100-pound, 15-year-old girls “too fat” to be snap-worthy. It’s the classic mean girls (and guys!) insecurity thing. You have to call out other people’s shortcomings to distract them from paying attention to your own. Part of fashion is aspiration and fantasy, and there’s always room for the inspiring, but there’s got to be a balance.

Besides the fact that ignorant newspaper articles condemning mainstream department stores and their shoppers for not being cool enough offends people, the folks who work in fashion need to get real if they actually want to keep their jobs. If the current financially-failing fashion industry wants to make nice and ingratiate itself to the public, and, as evidenced by events like Fashion’s Night Out, they desperately want to, the major players have got to push snobbery aside and start realizing that the majority of their patrons aren’t size 2 and, yes, shop at J.C. Penney. [NY Times and CintraWilson.com]

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