Designing Clothes for The Masses: You and Me

10391860_1049961338411626_6398397175556632961_nMy family is a multiracial one. I’m a White, Jewish man. My wife is a Black woman who converted to Judaism. Our four-and-a-half-year-old son is Biracial.

In addition to being a multiracial family, we are an artistic family. I’m a comic and writer, my wife is a fashion designer, and our son is a craftsman when it comes to drawing on the playground blacktop with chalk (he’s also quite the “artiste” when it comes to negotiating bedtime, but that’s another matter entirely).

Putting aside the merits of our son’s and my artistic abilities, I will say that my wife is a gifted fashion designer. However, before you start looking for her work on the runway in Milan, you should know that she works within the so-called “mass market” (think Walmart, Kmart, Target, Kohl’s, etc).

Designing fashion for the masses is not nearly so easy as it seems. First of all, the word “fashion” suggests high prices, and in today’s world most people can’t afford any kind of prices, high or otherwise.

Second, fashion has become somewhat synonymous with the concept of impracticality. Most times, when you see an outfit on the runway or in a private fashion collection, it’s not something you will ever see someone wear at the office. For example, when’s the last time you saw someone stroll into the 10:30 meeting wearing a nipple-revealing, brocade mini-dress with military epaulets?

Third, and, perhaps most importantly, most people wouldn’t know fashion, if fashion was a guy who walked up to them, said “hey, my name is ‘Fashion’” and then punched them in the face.

So, the question is: how do you design fashion for people who can’t afford fashion, don’t have a need for it, and don’t know what it is?

Now you have a sense why designing “fashion” for the mass market is so challenging and requires true artisty (that and the fact that large retailers have squeezed every dollar of profit out of the designers and manufacturers).

In other words, being a fashion designer for the mass market requires creativity and an ability to think about the twin needs of form AND function, all at a price that mere mortals can afford. In other words, how can you make a t-shirt seem cool, without causing it to be so laden-down with accessories that the price skyrockets to $50 or more per shirt.

Fortunately, my wife is very much up the challenge. Indeed, she has come up with several cardinal principles for how to do this (well, she would have if I bothered to ask her, but she’s busy right now, and I’m afraid to interrupt her).

  1. Give the people what they want.
  2. The people have no idea what they want, so give them what you want
  3. Anytime you deviate from the basic, original, standard jeans pattern, understand that your design has a shelf-life (see, e.g., bell-bottoms, acid-wash jeans, mom-jeans)
  4. As everyone knows, horizontal stripes make people look fat; however, what some people don’t seem to understand is that being fat makes you look fat too.
  5. Dressing like your favorite movie star or celebrity makes no sense. You don’t look like them, so dressing just accentuates how divergent your looks are from theirs.
  6. You can never be too dressed for any occasion. That said, there’s no excuse for wearing a tux jacket with Chuck Taylors unless you’re a billionaire who doesn’t have to listen to anyone.
  7. Calling a fabric “distressed” is not a clever way to hide that it has stains and needs to be washed.
  8. You cannot disguise the crap in the back of your closet by calling it “vintage.”
  9. Leaving the fly of your pants undone is not and never will be an “ironic statement”
  10. When dressing “business casual” remember that the emphasis should be on the “business” not the “casual”

And, last, but not least, remember that no one ever lost points for wearing clean clothes.

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Published on: April 28, 2016

Filed Under: Non-Fiction/Memoir, Painting, Photography & Graphic Design

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