Do you have an Arty Boutique in your city? They sell lines like Rundholz, Oska, Cynthia Ashby, Lilith, Crea Concept, Flax, Babette. (Shown, Crea Concept dress, Spring '10.)
This niche provides 50+ women more forgiving cuts, with detail supplied by asymmetry, layers, deliberate volume and exaggerated or tweaked silhouettes. Those with extra weight hope that we look 'interesting' rather than camouflaged. Other clients are our slender sisters who enjoy
the look and women seeking more-covered styles to meet cultural norms.
You won't find twin-set preppy or stop-traffic sultry. No denim, no cables, few bold patterns. You will find natural fabrics, longer skirts, wider-legged pants and lots of pockets–remember those?
I visit the shop occasionally, with mixed results. Sometimes it's disappointing: too much getup-y garb sold at high prices. But the simpler stock can work well for me.
On a sunny warm afternoon last week, Arty Boutique was swarmed with 50+ women, including three acquaintances, all buying busily. No wonder: We can get sizes, and are offered options to our dependable 'uniforms'. (Shown, Babette dress and jacket.)
"Lola", very round and petite, was headed to her Caribbean vacation home. A 20-something sales associate was hard-selling the wrong clothes. In a voluminous dress with a heavy appliqued design at the hem, Lola looked like an overstuffed armchair covered by a dropcloth.
Much better for Lola's figure and the island heat: a body-skimming linen Flax Surprise Dress worn over the Fundamental Pant, shown. Because the store carries the line in Petite, the proportion would be right. That associate will overdress any women willing to let her pile vest over dress over pants. The result: overwheming, ill-fitting eccentricity.
"Marion" has a model's tall, rangy figure and a discerning eye. She bought this coral Oska linen jacket in a fairly close fit.
Marion wore a below-knee-length black knit pencil skirt with a softly twisted hem (Lilith) and semi-sheer slate blue cardigan.
She believes that one piece of arty per ensemble is enough, and prefers the unembellished pieces. She gave me hope that arty could work for me.
Oska is the 'strict' side of arty, see more of the spring line here.
I found the ease of Oska's fine cotton wide-leg pants, far left, perfect for working at a desk. Their linen-knit Hattie jacket, left, worn with Fiora linen pants would make a relaxed travel outfit. (Knit linen–a sublime textile.)
"Martha" had just bought a plastic bib necklace of large beads in Easter-egg colours. (I don't think plastics work well with arty, except for high end resins.) She was urged to buy thin-rainbow-striped arm warmers. Martha asked what I thought and I whispered, Young. Why hide behind false tact? If you're wearing trifocals, think long and hard about rainbow-striped anything. I caught the laser death glare from the associate, but am unrepentant.
Shopping in a parallel universe
If you enter the Arty Boutique in jeans and a crisp, classic shirt, your sense of proportion will be skewed. Your classic clothes will look nothing like what you're trying on, and when everything looks different, you can lose clarity. Take off everything before trying that skirt. The classic and arty live better together in decor than they do on a body.
If these tweaked proportions please you, buy the standout piece and think about what you already own. Your simple white boat-neck tee will look fine with those bulged-leg pants, but your French-cuffed striped shirt will not. Your linen muffler, yes, your printed silk carré, no.
You don't have make your closet an arty party, but you will need enough compatible clothing and accessories to wear it coherently.
A quilted barn jacket– the same jacket you love with your jeans– will jar. Oska's Casual Summer Coat with large collar is in the right register.
I am not as negative about the shop as an image consultant who remarked, "The last thing arty clothes make a woman look like is an artist."
Arty Boutique can yield quiet, refined, versatile clothes that lend a particular individuality. The key is to avoid the self-consciously exaggerated and over-designed, and to select for simplicity and fit. (Shown, blouse and pants by Lilith.)
I bought the wide-legged pants and a calm, well-cut white shirt, then fled.