Where have the good shops gone?

sisty56 and I had a short e-mail exchange in which we mourned brands no longer available (in retail) like Ferre and Gigli. And yesterday I read that Filene's Basement have filed for bankruptcy, sunk by the economy and a two-year closing of the flagship Boston store due to renovations. (How dumb is that?)

I can name at least a dozen local designer boutiques and department stores where I once shopped, and
now they're gone, a never-ending contraction in what's available.

(For Torontonians: Harridges, The Irish Shop, Sportables, Debbie Kiwiets, Robin Kay, Clotheslines, Valery, Dorrit, Creed's, Alfred Sung, Deborah Kuchmé, Tequila Mockingbird, Marilyn Brooks, Bent Boys, Wayne Clark, Loucas, Liptons, Eatons, Pat McDonagh, Marie St-Pierre, Ira Berg.)

If you are over 50, you have probably seen a beloved store close. Retail is risky and there's a natural lifespan... but am I hallucinating?

What happened in the last 15 years?

Even adjusting for my larger size (14-16), the clothes are not there.
I'm deeply underserved by the current retail sector. I can see what I want in my mind's eye but I can't find it.

Who's left standing?

1. Department stores. Styles are unexciting, or the lone piece in my size is gone.

2. High-end brand-owned bo
utiques (Gucci, Escada, Boss, Vuitton), as uninterested in carrying my size as I am in paying their inflated prices.

3. Trendy shops for the mostly young, decidedly thin, short-skirted customer.
A 37 year old size 12-14 friend of mine was shooed out of Mendocino; the associate said, "We have nothing for you here."

4. Discounters. A spin through Winners, our Century 21, is as depressing as a visit to a locked ward.

What to do?

Online vendors
are some help; thank the sweater gods for J Crew. I try to cozy up to Talbot's but it's hardly a thrill.

Local specialty stores such as Holt Renfrew (like Ne
iman Marcus) sell exquisite clothes but in small sizes, and there are few of them. Eileen Fisher wilts on me. Boutique or vintage stores are hit and mostly miss.

Several friends are going the dressmaker route, motivated by fabric they bought while traveling; that may be my next stop.

Dreaming of dresses

Several months ago, I dreamed I was cycling in the countryside, and came upon a village. In the tiny town, I saw a shop window, and the window was dressed in perfect clothes for me, and strewn with delightful scarves, hats, jewelry. (Perhaps I was in France, the clothes were kind of 'sophisticated Amelie'.)

But everything was closed, so I cycled on, vowing to come back, thinking "I must remember where this is".

I took the dream literally: the perfect shop is not here. Can I find it? Does it exist outside the dream? And will they carry size 14?


Someone said…
There is a dearth, isn't there...size isn't my issue but there has been a huge flight to cheapness and mass culture. We've been Wal-Marted.

I was prompted, though, to note that Filene's Basement was killed far earlier than 2 years ago...I shopped there for nearly 30 years and saw the end times happen when someone got greedy; their markdown system that had worked for decades was reduced to limit the bargain benefit to the customer and then all kinds of new off-price crap was hustled in so that they were no more unique than a TJX franchise.

When FBs changed hands/restructured, the death throes began and I would walk past the store in Downtown Crossing, declining to bother and mourning the awesomeness that used to be. RIP FB's. :(
Frugal Scholar said…
I think we've been Gap-ified (ditto for Banana, Loft, etc). It used to be that all towns had their little shops. Getting a Gap at the local mall was a big deal. We liked it. Now there's nothing left but the chains.

The only plus side to it is that people who live outside the big cities can look as up-to-date as the city people. When I was younger, this was not the case.

Wow! Filenes Basement. My mother grew up in Boston and a tradition for our trips home from visits to relatives was a stop at Filenes Basement to buy "candy seconds" to eat en route.
Nancy (nanflan) said…
I think Someone is right--cheapness and mass culture. WalMarted, indeed! I do like the Internet though...
Duchesse said…
Someone: Last time I was in FB I learned that Jacqueline Kennedy had just died- one of those "you remember where you were" occasions". They had the quality and that sliding markdown system. Now there are those awful discount malls with inferior goods made the stores there.

Frugal: That's the great boon of online stores, too. You can live in the middle of nowhere and get a J Crew iridescent silk skirt.
Mardel said…
Too many stores have closed and too many brands that once were nice are gone or have been remodeled to appeal to a younger, thinner, trendier clientele. It is not just size, although that is a big part and before I lost weight it was night unto impossible, but attitude. As if grace and style and quality had all been hijacked.

I agree with Someone that it cheapness and the mass-market. The local stores with clothes selected by a good buyer with an eye are all gone, at least around here, and replaced by cookie-cutter sameness. No wonder retail is having problems, most of it is indistinguishable.

I would shop at a good local store, and there are pitfalls with online. I ordered a selection of new tees from JCrew and they were all huge, even though I ordered my regular size and other items in that size fit well. By the time they arrived the colors I wanted were sold out in a smaller size. Oh to be able to walk into a store and actually try the clothes on.
lagatta à montréal said…
I like touching and seeing clothes, and trying them on (fine arts background, and mum made beautiful clothes).

Moreover, I find online shopping a pain, especially since most of those online retailers are located in the US - why are there so few Canadian choices?

There used to be Eaton's and Simpsons as well as the Bay, and in the East End, Dupuis Frères. One small chain that does sometimes carry interesting quality clothing for adult women is Simons, which started out in Québec City and has opened locations in Montréal (the downtown store is in part of the former Simpsons). Although it is a bit too cheap-chic, I've found some good garments at H&M in Europe, but here, they only carry very small sizes - odd as in Europe their regular sizes go up to about 16-18 and some of the locations carry plus sizes. Here H&M seems to only target teens, certainly not the case in the original stores.

The odd thing is that this gap doesn't correspond to economic common sense, as boomer women have considerable assets as a cohort, despite the recent economic slump.

But Duchesse, there are always craft fairs. ;-)
CompassRose said…
Did you see this very sad article in the UK's Daily Mail?
Woman goes out once a year and splashes on a really hot designer dress. This year, she's put on weight, and all the dresses have magically disappeared.

I've seen the stores close, but since my available cash didn't allow for anything beyond mass-market clothing until maybe the last ten years, I don't feel it as harshly. I just notice the absence of clothing I want to wear!

I'm not sure whether that's my size, or my odd taste, or some combination of the two. But trendy is too skimpy for me (and would have been even when I was twenty, as I was never one of those sleek-limbed visions even in my so-called prime of youth) and "good" clothes seem to be so uniformly dowdy!

@lagatta à montréal - I don't like online shopping for the same reason. I need to touch things, feel the fabric (if it feels yucky on my skin, I won't wear it more than once no matter what it looks like) and check the construction to be sure it actually is worth the price. Plus, I'm funny-shaped.
CompassRose said…
Apropos of - well, not much - I don't know if you ever read Susie Bubble's blog, but she linked to this British designer, Fanny Karst (http://www.oldladiesrebellion.com/)
who makes clothing and dresses expressly for the over-50. Some of them are quite interesting. I am especially amused by the T-shirts in the 2008 collection saying "Not At Your Age", and the dresses embellished with scarves and single gloves.
materfamilias said…
Here in BC, as well as Eaton's, there used to be Woodward's which we lost long ago. Simpsons-Sears used to be credible at one time as did The Bay (which I tried the other day again, and still don't like -- overstuffed, understaffed).
For me, it's not as much size as fit, cut, quality. Oddly, this is why I sometimes overshop -- I'm so grateful to find! I'm very fortunate to have a local boutique that carries some European lines I like -- Sarah Pacini, Crea, Creenstone, Sandwich. They sometimes veer too Eileen Fisher-y, ladies-who-lunch-y for my lifestyle and thus end up hanging in the closet, but at least when I put them on I feel good. All-dressed-up-with-nowhere-to-go still beats this-skirt's-too-short-and-my-middle-looks-lumpy!!
And I justify my over-shopping by knowing that I'm supporting the kind of store I can't afford to lose.
materfamilias said…
I should also mention that Deb, who owns my local store, knows and appreciates her customers -- I often get urged to take something home (without paying) to see how I like it with my other clothes). Her staff are also women-of-a-certain-age and have their own fit challenges. Not surprisingly, she is weathering this economy very well having built a loyal customer base.
Duchesse said…
lagatta; I've had better luck at Ogilvy than Simon's, but never les Ailes. I remember some fine artisans along St-Denis, gone now, and a store that sold Japanese clothes on Montagne. I could blow through a paycheck in Montreal like nobody's business!

I miss Marks & Spencer for lingerie.

Compass Rose:
re the Tanya Gold article, she write the truth, "I am a successful writer - with a big bum - and down here on Bond Street they don't want my money." And did you see, 119 comments.

re Fanny Karst: I urge everyone to look at the site, interesting! wouldn't wear it all but great to see such a fresh approach.

Thank you for both!

materfamilias: There are a few boutiques here like the one you describe (remember our stop at Any Direct Flight?), but even those rare gems are carrying lower price points.
Leah said…
It seems that most mass-market retailers (and other designers that are reasonably priced) are designing for the youth market and for those who still want to dress like they are very young. Even retailers that many consider dowdy are cutting their dresses way above the knee (and everything is in bright Miami Beach colors). So people are often left with dressing in clothes that look too young or old lady clothes (cheap fabrics and lots of elastic). I also read the article that CompassRose mentions and the thing that stands out is how beautiful and chic the women look!

I think the tailor is the best option. Even though I don't have trouble finding clothing I like, I still take many things to the tailor. I also may start having dresses made from 50's and 60's dress patterns. Then I can have lady-like dresses but in more modern fabrics.
Duchesse said…
Leah: "50s and 60s dresses in modern fabrics" would be a pleasure! If you do, please comment and tell us about it!

I just asked a friend who was in the high-end boutique business for 30 years what he thought; he said "there is nothing to replace these stores" and said he thought the most beautiful clothes right now were from Max Mara.
diverchic said…
Marks & Sparks had great panties! Yeah, I miss Simpsons too although "The Room" still exists and you can get larger sizes sometimes.
Small stores in small towns often have great stuff and know their clients - frequently larger women. The Clan Shoppe in Brighton has a surprising good selection and jeans that fit! There is a great shop in Simcoe, Astles, where the buyer would remember me on his buying trips and would come back with treasures. I like small town shopping.
CompassRose said…
Marks & Spencer! That was my first "real" job in high school (the long-gone Rideau Street store)! Great underwear, and addictive prawn crisps.

119 comments on the Tanya Gold article, but I don't advise reading them - "if you're a size 16, then you're too fat and disgusting to even think of wearing designer wear; if you want the dresses, get off your arse, start running, and stop eating." Oh, Daily Fail, your readers never disappoint.

(Particularly considering that a 16 in the UK is, at best, a 14 in Canada. I do remember vividly, though, my first trip to London, when I was at my largest (about a 16 Canadian) and had a little cash for vacation money. Not a single store sold anything that came even near to fitting me - size 12 UK was the biggest most had, and "larges" were very much on the skimpy side. And so many women on the street wearing tight, bulging, unflattering clothing! I came home with a new suitcase full of books - well, I had to spend it on something!)
Lillian said…
Although I am not a larger person I've had trouble finding clothes that were classic, chic, quality, and affordable.

So I checked out the Vogue patterns. Wonderful! They have some of their old patterns (50's and 60's) available and the outfits are stunning!

I found a dressmaker - so now I need to go find the fabric I want!

Do try a dressmaker. Not on;y do you get to pick the exact pattern and fabric - it's actually fitted to you - not a dummy!
Duchesse said…
Lillian: I am going to check out those patterns. How did you find your dressmaker?

My last experience was a disaster, I wore the dress once. Let her talk me into the wrong fabric, a very expensive mistake.
Lia said…
In the states, Nordstrom does a fairly good job of offering age appropriate clothing that has some style. Also, I still shop other stores, but very judiciously...trying to find something suitable amongst the unsuitable (which for me is tough, since I find myself drawn to the fun clothes of youth). I have started to sew too. But finding interesting fabrics is as tough as finding the clothes.
Rebecca said…
I remember when I was a retail professional in my early 20s and it was already hard to find anything decent, not tarty and not matronly. Now it seems like the alternative is unimaginative, which is probably why my wardrobe seems boring - if not to me, at least to others who don't share my taste.

The problem, as I see it, with having your clothes tailored is where to find the fabrics. The offerings at our local fabric store are, if anything, WORSE than Walmart etc.

In my dreams, I have the skill to take the occasional pieces I find thrifting and remake them into something wearable.
SewingLibrarian said…
I'm so happy I can sew. There are lots of vintage patterns out there for resale, and some independent pattern designers keep the older but elegant woman in mind. As for fabric, there are good Internet resources, too. Many of the vendors will swatch fabric if you ask them. I don't want to mention names, as this is my first post here, but they do exist.
I miss the regional department stores here in the U.S. that Macy's/Federated gobbled up, especially Marshall Field's in Chicago. Macy's turned them all into cheap-looking stores full of cheap-looking clothes.
lagatta à montréal said…
Max Mara also has a "larger" line (which starts at about a Canadian size 12, if I recall), Marina Rinaldi. Exquisite, but very, very pricy.

Funny, I'd forgot about Ogilvy. They seemed to have gone all "boutiques within store", which I hate.

I miss Marks and Sparks very much - they actually make supportive bras in large cup sizes that don't look like a surgical garment. When they shut down in Canada - one of those weird "maximise profits" closings; the Montréal shop in any case turned a profit and was always packed - I found them again in Netherlands in France, but then they shut down their continental Europe business, and I haven't happened to go to the UK for many years.
Imogen Lamport said…
There are a few good boutiques in Melbourne that I love, they hold my size and have interesting, non-chain shop clothes.

So much of the rest of it is dull and badly made... it's sad when a great shop goes out of business.
sisty said…
There is a dearth....and it's true even in NYC, where I was not long ago. There are plenty of boutiques, but none where you would picture a long-standing relationship between customer and shopowner existing. Even the boutiques are geared toward very young women, IMO.

I live in Washington, DC, and I can't think of any independent store that has closed here. Department stores, yes -- Garfinkel's, Woodward & Lothrop, and, to a lesser extent, Hecht's, have all closed. The former two were full service stores where salespeople made a lifetime career of it, and knew their customers.

In DC we still have Saks-Jandel (which lays claim to being the original Saks family, and hence retains the name, though it has nothing to do with Saks Fifth Avenue). It's a high end store that carries designer lines but of course I don't shop there because it's too expensive.

I think the answer, at least for me, is consignment stores. I wait for the women who shop at Saks Jandel to turn in their Agnonas, YSLs, Akris, Rykiel, Armani etc. and buy it used. (I haven't bought all of these brands, but just to give you an idea of what turns up in the consignment stores here).

Here, Filene's basement still carries some items from Barney's NY, and I've managed to get several good deals, including shoes. Size is not a dealbreaker, but it is an issue, because there are very few things even in my size (10-12).

Remember Loehmann's? It used to be great, now mostly crap, but the other day they had some really great shoes, I was surprised.

But at this point, I would shop at a great local store -- if they catered to my age and sensibility. As a backup, I would definitely consider a dressmaker. I think that's definitely the way to go if you are so picky as to want, oh, say, SLEEVES on your dresses!!
Deja Pseu said…
I'm still upset over the closure of Gap's "Forth & Towne" stores. I haven't been truly excited about any retail offerings since. F&T was such a great concept: chic and sophisticated clothing for women over 35, in sizes 2-20 all on the same racks. The store was always *mobbed* when I visited, and women were *buying*. The quality and pricing was about the equivalent of Banana Republic. Yes, it was part of a big chain, but they never had many stores. I've never found anything like it before or since. The small boutiques in LA cater to the Young Things or Trophy Wife Wannabees. Other than Max Mara (which is out of my price range) there just aren't any retailers targeting a more sophisticated-yet-stylish clientele.

Lagatta beat me to it but I was going to suggest Marina Rinaldi. You might have some luck there, are most of their clothes seem to be designed for tall women. Their vibe is more Italian than Amelie, though.
sisty said…
Now that you mention Forth & Towne, there was another pretty good line, IIRC -- First Issue, by Liz Claiborne. Those were nice , stylish clothes that came in a full range of sizes. Remember/have any opinion on those?

Anyway, they're all gone, gone with the wind. And BTW, I did get a pair of Max Mara pants at that consignment store in DC -- they are navy wool sailor-type design, trim and high waisted, and I wear them ALL the time, more than any other pair of pants I own. So, so far, your friend is absolutely right.
Anonymous said…
I might have commented on this before, but in the late 70s and early 80s I worked in two of the best women's boutiques in Knoxville, TN. High quality, well made, classic clothes and accessories. I still have two of the Coach bags I bought back them (my mother almost fainted at her 19-year-old paying $55 for a bag, but now sees the difference between it and most of what you can purchase now). Now that I'm a grown-up and a professional and can actually afford the clothing I once sold, I mourn the passing of these shops every time I go to the mall and see the real lack of quality in women's clothing these days.

I would like to brush up on my sewing skills, but can't find a place to purchase quality fabric.
Anjela said…
I just bought the Eileen Fisher Tencil pants- They are amazing! I think a lot of her stuff can look frumpy but these are brilliant. You could wear them casual or dressed up. I also found a silk top in Large as I have breasts and it is super duper! The pants make me look at least 5 pounds thinner as they are really nicely made. 4198....not cheap but you put them on and can forget your clothes for the day!
Three stores have close din town. Yet one high end stor eis still going strong but as you say all the sizes are tiny! The one department store is all Lily and empire waists which look grest on little children but if you are curvey looks bizarre (if you can even get into it)
I am still very busy (though it is not making half of last year)so happy about the fact that people actually come in!!!- Seems everyone is coming to the store because the prices are right. The service is great and that's where a lot of stores have problems- their attitude in this recession has to change if they want to survive or to change their price points.
Really sad though to see stores close.
sisty said…
Newsflash! Against good advice from Compass Rose, I did read all the way into the comments on that Tonya Gold article, and a commenter there says the high-end stores actually DO carry larger sizes, or have them available, they just don't put them out -- you just have to insist! I don't know if it's true or not, but maybe worth a try?
lagatta à montréal said…
Ritsi is a shop in the upscale Mtl inburb Westmount - it used to be "Ritsi Plus" (but started at about size 12 Canadian) but now carries about 6-24. www.ritsiplus.com

Yes, of course it can be pricy. I'm a bottom-feeder and only shop at such places when they have sales, except perhaps for a perfect silk tee (where have THOSE gone, by the way?) The first time I shopped there the clerk or owner was not very nice to me - guess it was obvious I was not from Westmount - but I've returned since and they were very nice.

And yes, as you can see in the picture it is pretty along there and there is a lot of other shopping or window shopping nearby, including good-quality friperies and consignment shops. As well as beautiful Westmount Park with its antique conservatory.
diverchic said…
The nice factor is really an issue with some stores. I sometimes go into Holt Renfrew in my dog walking clothes, accompanied by my admittedly flashy boxer dog, and I get treated like a queen. Or maybe the dog is treated like a queen. At least at the make up counters. Lesser stores won't admit her.

Sorry, Duchesse, I 'm off topic.
Duchesse said…
lagatta: I have bought a number of Marina Rinaldi sale pieces over the years; they have a large shop here and I also shop at the Paris one, where plus starts at a US 10! So I sometimes wear their smallest size. A heavy black lace MR skirt was $600 and got it for $100. MR Sport line is edgier, and coats, same as Max Mara's, fabulous. Sweaters and shirts too long and boxy for me.
lagatta à montréal said…
I can't for the life of me figure out why Marina Rinaldi cuts its shirts and jackets so long and boxy. Very few Italian women are like that - more typically very curvy, with small shoulders and tending to heavy in boobs or bums when middle-aged weight accumulates. Could they be cutting for an American or Northern European clientele? (German, Dutch, Scandinavian). And while younger Italian women, like other Southern Europeans, are gaining height, middle-aged and older ladies are not typically very tall.

Such things would never fit me. I only have a knit top from MR, bought on sale when in Italy.

Yes, in Europe they say from (French) 42, which is a US size 10.
Chris said…
Years ago, I worked for a beautiful department store called Frederick and Nelson in Seattle. We closed during a bad economic time in the Pacific NW (early 90's)but looking back on the experience, it was just a sign of things to come in the industry.

It seems so silly for designers and retailers to ignore the clients who have the money. From a purely economic spoint of view, all those dollars/euros/francs/etc of sizes 10 and up are not getting spent.

Not many indie boutiques that cater to sizes 10 or up even in SF Bay Area. I depend on Ann Taylor, and yes, Banana Republic by defauly. Forth and Towne was a great store - how sad of Gap not to carry it through.
Anonymous said…
Fantastic discussion!

I am 51 and, shocker - I am not a CEO. My lips say "designer" but my wallet says "GAP." And I have absolutely no idea where to shop anymore.

I've practically lived at Ann Taylor for the last two years, simply because I'm too exhausted to keep looking and looking and looking. But lately ... Ann - it's not you, it's me ... I just need ... I don't know ... something else. I'm sorry. We can totally still be friends!

I don't even really need "fashion." I am perfectly happy in a pair of great fitting dark rinse bootcuts, a simple top, and a great jacket. But I would really love it if the jeans didn't cost $162. And if they actually covered my butt.

Did I mention that I'm not a CEO? Where are the clothes for the rest of us?
hollarback said…
I too read the Tonya Gold article, and it struck a cord with me as I live in Los Angeles, where a size 8 0r 10 is "fat". 10s do not exist in most of the boutiques. They ignore me if I happen to wander in, and I am not huge by any means (except in LA....) It is impossible to find anything that I like in my size, and the styles are just getting so silly I am not even sad about the lack of bigger sizes anymore.

My wardrobe is mainly Ann Taylor, Target, Banana Republic and J.Crew on occasion. I don't really want to shop in only these stores, but that is all there is.

The occasional Anthropologie sale keeps me going for quirky pieces so my wardrobe doesn't die of boredom.

But overall, the pickings are slim. Shopping is a chore now, and I come home empty handed most trips.
Duchesse said…
Anjela; EF can make beautiful simple pants, glad you found yours. Inseam always too short for me.

diverchic: Lula is the perfect accessory.

Chris: I'm not dissing Banana, but find the skirts too short. No Ann Taylor anywhere near where I live.

dollcannotfly and hollarback: Are you near good consignment stores? That MIGHT offer some alternatives.

I also watch pricey boutiques for sales, if only not to have the same BR sweater as half the office.

sisty: When I asked recently I was told they had reduced inventory due to the recession. Did have amazing success with one local designer who now makes an "XL" (not special order) because I asked her! And you can bet she gets my business.
Maggie said…
I share your frustrations. Clothes today are made for skinny young things who don't mind looking like a tart. When my 28 year old daughter has trouble finding things, I know it's bad. I shop mainly in Talbots, a bit in Chicos and Ann Taylor, and am generally not happy about my wardrobe.
Rita@Goldivas said…
I almost cried when I saw that Kohl's carries Dana Buchman now, and Walmart has Norma Kamali! Talk about a huge flight to cheapness!
Rita@Goldivas said…
I agree it's hard to find a good fabric store, most of them seem to specialize in artsy-crapsy stuff. But, check out Vogue Fabrics - http://www.voguefabricsstore.com/store/home.php?bid=14&partner=goldivas - they've been around for over 60 years, and have a great selection of designer fabrics.
hollarback said…
Yes, LA does have some great consignment stores and stores that sell wardrobe from TV/Film production - but you often run into the same size issues. Still very heavy on size 0-4, not so much 6 and up.

I agree about the shortness of Banana's skirts. It's kept me from a few purchases.
Duchesse said…
hollarback: There are tiny-size consignment shops like that here too (Toronto is a major film centre)! I bake cookies for my resale store owner, and she contacts me when anything large that's my style comes in.
s. said…
I don't even shop in Canada any more. When I go to the US, I buy a huge amount of clothes online and have them shipped to my hotel. I try them all on in the room, and send back all those items (usually about 80%) that don't fit/ I don't like.

Many online stores carry my size (14/ 16) that are not carried in the flesh-and-blood version of the same store. Eg. J Crew: I can find quite a bit of my size on their website but only the very rare item when I actually physically enter one of their shops.

And, I agree with your overall post. Where are the fun, sexy, interesting, well-made clothes for women? So much made-in-China crap...
Duchesse said…
Muriel Dombret of Clothes in Ottawa does twice-yearly trunk shows in Toronto, you might enjoy.

Beautiful, simple clothes.

Email: info@murieldombret.com

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