50+ women at the Arty Boutique

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 exa
ggerated 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.


Anonymous said…
I live in arty-boutique central--an East Coast college town--and you have the description spot-on. I drool over some of the scarves and shawls, but none of the clothes suit me. Plenty of women around here, however, especially faculty, live in Flax et al. The linen summer clothes seem to be particularly popular. I think that many wearers end up looking sloppy, rumpled, and as if the clothes are wearing them. Sheri
Susan B said…
I haven't yet found an Arty Boutique here in LA (aside from Eileen Fisher which has about a 1:25 hit-to-miss ratio). I'm learning to steer clear of volume which tends to swamp me, but sure like the idea of a pair of cool, wide linen pants for those 95F+ days we get around Sept/Oct.
Someone said…
I'm with Pseu on personally avoiding volume. Arty-clothes fabrics always attract me but they look a LOT better on taller, more angular ladies. As a petite hourglass with short-waisted bombshell proportions I really can't tweak my silhouette very safely. Just sayin'. They do look like fun for the statuesque though!
Rubiatonta said…
"Marion" has it right -- one arty piece (be it garment or accessory) per ensemble, especially when the non-arty parts are dark or neutral colors. Then they serve as a frame for the attention-getter. (Which, natch, should be drawing attention to a part of you that you want others to attend to.)

The other key is balancing volume - a loose, flowing jacket over a closer-fitting tank dress, for example. It makes the look a lot more wearable than just piling on the pieces. Think of it as a loving arranged marriage between strict and arty.

And yes, a thousand times yes, Duchesse -- some things are just too young!
I am in the camp of classic meets arty...and nothing swamplike that adds too much bulk.
We have an arty shop here and it does stock sack like generously cut clothing that looks fabulous on tall gals...it is always busy. Great for the occasional piece for my short bod and even better for exotic ethnic necklaces, bracelets and scarves...
I must say that Oska looks interesting!
If you can't have fun shopping then why do it eh?
I guess Kaliyana www.kaliyana.com would be an example of an Arty Boutique in Ottawa and Montréal. Some of us liked to find garments there, out of the ordinary and comfy, in nice fabrics. But there current, very architectural line only seems to suit tall, angular (not necessarily slim) figures, not me at all.

I only have a limited number of any wide, sweeping trousers or floor-length casual dresses, for the simple reason that I am an actual arty and ride my bicycle everywhere in the clement months. The exceptions are sometimes worn to suppers or openings (vernissages) where I'm taking the métro and strongly suspect we'll be having a few glasses of wine.

There are other "creative" clothes here that are a little more fitted or at least not as exuberant.

I'm mulling this because I really like such garments, but have a figure somewhat like "someone", though short-legged, not short-waisted.

Sheri, I think the profs want to look a bit lineny-rumpled. That fabric is expensive, but doesn't look "corporate". But I agree that it doesn't always work. What does?
mette said…
I have not visited many Arty Boutiques. Maybe we do have some, at least I see people wearing clothes, like the ones, you have on your blog today. Young people( some ), want to dress differently, some older ones too. I have not made up my mind yet. Of the pictures you showed, I like the Babette dress, but have never liked trousers/pants on me, and I don´t know why.
LPC said…
Palo Alto, CA, has had many of these over the years. I have no skill for Arty, nor can I wear the usual preferred tones in those stores of apricot and celadon.
Anonymous said…
Living in Germany we do not have this (chain?) Arty. But the cloths of these companies are widely available here, together with some Cocon Commerz and Praechig and such.I do not like the overly layered look too, but especially Oska makes wonderful Tunic-style thingies, which go over bottoms and thighs and camouflage what perhaps is not as good-looking as it was once... I really like the thin gauze-style linens you can find this year. Hopefully the weather will allow for really wearing these.
Anonymous said…
forgot to add http://www.privatsachen.com/ if you want to browse, go to the tab with "Privatsachen" on it - the styles and looks are sorted in years there. I could spend time there for hours...
Duchesse said…
Sheri: FLax linen is a boon if traveling in hot places; rumpled linen is its natural state. And I agree- things too large or too long look dowdy.

Pseu;Yes, like your EF jeans, they are useful for sticky weather.

Someone: one of the issues for your proportion is length, the skirts would be near floor length on you.

Rubiatona: "Loving arranged marriage" is so apt! Great advice re proportion, thanks.

hostess: Thanks for this tip for women looking for good accessories, even if they do not want the clothes.

lagatta: Kaliyana has a shop here favoured by women who tend to wear large sizes and like the 'flowing robes' effect. Again, it can look striking on the right woman though I do think one has to be above average height to wear it well.

metscan: Babette designs interesting and quite 'slim cut' clothes. They are not as artsy-craftsy as other brands. I will bet you have an Arty Boutique or two in Helsinki.

LPC: CA, natural habitat for the stuff, as well as its cousins, goddess and renaissance wear. Will now think of you every time I see celadon.
Vildy said…
I think you have it with that warning that classic and arty don't mix well. As individualistic as my wardrobe is, it always has a backbone of classic or traditional.

I do adore the proportions of the righthand Oska outfit - love those crazy pants. But at 5 feet tall, it's just not possible, even to a person as stubborn as I am.

I have a summer coat, in black sueded cloth with a portrait collar of laydown pleating, that reminds me of the blue artsy one shown. But I love mine because by some miracle I can cinch the waist sash tight and it all conspires to look as though I still had a waist.
Go figure, it's magic. I could get the same effect as in the photo if I wore it open and flopping around me. You can bet I wouldn't, though.

Lucky you being tall. I'll bet you get good use out of your topmost shelves, too! I can't even reach the back of my 2d tier of shelves without dragging over "my legs" (footstool).

The problem of being short is not just the length of things, because that can be changed. Even the extra volume can be adjusted. It's that the canvas is never big enough for a good effect.
Belle de Ville said…
I love these those but I agree with your commentor someone that it takes a woman with a tall willowy figure to look good arty boutique clothes.
I would though love to lounge around in the summer in these comfortable yet chic clothes.
CompassRose said…
I live within driving distance of St. Jacobs, Arty Boutique Central. I've been buying that stuff since I was twenty, though mostly in the black end of the linen spectrum.

Short, wide, layered and rumpled is I think my natural and preferred style. (And I love those ballooning pants. I've been thinking lately that I need something exactly like that. Maybe one of the pricier Arty Boutiques here carries Oska. If not, I'll have to make my own.)

@lagatta: I was kind of disappointed by Kaliyana in person. I love the pictures of their clothing, but it is VERY expensive, and doesn't seem to be much better made than its flowy cousins in the Asian import stores. I saw a woman at the Magnetic North festival swanning around in a pair of very wide pants with bizarrely draped sides (which I liked a lot), and then found they had a really slapdash elastic waistband when I went to try them on. I also wish they (or at least the Ottawa store) would branch out into the wackier Trippen shoes, instead of sticking with Arty Practical.
Duchesse said…
Garden Fairy: Arty is the type, not an actual noame (that I know of), and yes, your link to privataschen is that type. There are more in Eurpoe (lagenlook is one). I expect it is a genre that will grow along with the demographic.

Vildy: I think petite women look best in tailored clothes, even softly tailored, but not the eccentric proportions, because they look like the things just don't fit. Your coat sounds marvelous, and there are unusual pieces that just work as you said, like magic!

Belle: I've seen some queenly women- tall and strongly-built wear the heck out of these, the volumes can suit them. (I once sent a box of mine to a 6-foot friend and they suited her.)

Of course willowy looks good in so much.
Duchesse said…
Compass Rose: For you, I will out them, you can buy Oska at Motion, 106 Cumberland St Toronto.

I think Kaliyana's very pricey for the quality, but they do have sales.

Thanks too for pointing our there are various price points for this look. On the lower end hippie brands like Nothing Matches and the ethnic stores. I like Lilith and Rundholz' quality.
materfamilias said…
My favourite local boutique carries some of these lines altho'another local shop has the Artsy Boutique thing nailed down. I like the idea of many pieces but have to be wary of them in execution because I'm short enough to be easily overwhelmed and to look stumpy (not a style goal, I must say!). Admire it very much on more willowy or even taller, more statuesque women who accessorize boldly and look fabulously dramatic!
Duchesse said…
B/c I don't see only tall women in there, suspect there's a growing market for relaxed but not conservative styles, the same niche served by Chico's in the US but not as embellished. There will be a lot of 60+ women in the next 5-10 years looking for something. These designers (at varying levels of success) are vying to fill that market.
diverchic said…
These styles look great on you! You can carry it off with aplomb!
Frugal Scholar said…
Except for the plainer styles, I think the look is aging--especially when you get a group of women similarly attired. I've been seeing a lot of linen knit lately--expensive Eileen Fisher and some cheaper models in Garnet Hill. I may give it a try.

The people who started Flax all moved to Maui many years ago--they sold Flax very cheap at a flea market! The company has since been sold.
s. said…
I run screaming from the arty look. Not because it offends me on others but rather because I cannot figure out how to make it look anything but frumpy, asexual and untidy on me.
sanjeet said…
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Anonymous said…
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Anonymous said…
There is such a difference between "Arty" and "Craftsy" dressing!
Duchesse said…
Karen: My definition is: arty clothes are those with deliberately novel or eccentric design or details.

Craft implies that the item is hand made, either one of a kind, or in very limited production.

As an example, Flax is an arty brand but it is not craft. The classic handknit cardigan sold at a craft show is craft piece but not an arty style. The silksceen-printed dress with an asymmetical hem from the craft show is both arty and craft and best worn by women under 22.

There are more precise and intellectual distinctions between "art" and "craft" but for the purposes of buying clothes, this is it in a nutshell.

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