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Spring 2009 – An Analysis

Written by Mr. WellCultured, Monday, February 16th, 2009 in Fashion, Seasonal Fashion

Spring 2009 is a pretty big year for fashion- with design becoming more prevalent than ever and the economy forcing designers to think practical, some really interesting changes have been made- but some companies refuse to change. With no further adieu, with the assistance of our female contributor Alexandra, I’m going to dig in and give you my personal opinions on these new trends- and what to buy this season.


The Upper Tier

J.Crew seems to be creeping toward a strange Ralph Lauren-style dichotomy – a huge gap between an absolutely outstanding suiting section and a somewhat mediocre preppy section. J.Crew is experimenting more and more with seersucker, twill, and similar fabrics, leaving a lot of their casualwear looking very light and airy- but admittedly with a somewhat slack feeling. Of course, true to the J.Crew name, everything is of excellent quality, so if one were to experiment with these styles you can’t go wrong- but I can’t shake the impression that everything is just a little TOO bland and, outside of the materials, the cuts are a bit too simplistic. Don’t get me wrong, though- the J.Crew offering in the formal department (from their suits to their dress shirts) is absolutely phenomenal.

A Girl’s Opinion: J. Crew has found a system that works well for them: closet staples with small bursts of flare. If bought in large amounts, J Crew clothing can easily seem overpriced; however, if you buy wardrobe essentials and maybe have the occasional splurge on something new and different, it’s much easier to handle. This season’s new additions are no exceptions.

Express is an emerging like that I’m beginning to love more and more, particularly for their great collection of well tailored dress shirts, ties, accessories, and about everything in between. Unfortunately, much like J.Crew, their casualwear feels awkward and misplaced- but unlike J.Crew, it’s not about cut, but about overstyling. Express t-shirts and, in some cases, pants/coats are incredibly overstyled and come off as flamboyant(ly gay), to the point where much of it is unwearable on a heterosexual male. Nonetheless, given recent sales that have gone after Christmas, you may not find a better place to find great dress pants, casual/semi-formal dress shirts, and accessories.

A Girl’s Opinion: I was rather underwhelmed by Express. They normally have nice clothes in a good selection of colors, but their new pieces seemed a bit tacky and rushed. Not to mention how they seemed to spend more time choosing how much t-shirt their graphics would cover instead of adding more suit pieces.

Topman has some seriously interesting styles, but unfortunately some of them are getting close to American Apparel in level of bland-hipster-ish-ness. However, I will say, for those who fit the style, Topman has some very interesting selections in terms of casual (i.e. very casual, almost western style) shirts and cardigans, which will be a great (and very cheap) asset to anyone in the UK who could use a quick style boost of that nature. And, much like the other two names, Topman carries some very interesting and classic suiting- but I can’t personally vouch for the quality.

A Girl’s Opinion: Their new pieces are as trashy as the PlayBoy t-shirts they sell.

The Trend Tier

Forever 21 (seemingly running under the label Heritage1981 for men) is at least trying in some respects, with some truly interesting (and some truly absolutely atrocious) styles that are all over the place. On first glance, Forever 21 is a Urban Outfitters-like hipster joint, but some of the staples seem usable- if one kept from going overboard. Tread incredibly carefully- don’t get lost in this season’s ocean of keffiehs and graphic tees.

A Girl’s Opinion: Is it possible to have good quality clothing at affordable prices? Absolutely. But you won’t be finding that at F21. Keep your expectations low and you won’t be let down.

American Apparel continues to try to harass me by attempting to be a legitimate clothier. Nothing in American Apparel is really that stylish or interesting- a lot of it is recycled hipster garbage. Sure, I fully support you buying maybe a t-shirt for an undershirt or a cheap scarf or something, but every attempt American Apparel makes to be a legitimate clothier is every step it makes towards being an absolute farce. It feels somewhat “me-too”-ish for them to suddenly be picking up on wool coats- almost one month before Winter ends. Needless to say, this brand is ridiculous.

A Girl’s Opinion: AA makes great basics and should stick with them. In fact, after reviewing their new styles, I think they should just make plain t-shirts and nothing else; the new styles are unoriginal and pretentious. Also? The models are creeping me out with their excessively hairy inner-thighs. Trim that shit.

The Gap Tier

Banana Republic I simply adore. While overpriced and obviously somewhat bland in some respects, the Banana Republic line (particularly Banana Republic Monogram, which I have covered before) is full of phenomenal choices in casualwear and suiting- and they just get it “right” in my mind. While somewhat formal in comparison to most stores, BR is clearly trying to innovate (including, strangely enough, trying to bring back tennis sweaters) in a way that makes me still love them to death. More recently, BR is attempting to pair classic tones (light/dark greys, off whites, etc) with bright eye-shocking colors like green and orange- and I’m actually liking it.

A Girl’s Opinion: I was pleased to see the diversity within the colors chosen for this season’s new pieces. The prices seem a little steep, but, similar to J. Crew, the quality is excellent, making BR a wonderful place for key pieces.

Gap has some interesting styles, but unfortunately after a quick browse through their wares, I’m getting a shade bit turned off to their style- and it’s all because of the quality. While some of their absolute basics (their jeans, shirts, possibly their sweaters) are fairly well made, some of their more upper end items (coats and blazers come to mind) feel a bit cheap. By all means, this is not to say you can’t go wrong- the new stuff just doesn’t feel very solid. As for new styles, I really haven’t noticed any- except for some madras shirts, everything is essentially the same as last year- so more of the decent-but-not-wonderful.

A Girl’s Opinion: The colors were the high point for the new pieces. Nothing was very interesting, and nothing seemed to be essential to have for spring.

Old Navy should not be entered unless you absolutely must, and if you do find something you like there, I would be incredibly wary of paying too much for it- more and more, Old Navy is feeling like a recycling bin for 3 year old fashion with smatterings of the new stuff thrown in at safe levels. It’s made for lower tier shoppers- namely, cheap soccer moms. Not fashionable.

A Girl’s Opinion: When did Old Navy decide to jack their prices while still keeping the same poor quality? I’m unimpressed with them and their weak attempts to salvage any sort of reputation in fashion. Truly hideous work.

The Designer Tier

Perry Ellis is best described as really expensive for no discernible reason. It feels FAR more expensive than it needs to be, especially for some of the more stereotypically cheap stuff. Nonetheless, as always, the accessories and suiting are interesting- but still, be wary of the pricing.

A Girl’s Opinion: Simple, clean and ordinary. Not a bad choice, but definitely no must-haves. However, their ties are rather fabulous and incorporate some colors you rarely see men wearing. Flawless execution.

Polo Ralph Lauren is doing what the brand always does- continuing to make preppier and preppier stuff, extending the limits of what people would actually wear. As always, there are some clearly amazing things in the new arrival lineup and some things I’d certainly see as good purchases, but good LORD are there some wild patterns/styles. Frankly, some of the colors available now are so ridiculous no-one with any sense of fashion would wear them- but simultaneously, some things could be worked with. Travel carefully, as always.

A Girl’s Opinion: Madras shorts are making a comeback this season, and PRL has done a great job with them. Apart from the shorts, I must say I’m quite impressed with the new styles; the color palette is absolutely divine this season. PRL won’t let you down, even if it means your wallet hurts.

Armani Exchange shows some promise (predominantly stuff no doubt inspired by the Armani label), but everything else is, unfortunately, like every other year, overdone overpriced trash. Like Polo Ralph Lauren, some of the styles show forms of promise and I would certainly purchase them myself, but on the whole, the A|X label seems to be a lot of ridiculous crap- the kind of stuff that one would have to spend a lot of money on to justify wearing. It seems like a lot of A|X is flashing the label anyway.

A Girl’s Opinion: Armani makes excellent jeans for men, and the washes for this season are quite flattering. Their jackets display an edgier vibe than found in the other brands mentioned, but the sweaters and swimwear (good god, put away the briefs) make this a destination only for the strongest of men. Or, Europeans

The Beach Tier

Abercrombie and Fitch is, as expected, doing absolutely nothing original sans a few small changes to justify having a new line. Of note, the only thing that really seems incredibly new is the use of contrast collars for their oxford shirts, which seem somewhat awkward and, as usual, seem to be more about the label than the actual clothing. As usual, stay far, far away.

A Girl’s Opinion: I’m struggling to find contrast between this season’s line and any other season’s. In fact, I’m finding it hard to find many differences, apart from pricing, between all of Abercrombie’s labels. Even their fragrances are eerily similar.

Hollister, which is owned by the same company as Abercrombie and Fitch, is naturally doing nothing new much like it’s older (and more racy) brother. In fact, Hollister is doing nothing new- only the most extreme initiates would be able to differentiate what they did this season from what they did three years ago.

A Girl’s Opinion: Don’t waste your time, there’s nothing great here. The plaid shorts are nice, but that’s about it.

Ruehl No.925 has fundamentally done nothing new or interesting, but for posterity, I’ll include them. Ruehl No.925, being yet another Abercrombie and Fitch brand, lovingly features the exact same crap (the same distressed look) that both Abercrombie and Fitch, Hollister, and even American Eagle are trying to pull off. Obviously, avoid.

A Girl’s Opinion: Unoriginal, overpriced and tasteless. No surprises here.

American Eagle is really just scaling back it’s line to summer- taking away the (somewhat interesting but still somewhat ugly) wool peacoats and replacing them with graphic tees, western style oxfords, and board shorts. Naturally, none of this is really interesting or that different from last year, and obviously none of it is really stylish.

A Girl’s Opinion: AE now seems to offer old man night shirts and way too many boring graphic t-shirts. I do enjoy the cut of their jackets, though.

mall_tier

Nautica has yet to break out of their obsession with blue and white, though they do show some promise with some styles- but promise as in “other colors”, not “stuff I should buy”. Nautica continues to be a kind of sub-Polo Ralph Lauren golf brand, the kind of brand that keeps trying but utterly fails at being anything but a flash in the pan of good style. Leave this brand to old men.

A Girl’s Opinion: If you’ve ever liked something Nautica has put out, their new items won’t let you down; they all look the same. They’ve done essentially the same thing year after year after year.

Eddie Bauer is, at this point, exactly like Nautica in that it is best left to older men. While it certainly has the “rough mountain man” style down, it nonetheless fails at having anything of any stylistic note- and, more importantly, it fails at providing very good cuts for much of it’s casual wear. That being said, Eddie Bauer is a great place to buy legitimately functional clothing- like, stuff to go hike and bike and trek in- but when it comes to looking damn good, Eddie Bauer is best left to older men with teenaged children.

A Girl’s Opinion: It’s nothing special but the quality is great. Definitely a safe choice for the outdoorsy adventurer.

Lands End is the comfortable, reliable sort of brand that rarely changes itself around and stays pretty bland all year round- it’s got solid stuff for families that will hold up, but it’s unassuming to the point where it really doesn’t do much for anyone other than hide nakedness. I like the brand, don’t get me wrong- it just isn’t “fashion”, it’s “function”. And that’s where it should stay.

A Girl’s Opinion: Two words: duck pants. I cannot express how wonderful these pants are. In my opinion, they’re the only good thing about Lands End.


Conclusions

Unfortunately, what we were hoping to be a season of a lot of innovation has become soemthing of a season of stagnation for many designers- but that doesn’t doom the entire industry. Some specific groups, particularly Banana Republic and J.Crew, are beginning to really come forth in the ready-to-wear market and make niches for themselves where huge holes are left- and this is the time to begin to buy. The new conservative looks promoted by these companies is perfect, and a surefire buy for this season.

Of course, thanks to Alexandra for providing a great second opinion on this season’s analysis, and thanks to your constant support via comments and the forums that help make these analyses easy!

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10 Responses to Spring 2009 – An Analysis

  1. Yum22Yum23 says:

    I’m not quite fond of the layout of this article, it makes it look like the woman’s opinion is just an accessory, while most men will dress good so they can date woman, hence it should be more important, a simple idea would be to make some sort od diptical table, with, for each retailer, on one side the opinion of one of the two of you, and on the other side, the other’s. it’d be easier to compare opinions and probably to read too.

    On a sidenote, due to the current state of my wardrobe (hear packed full despite quite a lot of things having been taken out), I’ve tried to modify some of my clothes, it beats going to a store and buying more in my case, I’ve “tailored” a couple of shirts (hear take out on the sides to give it a snuggier look and feel), and it is quite an improvement.

  2. RepeatDisc says:

    I really enjoyed this article. Reminded me to get ready to fill out my closet for spring. Definitely enjoyed having two ‘authors’.

  3. Yum22Yum23 says:

    Also, I have to say that it is only expected from a brand that claims to come from the nautical world to use blue and white, as they are the main colours in most marine attire beside flashy storm coats and pants that are yellow/red.

  4. Noelle says:

    I liked this article a lot. It is definitely most helpful 🙂

  5. Asa says:

    Great info on where to get stuff. I can’t wait to find more on “what stuff to get”. By now, we know Kirk is sold on Banana Republic, and that’s cool. But some visual aids (as in previous articles) are defenitely a plus for the fashionably challenged — like me.

    Thanks. Keep it up!

  6. Coutureducator says:

    First of all, I just want to point out that the brands under “Designer Tier” are not actual designer labels. Polo Ralph Lauren and Armani Exchange are all commercialized sub brands of the original label. The Ralph Lauren, Giorgio Armani and Emporio Armani lines featured in catwalks are completely different than mandras shorts and jeans. Express and J Crew are hardly considered “Top Tier” in fashion, and whoever thinks Forever21 accurately portrays the trend today is in no place to give others styling advice.

  7. philipwithoneL says:

    Would have liked it if you focused less on brands and more on what kind of clothes to buy. But still a good article.

  8. McGrace says:

    I like the side commentary, would be interesting if you had a few people commenting as well as the main article

  9. Asa says:

    OK, sorry to come down so hard on Kirk, but the article in retrospect just doesn’t cut it. If you’ve had enough with the branding, I suggest you look up a nice AskMen.com article found here: http://ca.askmen.com/fashion/fashiontip_400/437_spring-fashion-tips.html.

    Yes, I know, the irony kills me too, going to AskMen.com for less corporate branding…

  10. wallaby says:

    YumYum, I tend to just skip down to the “A girl’s Opinion” sections anyway; more to the point, and it’s the opinion I’m interested in.

    Good to know the fashion trends, but it’s hard to apply the knowledge when you live somewhere with only 1/4 of the stores mentioned.

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