Gut instincts

Freud didn’t know what women wanted, but I can tell you what a significant portion of baby-boomer women want: clothes that make them look thinner. I don’t know of a single female in my demographic who doesn’t want to look like she’s got less junk in the trunk or only minimal under-arm dingle-dangle. Never mind the talk of “loving yourself as you are” — I, for one, am rather fond of myself, but I still want a trimmer tummy.

Yet most of the women’s apparel merchants that claim to want my business, and that of my cohorts, aren’t giving me what I want. Okay, J. Jill can’t sell me a better body, but surely it could try to sell me the illusion of one, or at least the illusion that by purchasing a pair of pants or a jacket from its catalog I can look sleeker.

Could that be why J. Jill has been struggling of late? As I read its catalog descriptions of pants, I see phrases like “easy-fitting” and “relaxed hips and thighs,” with the occasional vague “flattering” tossed in. The only mention I see of “slimming” is in reference to a pair of jeans with “hand-done whiskering for a slimming effect.” And if you think that “whiskering” — horizontal lines emanating from the crotch — is slimming, I have a bridge to sell you.

Some industry observers believe that J. Jill’s new parent, The Talbots, will be able to help it get back on course. But as David Solomon of Goldsmith Agio Helms says in Mark Del Franco’s article on the acquisition (“Talbots takes J. Jill,” page 7), Talbots “was being left in the dust with their old-school positioning.” Indeed, browsing through the pants selection on the Talbots Website calls up desultory descriptions that don’t even make the clothes sound appealing, let alone what you’d look like wearing them.

TravelSmith, of all merchants, seems to get it. The spring catalog offers the Five-Pounds-Slimmer Pants (“every woman who tries on these pants looks five pounds slimmer — instantly. No magic involved: just clever styling…”), the One-Size-Slimmer Skirt, the Seam Slimmer Sweaters… TravelSmith, where have you been all my life? (Or at least since my metabolism ground to a halt?)

When we reported last month that TravelSmith was going to launch a women’s apparel spin-off, IOS, targeting 40- to 55-year-olds, I was skeptical. I knew TravelSmith sold clothes, footwear, and accessories for travelers of both genders, but I thought that meant an emphasis on nonwrinkle fabrics and comfy insoles. The spring catalog was an epiphany to me — albeit one that might do some damage to my credit card.

I had a few qualms about choosing this topic for my letter this month. I’m going to be speaking at the Kansas City DMA Days on March 8 and hosting our inaugural MCM Live event in Chicago on March 16 and 17, and the last thing I want is for people who’ve read this to gaze at my gut and try to guess whether I am indeed wearing the Five-Pounds-Slimmer Pants (or worse, thinking that I need a Ten-Pounds-Slimmer version). But I figured I’d take the risk. Maybe J. Jill and Talbots should take a risk too, by ditching timid words like “flattering” and boldly declaring any specific body-enhancing assets of their apparel (and if their clothes don’t have any, then they should design some clothing that does). We baby-boomers aren’t shy about declaring our needs and wants; our merchants shouldn’t be shy about meeting them.

P.S. — Did you catch my oh-so-subtle reference to MCM Live? It’s a two-day educational event covering all aspects of implementing and improving upon a multichannel operation. Our faculty will be covering the optimal organizational structure, finding the best balance of online and offline marketing, juggling direct and store merchandising and fulfillment, and much more. For the complete agenda and other details, visit See you there!

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