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Thursday, Nov. 6, Noon ET

The Fashion Industry

Is the Fashion Industry Becoming More Conservative?

Robin Givhan
Washington Post Fashion Editor
Thursday, November 6, 2003; 12:00 PM

Polished, tailored and sophisticated are fashion watchwords this season. Huh? What exactly is happening in the fashion industry, which seems to be reneging on the very trends it has so faithfully hyped. Is fashion really becoming more conservative? Has the age of Britney Spears breathed its last gasp?

Don't be clueless about the best new looks. Washington Post Fashion Editor Robin Givhan has just returned from a month of nonstop fashion shows in New York, Paris, London and Milan.

Join Givhan and washingtonpost.com shopping producer Janet Bennett online Thursday, Nov. 6 at Noon ET to get the scoop on where fashion is heading this winter and on into spring.

The transcript follows.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.


Janet Bennett: Tweed skirts, structured bags and lady-like pumps are the keys to today's polished look. Pretty is in, grunge is way out. Nothing wrong with that, or is there? Have designers settled into conservatism? And what about the brouhaha at Gucci???

Robin Givhan: Hi everyone. Thanks for taking the time to chit chat about fashion.

After seeing fashion shows in NY, Milan and Paris I can safely say that spring 2004 is going to be polished, feminine and in a lot of ways more sophisticated that fashion has been in a long time. Designers aren't exactly getting conservative - still plenty of skin - but things are looking more refined.

Also, big news in fashion regarding Gucci Group losing its CEO Domenico De Sole and its creative director Tom Ford. Anyone who has thoughts or questions about that, especially interested to hear from you.


Washington, D.C.: Who do you think will take over Gucci? Do you think they will find separate designers to do YSL and Gucci? Alexander McQueen would be great but is he mature enough to handle it? And what do you think Domenico and Tom will do now? Stick together? Go off on their own? I'm fascinated by this turn of events. Thanks!

Robin Givhan: I wish I knew who will be taking over Gucci. That would be the fashion scoop of the year. It's almost certain that separate designers will take over Gucci and YSL. That was one of the sticking points of the months long negotiations. McQueen has been mentioned as a possible successor to Tom. I think he's mature enough. He's matured significantly under the Gucci umbrella. No word on what Tom and Dom will do. Tom has mentioned making a film - behind the camera not acting. Dom may retire, consult, take another big job. Who knows. Neither needs to work though. Both are wealthy.


Rosslyn, Va.: In regards to fashion in Washington, I am highly anticipating the opening of Zara in Georgetown. Do you know when they will be opening?

Robin Givhan: Washingtonpost.com tells me that Zara has already opened. The store is well-known for its inexpensive takes on popular styles.


Washington, D.C.: Hello Ms. Givhan,
Thank you for answering my question.
I'm very interested in fashion, though I tend not to follow trends to the letter. I take what I like and make it my own, usually discarding trends that don't look good on my figure (I'm a dancer and have "big legs" so super tight stretch pants are definately out). My question is does this habit of adapting make me out of tune with what's fashionable? I look at some trendy outfits on other women and wonder, "What were they thinking?" Everything does not look good on everybody so a little common sense and a mirror go a long way!
Also, I've heard about a fashion show at the Convention Center later this month from a young lady at my gym. What's that all about? Is it worth the money they're charging?
Thank you

Robin Givhan: Don't we all wish we could have dancer legs!? Not incorporating trends letter for letter is a good thing and a sign that a person has personal style. We all need to recognize what works for us and what doesn't.

I think the show you're talking about at the Convention Center is the one that Harvey Washington is doing. Is it worth the money? I don't know, but he has a reputation for a pretty dramatic shows.


15th and M: I was blown away when I saw pictures of Andrew Gn's Spring '04 line. Who is this guy and where does he come from? I did a google search on him and nothing came up. His collection was absolutely drop dead gorgeous.

Robin Givhan: Unfortunately I don't know Andrew's full resume, but he has been designing for a long time and I believe also worked behind the scenes at various French brands. He's known for his appeal to a "young socialite". his clothes are feminine, pretty and tailored. they're a little too sweet for my taste. he's a youngish guy. and nice...if that sort of thing matters to you.


Arlington, va: Ooh...just in time!; I have a pair of medium-dark brown jeans that I'm trying to pair w/ an appropriately colored shirt (not white or off-white).


Robin Givhan: when you say appropriately colored you make it sound like there's some color rule you have to adhere to. based on your coloring, what about an olive green? or a raspberry pink? or yellow? brown is a basic color, you could prety much wear anything on top. i wouldn't wear white either...that would be a bore and i'd wonder if you were a busboy or somethng..


Not Stella: We know who won't be taking over Gucci. If I were Stella I'd be kicking myself for her anti-leather stance. She'd be a shoe in.

Do you think they would take another American designer? My bet is on McQueen.

Robin Givhan: I'm not sure Stella would be a shoe in. She's had a shaky start with her signature collection. I think she's only just now starting to find her way. McQueen definitely has the skill to do it. He's become much less "difficult" since he's been at Gucci, but he could become difficult depending on the new management. They may want to go outside of the company. the owners are big on one designer/one line.


Hyattsville, Md.: I always look forward to seeing a review by Ms. Givhan!

I recently saw a photo of Bjork at some event in - I believe - Galliano couture. It was way out....but gutsy. She even had the face paint on. I am also thinking of Courtney Love in "The Birds" shredded dress a few years ago.

Why is it that fashion critics fawn over clothes by Galliano (I think he is great myself) but when someone actually wears them out, they make fun of the outfit and the person wearing them? Don't they have a duty to at least educate people that this is couture and there is a message the designer is trying to convey? Or is that just geting 'too heavy'?

Robin Givhan: Not too heavy at all. I think Galliano is quite a talent. But his runway shows have increasingly become theatrical and less and less related to fashion. Some people take his runway looks too literal. Some things simply were not meant to be worn precisely as they were shown...ie. with face paint. I thought the shredded Birds dress was interesting. I didn't think it looked particularly good on Courtney Love.


Fashion Crisis, USA: Afternoon, Robin!; Please advise -- I'm starting a new job soon. The office is much more formal than the place I'm at now (usually I wear pants, flats/loafers and a button-down or casual sweater), but I can't afford to buy a whole new wardrobe. I pretty much have the basics -- some skirts, pants, a few suits, button downs, a couple pairs of black heels -- but am I overlooking one special piece for fall/winter that I need? Any simple additions (shoes? jackets? blouses?) that can turn up the fun factor on my admittedly boring wardrobe? Please keep in mind that I'm fairly young and don't want to get sucked in to that whole Liddy Dole bright suit/scarf/big hair/matching pumps look.

Robin Givhan: Beware the Liddy Dole red suit, eagle pin, helmet hair, matching pumps look!!! There are a lot of groovy blazers for fall. maybe pick one in a color that you love, steering clear of the primary shade. what about a dusky pink? or lilac? something in an interesting fabric? there are some slightly frayed tweed jackets that probably aren't too extreme for the offic. 1940s style shoes - higher heel, slightly chunky, t-strap - can update a look. you could wear the sheer, delicate fishnet hose instead of plain sheer ones. even an interesting broach on a conservative jacket can make all the difference.


Washington, DC: Hi
Where/when can I find a white or cream evening dress? I went to all the fancy stores, but the dresses were all black. Do I have to wait until Spring? I need it for December.. Any tips would be great. Thanks!

Janet Bennett: Janet here. I feel your pain. Too many evening dresses in black, and for that matter, too many winter coats in black as well. Any thoughts, Robin?

Robin Givhan: REally? all you can find is black? Where are you looking? lots of color for fall. Saks Jandel has a huge evening wear dept and all the dresses are not a zillion dollars. Neiman's? you could also ask if a black dress comes in another color and if that other color is at another Neiman's location. They might be able to call it in for you.


17th and Penn: I have the hardest time with dressy shoes. The shapes keep changing. If I were to purchase one pair of pumps, what toe shape is most versatile? if it helps, I tend to keep pumps for two to three years as I really don't wear dresses that often. Thanks.

Robin Givhan: when you say dressy shoes, do you mean evening shoes or shoes you wear with dresses? i'd never wear pumps with an evening dress...well, almost never because pumps are so closed up and conservative. my favorite evening shoe at the moment are the peau de soie shoes, with a medium heel and the satin ribbons the tie around the ankle. how pretty is that?! a somewhat pointed toe is always sexy and stylish. my favorite evening shoes that i own are navy peau de soie slingbacks with about a 2" heel. perfect for standing around in at a cocktail party. can wear 'em with dresses or pants.


Metro Center, DC: How does one stay up on the latest trends without looking like everyone else? Most of the women at the office shop in the same stores. Some days I see someone wearing the exact thing I am wwearing.

Robin Givhan: why do women freak out when someone is wearing the same thing they have on? imitatin is flattery! besides everyone can buy the same pink velour blazer from the Gap but you can make it your own by what you choose to wear with it. a pencil skirt? jeans? tailored trousers? a turtleneck, a tank top. The trick to trends is to take the basic idea and personalize it so it flatters you and fits your personality.


Alexandria, VA: Are stirrup pants back in or coming that way? Saw a lady with some on the other day. Didn't know if she was behind the times or ahead of them.

Robin Givhan: just say no to stirrup pants unless you are getting ready to climb atop a horse.


Janet Bennett: Janet here. With the holiday season coming up, have you seen anything new out there in evening attire? Robin Givhan: spring evening wear is particularly pretty. lots of chiffon. intense hues such as violet and turquoise. ombre tones. also, a very 1950s style of evening wear with a fitted waist and a full skirt. debutante'ish dresses as well as princess line dresses - which is one of the most flattering silhouettes around.


Bethesda, Md.: I was looking in the dress department at Saks the other day and everything was sleeveless! Don't designers/manufacturers realize that offices aren't heated sufficiently to wear sleeveless clothes in the winter? What is the deal with all these sleeveless clothes?

Robin Givhan: the fashion industry believes that because we all live in heated and air conditioned environments that we don't need to worry about dressing for the season. lots of sleeveless dresses however have been shown with matchng coats/jackets.


Washington, D.C.: How often and where do they hold popular fashion shows around the metro area?

Robin Givhan: no specific timetable. check the Post for listings of charitable events that revolve around fashion shows.


Mt. Rainer, Md: I have a hard time relating to fashion shows when I have such a hard time finding work clothes. Blouses, dress slacks, skirts that hit the knee. Instead everything is boot cut, cut two inches below the belly button, no pockets or belt loops. I am at a complete loss about how to dress myself for everyday work. Is there a tailor in DC who makes these clothes?

Robin Givhan: i don't know of specific tailors, but you should revist the stores. there still are a lot of pants that sit low on the waist, but fewer that are super low. spring is all about skirts rather than pants and they're very feminine and pretty skrits. frankly no pockets are more flattering to the hips that pockets, so buck up there.


Crystal City: Hi there!; How to effectively straddle the line between 'classic' and 'boring'? I tend to err on the boring side - sigh...

Robin Givhan: aren't they the same thing? ha! just kidding. classic implies elegant and chic. boring suggests that you're dressing on automatic pilot. choosing interesting accessories can help liven up what you might think is a boring wardrobe. also, classic doesn't mean wearing the same thing season after season. an A-line skirt is classic, but you keep it interesting by choosing a modern pattern. an Hermes scarf is classic but instead of wearing it with a stuffy suit you could wear it with a pair of old jeans and a crisp white T-shirt. a simple navy blazer is classic, but to keep it from being boring, buy one that is, perhaps, a little cropped, or in a fabric with a hint of sparkle or with a frayed hemline.


Scarves: I have a great collection of scarves and never feel that comfortable wearing them. I don't want to look like I work for an airline. Are scarves part of the ladylike look, and if so, what is good? Name a shape, weight, fabric etc., and I probably have it.

Robin Givhan: scarves are definitely part of the ladylike look. Prada shoes printed silk scarves just tied around the neck. she also likes a silk scarf tied around the handle of a Kelly-style handbag.


Washington DC: Robin:
I recently bought a pair of chino-cut black leather pants. They're quite nice: Italian, dull finish (not shiny) and fit perfectly...not tight but not loose or baggy. A friend suggested I could wear these to work, as our office is casual. My questions to you:
1: What top and color to wear with these pants, to make them more work appropriate and less "wow!; Leather pants!;" ? They are flat front, no belt loops.
2: What type of shoe? Loafer? mule?

Thanks in advance. I am trying slowly to evolve beyond the turtleneck sweater and black chinos that are the staple of casual workplaces it seems....

Robin Givhan: the pants sound lovely. you could wear them with a simple turtleneck, olive, brown (yes, i love black and brown together) deep purple. pair them with a blazer that's pretty low key.

not a fan of the mule. they make too much noise. people hear you coming a mile away. maybe a ballerina flat. or a pointy flat. something more interesting that a loafer. if you're comfortable in heels you could wear them with a low sling back or t-strap pump.


Alexandria, VA: What about men's fashion?

Robin Givhan: men's fashion...love a fashionable man. i don't cover the menswear shows in Europe, but i can tell you that the preppy rides again. There are also Western influences from shirts to trousers. but i would dabble in that with great caution.


Wedding dresses: What do you see next year for wedding dress silhouettes? If I see another strapless wedding dress I'm gonna scream.

Robin Givhan: do wedding dress styles really ever change? brides wear white. and they pick the dress style that most flatters them. personally, i don't like the big chantilly lace-festooned extravaganza. i like the simple strapless wedding gown. sue me.


White evening dresses: I was at Nordy's in Tysons the other week and they had a large selection of dresses in a wide variety of colors. Can't remember whether white/off-white was an option, but definitely lots of colors to choose from so worth a call..

Janet Bennett: More options for non-black dresses. Thanks.

Robin Givhan: thanks for the info.


Dupont: Hi Robin,

I was wondering, what ever happened to a good designed brand, Wilke-Rodriguez? I just can't to find them anymore!; There was a good selection at Bloomie's - Tysons and Saks too.

Thanks!; Jason

Robin Givhan: Someone out there might be able to confirm this, but I think the label went kaput. My vague recollection is that the team broke up. and that was the end of that.


Kingstowne, VA: What's your take on TLC's "What Not To Wear"?

Robin Givhan: i think it's a funny show. tough fashion love. i think the advice is pretty straightforward and reasonable. i think the advice is better than what Carson What's His Name gives out on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.


DC: Where can I find pants that will fit me? I'm 5'2 and slim. All the petite 0 pants are either too short or too wide in the butt and thighs. I've tried Banana Republic, Jcrew and Anne Taylor Loft.


Robin Givhan: not sure where you can go around here. but if you're in NY you could try Joseph, which is known for pants and i believe they're cut fairly slim.


D.C. cubicle: I've started work in the city and was wondering if you had any advice on where/what to buy for shoes for work. My fun stiletto office shoes keep getting stuck in grates. I'm thinking that a slim rectangular heel would be good and easier on the feet too... thoughts? Also, any must-have pants/skirts?

Robin Givhan: there's no such thing as a must have. buy what you like, although flirty skirts are making inroads for spring. as for shoes, you can either watch where you walk - ha! - or there are more substantial heels out there with a retro feel. i also like the pointy-toed flats. they look sleek but clearly are also very comfortable.


WNTW : So, then, Robin, your comment begs the question -- what's your take right now on what not to wear?

Robin Givhan: the usual suspects: leggings, white pantyhose, sneakers with business suits.

we all know what we shouldn't be wearing. and if we take a long look in a full length mirror before heading out, it should become pretty clear.


Washington DC: Hello -- Hope you can give me some advice. I'm pretty thin but am definitely pear-shape (LOVE the hip/saddle thing...sigh...) and have a hard time finding skirts that flatter. Seems like they all hug the hip/saddle area and bulge in a weird way. I'm getting tired of pants all the time -- what are your thoughts? Thanks!;

Robin Givhan: what about A-line skirts? they might have to be altered in the waist, but a good tailor is a well-dressed woman's best friend. (that sounds like something from a fortune cookie!)


Janet Bennett: Robin,
Will there any fallout in the fashion industry because of what's happening at Gucci? Robin Givhan: Watching what happens in the fashion industry because of Gucci will be interesting. Depending on who is hired to take over at the various posts, there could be a domino effect of designer movement. Also, if Gucci fails to maintain its momentum, that could be a terrible blow to the luxury market and shareholders. Also, fashion needs buzz and excitement. Gucci provided that in spades. The industry could really sink into a funk.


silver spring: What is your take on cropped pants and boots for winter? My husband thinks I'm insane for wanting to wear it!;

Robin Givhan: what is your husband? a fashion editor? i think the look is quite chic if you've got the shape to pull it off. i think all that's required are legs of reasonable length.


Bethesda, MD: Robin!;

I am a 23, male. Question, I have tons of black casual, party, and formal shoes and not a single pair of brown shoes. When do you wear brown shoes? It looks so not right wearing brown shoes with black, dark blue slacks, even light gray and charcoal slacks. What is the appropriate color coordination to when wearing brown/tan shoes? Tan Khakis?


Robin Givhan: i love dark brown shoes. didn't michael douglas wear dark brown shoes with charcoal gray suits in Wall Street? or was it a navy suit? anyway, i think darkbrown can look wonderful with navy or gray. i'm not as much of a fan of tan shoes. they don't look as rich. but dressy brown shoes with a navy suit is quite elegant.


Washington, DC: Saw a window of Ann Taylor last week that had the loveliest black evening dresses accented with soft pale pink. Very 1950s. Tell me this look is here to stay for a bit!; I'd love to start wearing my circa 1985 Bennetton pale pink wool miniskirt again....would a black turtleneck sweater on top be too top-heavy? (i'm a size 8, 5-6", so pretty average size)

Robin Givhan: If i could predict how long a trend was going to last i'd be an awfully rich woman. Enjoy it while you can. pale pink and black sounds fetching. and only you can be the judge of whether the combination is too top heavy. it depends on you, the thickness of the sweater, etc.


Re: wedding dresses: Just a comment on the wedding dress post: I paid half of what salons charge for a hand-made dress that was simple, elegant, and fit perfectly. Just a suggestion for people looking for the non-frilly route -- it's a great way to get something unique for less money (in my case at least) that's customized for your body type.

Robin Givhan: good point.


Plus Size Options: Hi

Can you tell me some good places in mid-atlantic or online to get high-fashion plus-sized clothes? I am looking for something above and beyond the traditional Saks offerings (though they are good).



Janet Bennett: Do you know that Nordstrom also has a plus department? And I think that all the big department stores are getting on the bandwagon to feature plus sizes. Are you familiar with the magazine Grace and the website gracestyle.com?? You might look there for some ideas.

Robin Givhan: listen to janet. she's very wise.


dc: How can I dress up a pretty casual career wardrobe without having to break the bank? What makes or breaks in terms of whether or not an ensemble is considered casual?

Robin Givhan: would you wear it to run to the grocery store? would you walk into a restaurant and worry that you were under-dressed? i think polish is the make or break point. a pair of jeans with a blazer and a pair of nice shoes and a pretty necklace can be dressy. put the jeans with a sweater and a pair of loafers and its a different story. i believe in the value of a striking blazer, elegant shoes and a structured handbag. they have a way of putting a little shine on all that they're paired with.


alexandria, va: your articles on the fall fashion shows (i guess it was the spring collections) was awfully good writing, subject matter aside.

that said, isn't it time for another rant about the propensity of women in this area to wear white stockings with their boring navy blue suits and matchng pumps?

Robin Givhan: thanks for the compliment. as for the white stockings. these women know better. shame on them!

This has been a pleasure. Thanks for all your questions and thanks for readng.


Janet Bennett: Thanks, Robin, for letting us in on your insights on everything from what's happening inside Gucci to what to pair with black leather pants. Hope to have you back with us soon!


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