MAXWELL: Bagging the baggy look
9/16/2006 – Printed in the NATIONAL section of The St Petersburg Times Newspaper

In Shakespeare’s play The Taming of the Shrew, the lovable Bianca tells one of her suitors, “Old fashions please me best.” While she was primarily alluding to manners and behavior, she also was alluding to apparel. What one wears, after all, is a form of behavior and a reflection of one’s manners.
If Bianca were around today and shopping for a new wardrobe, the lassie would not be so cocksure about what pleases her. She would, in fact, be ambivalent, especially if she visited the likes of Abercrombie & Fitch or American Eagle Outfitters or J. Crew.
According to the New York Times, these fashion chains and their competitors are telling 20- and 30-something shoppers to stow their baggy cargo pants, torn jeans and battered-looking T-shirts and jerseys because these styles are becoming so passe.
And who’s responsible for this change?
Mainly the married couple Michele and Charles Martin. Nearly two decades ago, as design officers for Abercrombie & Fitch, they told teens and young adults that the baggy and weathered look was chic. Now, the Martins, having joined the design team of Martin & Osa, an American Eagle Outfitters company, have decided the time has come for young adults to dress and act their age.
After spending several years staking out major airports to study how the postcollegiate crowd dressed, the Martins realized that most of the new customers they wanted to cultivate were a bit too old for the hoodies, sweats, jeans and drawstring pants they sported.
The Martins, along with their major competitors, went back to their sewing machines and upgraded the teen look, keeping some traditions and tossing out others. Teens and most young adults, the Martins realized anew, eagerly follow the next trend for the sake of conforming.
Fashion-conscious adults, however, crave individuality, not conformity, and pretty much have outgrown fads. They tend to have money and plenty of clothes in their closets and are looking for apparel that suggest what the Martins refer to as “real adventures.” The designers started using, among other things, high-quality fabrics such as Italian nylon and hand-branded leather patches. And, course, to get that more grown-up look, they began using less fabric for more streamlined tailoring.
These changes are not just a matter of style. There’s also the bottom line, as Wall Street watches the industry’s numbers. The Census Bureau predicts that by 2010, the number of U.S. citizens ages 25 to 34 will grow by 5.6 percent, while the number of those 12 to 18 will drop by 3.3 percent. It’s a no-brainer to guess which group the retailers are going after.
Ah, pity the young Bianca if she were here today. Although “old fashions” might please her best, she would have to adjust to the whims of our design gurus who decide what is in vogue and what is not. We are not the artists of ourselves.