By  on February 13, 2008

"For whom do women dress?" might be right up there with "What do women want?" in terms of questions with no shortage of answers.

But it's a question that should obsess retailers and designers as they look to buck the economy's tough times and excite consumers. And with a new shape heading down New York's runways last week — with a focus on jackets, suits and a slimmer silhouette instead of ballooning baby-doll dresses — it's also a query that retailers hope they'll be able to answer come fall.

The collections provided an ideal setting to ask the clothes-minded whether women dress for themselves, for men or for other women. More often than not, women wear what suits them — a move some say is as much about free thinking as it is about empowerment. But others recognized that looking good at work is, regardless of a woman's field of expertise, an unwritten job requirement, especially given the economy and competitive work environment.

Here, a look at what showgoers had to say about the reason women get dressed in the morning.

Anne Hathaway

"Most women dress for their most fashionable friend."

Designer Isabel Toledo

"Women dress for men. I do dress for myself because it makes me feel empowered, but I'm definitely looking for [husband] Rubin's expression, not his approval. I do use clothes to speak — how I dress is a form of communication for me."

Michael Fink, vice president and women's fashion director at Saks Fifth Avenue

"I hope women dress for themselves and not out of pressure to mimic someone or to be something they're not. They're also dressing for the special someone in one's life, but I don't think that's every day."

French Vogue's Carine Roitfeld

"I don't know for everyone else. For me, it's for myself. When you feel good about yourself, you feel good about everyone else."

David Wolfe, a creative director at the Doneger Group

"In a work environment, they dress for each other because it is so highly competitive and it has to be. For social occasions, they dress for men to try to eliminate any female competition, but not in an obvious sexual way. It's tricky because overt sexuality doesn't work and it doesn't get them anywhere with other women. Another factor is at the designer price level, men are often paying for the clothes, so women need their approval. But men who have trophy wives want the trophy wives to have the latest, hottest things. Its a complicated thing."

Designer Tina Lutz

"I would hope women would dress for themselves because you can only feel good about life if you feel good about yourself. It's always a mistake to try to please others because then you lose yourself."

Marylou Luther, editor of International Fashion Syndicate

"I have often heard it said that the Marni customer dresses for women and I understand that. The dresses are 'quirkily country,' and a little too big on purpose or covered up. More sophisticated women dress for themselves and they know what looks good on them. I'm always amazed by the number of young women today showing off so much. They would have been considered fallen women years ago. But I think younger women dress for men."

Valerie Steele, director of the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology

"People dress for themselves to present an image of themselves. It's not so much for other women and men as it is for friends and colleagues. Most dress for their cohorts. They want to be appreciated and thought of as attractive by those people."

Ken Downing, senior vice president and fashion director at Neiman Marcus

"Women want to look sexy and stylish. They certainly want to dress for the man in their life and there's always a little competition with other women. That is the truth because I spend a lot of time around women and clothes."

Photographer Nigel Barker

"Most women dress for themselves. Most men don't realize what's going on half the time. If their friend at work wears the same thing every day, they wouldn't notice. It's not in the gene pool."

Designer Agatha Ruiz de la Prada

"In Spain, women dress for men. I don't know what happens here. I think it's very tiring to have to dress to be sexy all day. It's horrible and exhausting to have to wear high heels for 24 hours."

Frank Doroff, senior executive vice president and general merchandise manager of Bloomingdale's 

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