The Not-So-Quiet Americans

Nothing rankles New York designers like women's dressed-down ways: mannish pants, belly-baring tops, jeans all day long ... tracksuits.

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NEW YORK — The dressing down of America motors on, and with summer soon to accelerate into September, Manhattan-based designers are offering women some professional advice.

In an informal, cross-generational survey, WWD asked 17 designers the somewhat leading question, “What is the one thing you would most like to change about the way American women dress?”

While Carlos Miele and Gilles Mendel saluted Americans for being self-confident and open minded about fashion, Nicole Miller said women should “Just Say No” to the activewear-as-appropriate-airport-attire trend. The same goes for James Mischka, who is nostalgic for the times when travelers dressed as though the journey was an occasion.

Still others took issue with sequins in the office, sneakers worn with sheers, ill-fitting outfits, the right look in the wrong season and sticking with one designer head-to-toe.

Here’s a look at what they had to say:

Marc Jacobs: “I don’t know if I really would like to change anything. I think the women that I know in America who like to dress do a fine job … The one thing I think of as American style is a casual attitude toward getting dressed and that’s the thing I like about American style so I certainly wouldn’t want to change that.”

Isaac Mizrahi: “The one thing I wish I could change about the way American women dress is I wish they’d alter clothes before they wear them. Whether they’re couture clothes or Target clothes, all clothes are better when they fit right, are the right length, whatever that means, even if it means altering clothes to make them look mistaken, which I do all the time.”

Donna Karan: “I would like women to be in season and to buy in season. They should be able to buy a bathing suit in June and not cashmere. And in the winter, they should be able to buy winter clothes. It’s really about buying in season.”

Carlos Miele: “I admire American women’s self-confidence and young attitude towards life. I think there is a natural transformation going on about dressing sexier. These women are developing a better relation with their bodies and are not afraid to affirm their femininity even when they occupy important positions in society.”

This story first appeared in the August 23, 2005 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Zac Posen: “American women should definitely have more fun when dressing. I would love to see accessories such as men’s hats and scarves defiantly worn with flats and skirts.”

Mark Badgley: “The one thing I hate the most is the wearing of sneakers with stockings on the way to work — so ‘Working Girl.'”

Derek Lam: “I would like American women to dare to express their personality more by mixing designers instead of going for the ‘total look.'”

Gilles Mendel: “American women are more open-minded about fashion. They take more risks and are more adventurous.”

Nicole Miller: “The country has gotten too casual. I hate the way people dress, especially in airports. Everyone is so into this comfort thing that they have to dress disgustingly to travel — it’s usually a synthetic tracksuit. People used to come to New York to dress up and now they dress down. It’s gone beyond the cute little girl with the sexy body to everybody with any body.”

James Mischka: “I would change the fact that women stopped dressing up to travel — getting on a plane used to mean that you tried to look your best, not like a slob.”

Arnold Scaasi: “I wish people made more of an effort to look more attractive and better groomed. I had three meetings today outside the office. Looking out the car window, it looked like we are living in a very depressed area of the world, which of course we are not. You see people schlepping along the streets and they seem to be wearing only coverings. People look like they have just picked up these messy looking unattractive items. They also look like they haven’t washed their hair or their faces in a couple of days.

“There used to be a certain time — not so long ago — when people put some effort into what they were wearing. It’s almost impossible to tell the difference in people financially.”

Yeohlee Teng: “It would be fun if we could all get up one morning and decide that for that one day all women should wear red.”

Adolfo: “One of the things I have found is so many women wear jeans. Sometimes it’s becoming and sometimes you have to wonder if they actually look at themselves in the mirror before they go out. Sometimes when they wear jeans very low on the hips, you see all the bulges and all, and it is most unattractive.”

Carmen Marc Valvo: “I wish people would dress up more as opposed to dressing down. Also, I wish there was more of a concentration on a great piece of clothing instead of accessories. Anything goes with accessories, as long as you have the great bag of the season or the right shoe.

“I wish it would be more pertinent to clothing. It’s even that way in the attire. Everyone says, ‘Let’s wear jeans with a little Chanel jacket.’ It works, but only for certain people.”

Michael Vollbracht: “I don’t think women use their sexuality enough in the way they dress, especially on college campuses. Younger women look like these androgynous creatures. It’s irritating that they don’t use their sex appeal. Maybe the pants are the problem.

“The world is at war and our mind-set is at war. I find it really sad that women have such a small window of time to show their sexuality. I don’t mean they have to be a tramp or a vixen, but it seems like dresses and skirts are coming back. Men like legs. It’s nice to see legs again.

“Eveningwear on the streets during the day — there’s a trend that needs to be stopped. ‘Sex and the City’ changed so much. People wear anything during the day.”

Diane von Furstenberg: “The only thing I don’t like is when women try too hard … As far as I am concerned, in order to look elegant, it should look effortless.”

Oleg Cassini: “Some of them dress very well, but it is only a minority. If you look at the entire United States, 50 percent of the people don’t have the silhouette to get dressed. You have to be in good condition to be well dressed. Being well dressed is a little like being in love — you have to care for yourself.

“Also, who are we admiring? Movie starlets who dress like poor people in jeans of all kinds with patches, unless they are going to a party at night? People dress to indicate their mood and the direction of our politics. There is a political statement behind all this. They are saying, ‘See, I can afford to look like a bum but I’m a very beautiful bum. There are no rules. I can do what I want.'”

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