Tuesday, August 18, 2009

We Love You, J.C. Penney's

I was clicking through random blogs/Web sites last night and stumbled upon this disturbing piece of commentary in New York Magazine. (To be clear, the article is a response to an article that appeared in the New York Times. That would be the "disturbing" material, although even on the defensive, the Magazine comes off as a little elitest.) Now, you must understand that at one point I was such a frequent JCPenney shopper that the sales associates knew me. One would actually say (a tad snarkily, I might add), "Oh, you're here again." whenever she saw me. (To be fair, she also clued me in to advance sales and gave me extra coupons.) Although I don't visit JCP nearly as often as I used to (I prefer Kohl's now), I was still offended by this article. I'm brave enough to admit that I was particularly upset by the knock to polyester, my own personal miracle fabric. Come on; it never wrinkles, never fades, dries fast, always looks fresh . . . But enough about that. Just read this for yourself and let me know what you think.

Times: JCPenney Is for the Fat and Tacky

This week Cintra Wilson's "Critical Shopper" column in the Times seeks to answer why, God, why, did JCPenney foist itself onto our fair city's Herald Square? Now, Penney's isn't exactly our go-to for apparel — we didn't pop bottles among models when it opened a couple of weeks ago, and we're not setting aside precious Saturday-afternoon time to go check it out — but it's there and we can live with that. Because at the end of the day, Macy's is, too, and the crowds and wooden escalators in that place terrify us more than any shopping destination in the city, maybe even more than the Times Square Toys "R" Us.

Wilson tends to find downmarket stores particularly vile, but her review of Penney's is utterly unforgiving. She essentially determines the store serves two primary markets: fat people and tacky people.

It took me a long time to find a size 2 among the racks. There are, however, abundant size 10’s, 12’s and 16’s. The dressing rooms are big, clean and well tended. I tried two fairly cute items: a modified domino-print swing dress with padded shoulders by American Living (a Ralph Lauren line created for Penney’s) and a long psychedelic muumuu of a style generally worn by Rachel Zoe. Each was around $80; each fit nicely and looked good. I didn’t buy either because I can do better for $80, but if I were a size 18, I’d have rejoiced.

Hear that? Wilson is a size 2, so JCPenney isn't for her. The store is so fat, in fact, that even the mannequins are "obese."

[I]t has the most obese mannequins I have ever seen. They probably need special insulin-based epoxy injections just to make their limbs stay on. It’s like a headless wax museum devoted entirely to the cast of “Roseanne.”

Wilson also takes issue with Penney's diffusion lines, such as Kimora Lee Simmons's Fabulosity juniors' line of "off-the-belly-chain line of clothing and extremely complicated metallic blood-on-the-dance-floor pumps." Also unacceptable to her are Charlotte Ronson's I [Heart] Ronson line, Nicole Miller's Nicole line, and Liz Claiborne's Liz & Co. line ("key provider of looks that say: 'I have been in a senior management position at this D.M.V. for 34 years.'"). Wilson explains:
A good 96 percent of the Penney’s inventory is made of polyester. The few clothing items that are made of cotton make a sincere point of being cotton and tell you earnestly about their 100-percent cottonness with faux-hand-scribbled labels so obviously on the Green bandwagon they practically spit pine cones.

What did she expect of this store? A gold mine of affordable fine silks and well-tailored business suits with a pleasant side of surprisingly fluffy bedding? It's JCPenney in the Manhattan Mall, of all places. Not Alexander McQueen. God might not like ugly, as the saying goes, but there will always be a market for it. That doesn't mean we have to call their mannequins fat.
Playing to the Middle [NYT]

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