Critical Shopping: Masstige Takedown at JC Penney

This week in the Times, Cintra Wilson takes on JC Penney, and the combination is so amazing that we don't even know where to start quoting. Here's Wilson free-associating on what the store's name evokes:

J. C. Penney has always trafficked in knockoffs that aren’t quite up to Canal Street’s illegal standards. It was never "get the look for less” so much as “get something vaguely shaped like the designer thing you want, but cut much more conservatively, made in all-petroleum materials, and with a too-similar wannabe logo that announces your inferiority to evil classmates as surely as if you were cursed to be followed around by a tuba section."

Clearly, the woman who once described her style as "undead Moscow hooker" isn't going to find much at Penney's, but she's got a bigger point here. In the 1970s, JCP's collaboration with Halston invented the concept of "masstige," which, depending on your point of view, has either helped democratized fashion or hopelessly watered it down.

It's pretty obvious where Wilson stands on the debate: She calls JC Penney "a retail Island of Dr. Moreau" that "has been doing a sinister experiment with various designers, turning them into something ... not quite human." But while she can't get behind I Heart Ronson or Fabulosity by Kimora Lee Simmons, she does think it's wise of JC Penney to carry clothes than run up to a size 18. In skinny Manhattan, being the go-to-place for bigger sizes is a clever retail niche to fill.

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