Does anyone here remember the Dress for Success trend in the late 1970s – early 80s? We all went off to work in our man-tailored skirt suits, hoping to take over the world. Well, that didn’t happen exactly the way we planned, and Dress for Success has slipped into obscurity.
The original book, The Woman’s Dress for Success by John Molloy is horribly dated. I recently came across my copy and re-read it. 40 years have made a lot of the research on colors and styles useless, but there is still plenty of wisdom within the book’s covers. In this post, I’ll talk about what may be the most useful — and timeless idea in the book.
What is Cross Shopping?
Cross shopping is based on the idea that we all want to dress in clothing that looks rich and expensive, but would prefer to spend time shopping than just spending hundreds of dollars. By following the cross shopping method, we can find clothes that look as rich as possible while staying within our budgets.
Cross shopping has several steps:
1.Make a Short List
Your first job is to decide what type of clothing you are shopping for. You need to be fairly specific, but have several options.
2. Carefully Examine the Top
Go to the most expensive store in your area, and look at the items on your list. Examine them carefully, trying to memorize what they look like and how they feel. Check out:
- Color: look at the exact color shade. Is it rich and luxurious, or does it look cheap?
- Fabric: how does it look and feel? Does it wrinkle easily? Is it soft, stiff, or feel like plastic?
- Construction: is the stitching straight? Are there puckers? Loose threads? If there are beads, sequins, etc., are they sewn on securely?
- Style and Fit: Try on the item. Does the style look good on you? Does it fit reasonably well? Would it fit better with a little tailoring?
You might want to take some photos, to help you remember.
3. Examine the Bottom
Immediately after going to the best store in town, go to the cheapest. Find the items that are close in style to what you found in the expensive store, and examine them just as carefully. Some items will look completely different, others will look a little similar , occasionally something will look very close to the high-priced item. Note the details that cause the differences. Again, take photos.
4. Back to the Expensive Store
Now, go back to the expensive store to refresh your memory. You might not need this step.
5. Now, to Buy
Finally, go shopping at stores in your price range. Some of the items will look like slightly better versions of the cheap store clothes — don’t buy those! Instead, but items that look as much like the expensive ones as possible.
An Example of Cross Shopping
Let’s say you need a summer dress for work. You’re most interested in dark blue or beige, but are ok with lighter blues as well. This is for work, so it needs to be a bit conservative, and for summer, so you’d like natural fabrics if possible.
1. Expensive Store
Here are two dresses I found online at Tahari. To see more detail, click on the photo for a larger view, or the link in the caption to see the original page. [Which may no longer exist.] In reality, you might find 6-8 dresses.
Both of these dresses have rich color. [The beige one has a subtle print.] The fabric is luxurious, even the polyester. [I’ve tried on Tahari dresses, they work magic with polyester.] The stitching is neat and even, no puckers. And the Emma would look awesome on me, though for me and my very short legs, both would need shortening. Note that these dresses have waist shaping.
2. Low-Price Store
Now, let’s go to Target. Target has many dresses, these are siilar to the above.
There were no beige work dresses.
Note the colors don’t have the same richness. In fact, the leftmost dress looks a bit faded. They are all synthetic, and look a bit stiff on the models. [The polyester Tahari dress doesn’t look stiff.] The bright blue dress is a sweater knit, not good for summer. The rightmost dress really isn’t a work dress, and none of them fit smoothly over the model’s figure.
3. Medium Priced Store
When looking to buy, I often go to the Talbott’s outlet store. They aren’t online, so let’s look at Talbott’s web store’s sale section.
The first thing I notice is that none of these dresses fit well in the waist. Not a major problem, as taking in waists is an easy job for a tailor. The colors are richer than at Target, but not as nice as Tahari. The ivory dress matches color the best, and it has a woven-in pattern, similar to the Tahari. Even though it’s silk, the blue dress looks more Target than Tahari. I included the tan dress so you could see the pulling at the hips … if a dress fits a model this poorly, how would it fit you and me?
What would I buy? I would have to try them in person, but the ivory Talbotts dress is a contender.
Looking at photos is never going to be a good test of cross shopping. But even here, you can see a clear difference in quality. If you just went to a mid-price store, you’d never know which dress to buy to look rich.
And, even though I’ve been cross shopping for years, I learned something from building the example too. I’ve always liked Tahari, it may be worth me saving up for their clothing on sale.
I also learned I seem to prefer store names that begin with T.