The death of dressing up in Australia?


Candice Swanoepoel in `The Upside’

What has happened to dressing up? After a good solid 40 years of working in the fashion industry, my husband astutely observes that gym clothes have become the death of the fashion industry. Of course with his extensive experience he knows there are other factors, but he is only half joking when he states: “No wonder retailers are struggling out there, forget consumer confidence and all the other factors, it’s because these women are sitting in Lycra all day. “

It seems mothers are the biggest culprits dropping off their little ones at school and then picking them up in the same Lycra athletic gear. Now it seems he is not alone in thinking this. Smart fashion operator Jodhi Meares, ex Tigerlily has just launched her athletic wear, “The Upside”. The gym wear range is targeting women who not only like to work out but like to wear athletic garments all day. She also hired David Bush, ex GM of Womenswear, David Jones & now DBC consulting to consult on her range, to ensure that commercial edge. How smart is she tapping into this customer? Apparently sales in Rebel Sports and Myer are going through the roof. I had a look and it was very impressive.


Phoebes Garland

Phoebes Garland is a Features Writer for EXPOSED Online and co-owns Garland & Garland Fashion with Robert Garland, a leading fashion agency based in Sydney. Phoebe also owns Fashion Initiative an online fashion destination covering business of fashion, fashion, luxury and events. Phoebes Garland was described as a” Power Agent” by Ragtrader magazine. Between the two of them, Phoebes & Robert Garland have over 50 years sales experience in fashion, publishing and advertising. Garland & Garland Fashion is a respected leading boutique fashion agency based in Sydney, and they are regularly sought for comment from various media and the fashion industry on business fashion topics, fashion and issues.

But seriously what has happened to dressing up? For the most part, things we could sell years ago in wholesale just don’t sell. For example suiting. It seems the structured garment has somewhat died in wholesale in the middle age market. Yet in other markets, usually vertical operators, it still sells. Iconic fashion designer, Carla Zampatti, still bases her lines on many beautifully structured garments, and the younger markets are innovating in structured looks with capes and sleeveless vests, bringing a fresh new approach to the shoulder pad.

Evening wear also tends to fall into this category. Now I know there are a few evening wear specialists out there, but there are certainly not enough for me to take on an evening wear range in my showroom. Let’s face it, the days of a woman changing three times a day, wearing three different garments and an evening wear dress out, is over, except for very special occasions. As the highly esteemed David Bush said to me “ These days, that woman isn’t buying three different outfits, she goes to work and wears the same dress and then goes for drinks and perhaps changes her shoes but relies on that same dress to pick up a bloke afterwards”.


Carla Zampatti

European ranges can also be dicey sellers, very hit and miss. While they may look good, for the most part they struggle to get any real volume of sales in Australia. Aside from being quite expensive, it’s this ‘European look’, which seems for the most part to be too dressy or tailored for the mass market, average consumer in Australia. Again it falls into this tiny niche category, yes there will be some retailers that sell it well, but again not enough retailers out there for me to put a range in my showroom and for me to retire on.

And why on earth did hats ever go out of fashion? Nothing like making a woman feel elegant and a man feel like a gentleman with a hat. Racing season is almost the only sales period for head wear. When you look at it historically, say right up to the 60’s, they were worn almost daily, and then in the 1970s it changed with a more casual look with the boho hippie hat.

Our society has become so frighteningly casual. So much so it’s ingrained into our perception and people are genuinely surprised when people wear something other than jeans and a t-shirt. I often get the remark from a lot of people “Oh you look so dressed up, where are you going?” Really? No I call it making an effort.

I think for the love of the fashion industry, it’s time we stopped being so lazy and made the effort to dress up a bit. It seems that in seeking ‘comfort, it has bred a certain laziness in the consumer into dare I say it “letting ourselves go”. Enough of the tracksuits, bengaline pants, high-waisted pants and don’t even get me started on those hideous Crocs for the under 40’s. It’s time to go to the gym, lose the weight and start caring again about wearing fashion, beautiful fabrics and construction. Nothing like a combination of vanity and a love of fashion as a great motivator!

When did it become so damn casual? I pray for the day I can have ranges that can have enough sales of beautiful fabrics and constructed pieces, because they are such top sellers and the average consumer can’t get enough. In the meantime, I go where the money is simply because that’s where the market is. Can’t hurt to dream though.

Has fashion lost its way?

Email me info@garlands.com.au

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19 thoughts on “The death of dressing up in Australia?

  1. I feel you! I ran my own boutique a few years ago and saw first hand the shift in the focus of looking elegant to being comfortable. I’m glad to be promoting my style philosophy that “Every day is worth dressing up for” on my blog 🙂

  2. Hear Hear. I love what you have to say. As a retailer of 27 years in Mosman, I have noticed that Lulu Couture (as I call it!) has become the local uniform. I love to exercise as much as the next women but I would not be seen dead in Lycra past 10 in the morning. And as for foot wear, life is too short to be wearing thongs , birkenstocks or crocs, I don’t even go there. And I refuse to do business with any one that wears thongs to work. You can never be over dressed, life is not a dress rehearsal so, make the most of every day and make an effort. I put a lot of blame onto the magazines, the fashion styling is hideous, too often unaffordable, and styled by 19yr olds ( or that’s how it looks) . Thank you Phoebes for bringing attention to this issue.

  3. I’m a university student and I see more ‘fashionable girls’ than I do ‘gym clothes girls’. I have a fairly large wardrobe and a slight shopping addiction but I find that the majority of girls around me, or at least the ones I notice, seem to have a Sexy and the City type wardrobe.
    However, I did live in Vancouver where EVERYONE wears gym clothes casually 😛

  4. I’ve always been a jeans-boots-jumper girl but even I have noticed that people simply aren’t trying anymore. I blame whoever it is for making leggings a thing because they took over from “skinny” jeans as they’re far more comfortable (apparently). People point and snigger when other folks make a huge effort and really dress up for an evening to the theatre these days. But 15 years ago, we WERE dressing up to even go to a matinee! I remember my mum making a huge deal about looking nice. Now it’s acceptable to wear jeans and slouch shirts to a show. It makes me very sad.

  5. Absolutely agree, too many people not caring about making the effort to dress up. I always loved going to the gym, then having a shower at the gym & then changing into a nice outfit. I run a boutique & am amazed at the number of women coming into the store in their sweaty gym gear. The gym gear look has gone too far.

  6. I am a part time milliner, because that’s all you can be when you make headwear. The rest of the time I make costumes for theatre & do alterations for fashion shoots, parades & celebrities.
    This October I decided to take up the Frocktober Challenge & wear a different dress everyday to raise money & awareness for the Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation.
    Iam the sort of person who will never leave the house in trackies unless I’m sick or going to yoga. My outfits are always well coordinated, down to my lingerie even when I’m going to the supermarket, but frocking up daily, in mostly vintage style this month, has been so refreshing.
    Everyone stares, little children point & ask about the ‘pretty lady’ & I’ve had more than a few winks & wold whistles, much to my blokes amusement.
    I say bring back the frock. Bring back the hat, gloves & matching shoes. Ladies let’s not end up a slackers Nation slopping around in gym wear that never sees the inside of a gym. Make an effort this summer to look well turned out, take some pride in your appearance.
    I was plagued with years of anxiety & depression & my personal, self devised, therapy program involved getting up, getting out of those trackies, putting together a nice outfit, doing my hair & make up & braving the world.
    It really does make you felt fantastic & able to face just about anything.

  7. Good article! I think so many of us are so time poor these days that just getting dressed and getting to the gym is an achievement! Having said that, I do agree that we deserve to feel great about ourselves and making a little effort to get out of the (often relatively stylish) gym gear and put together a casual, functional AND polished look is really important!!!

    Reposted with credit and thanks at https://www.facebook.com/UnlockedStyle

  8. WORD. I’m so SICK of gym clothes!!!! Grrrrr. The whole “gym” fad has taken over and its aesthetic appeal is just wrong. The whole fad is just wrong, really, people are heading to it for all the wrong reasons . .. .
    I absolutely cannot stand Lorna Jane!!!! Its the most boring shit I’ve ever seen in my life but women love it because its gym and a “brand name”. I find more interesting clothes at the $2 shop . ..

  9. Hello Phoebes,

    I clicked through to your article from the Super Kawaii Mama blog. Fabulous article, thank you, and I have found a new blog to follow.

    Along with gym clothes (which I abhor for anything but exercise and even then I struggle), there is this abomination called “casual Friday”. Err, I’m sorry, it’s Friday so that permits you wear a singlet top and mini skirt accessorized with HAVIANAS to the office? What the???? I endeavour to set an example in the office and while I no longer wear a suit on a Friday (finally succumbed to conformity), I always wear an appropriate day frock (sometimes a skirt) and heels. Never ever ever jeans. And most certainly no mid-thigh hem-lines.

    I always ensure to compliment someone when they have made an effort with their dressing, my theory is that it will encourage them to keep it up. And it always feels good when someone else notices/appreciates your efforts.

  10. My theory is that the introduction of lycra probably coincided with the increase in obesity. Reason being, that tailored clothes DIDN’T let you eat that extra serve, was not forgiving if you gained a kg or 2. You HAD to stay in the size of your clothes, not have clothes that expanded to the size you hadn’t realized you’d become.

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  13. I’ve recently gone to Milano, Italy for the Fashion & Textile Shows.
    …I remember finding myself sitting in the subway train admiring spectacularly beautiful people going to work/school and thinking: “Take this train, put in in Sydney and they (the sydney people) will think these people are going to a wedding. Take a Sydney train and put it here and they (the Milanese) will think they’ve houseworks to do”…
    Sad but true if you like nice clothes.

  14. I suppose this is just another trend for those that want to look like they belong! baaa, even though it is different its similar to the nineties when everyone was wearing god awful parachute track suits and runners.
    Hopefully it will just take the “it” girls to take a long look at themselves one day and go what am I thinking! Or maybe fashion suppliers need to take notice that there is a big market out there that have money and no one is supplying what they want! Hence the big revival in vintage style clothing. They are well made and timeless!
    Just walk around somewhere like Fitzroy and you won’t see anyone in Gym wear, just women of all ages with style! I think that stores that are catering for individuals and offering good service are doing well!

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  16. I am totally with Sacha’s post. I am Russian and all my life i have been wearing heels and dressing up, doesn’t meter where you are going and gym outfit i used to wear only to a gym. Which is obviously. It was 4 years ago. And now, i found myself couple times siting in the cafe, having launch and wearing my gym outfit. The things is changed for me when i felt my self overdressed especially in the coastal area where i live. Other thing i found very hard to get alone with is a hot climate and only two season in a year. It is really hard to wear something dressy in such a warm climate. And to be really stylish the dress and the sandals sometimes is not enough or just become boring. I am still thinking that nothing make a woman pretty as a beautiful outfit and a heels. And Gym wear is the lazy generation outfit. But i hope this is the good call for the Australian designers to create more ideas for the Australian market and the coastal region market. Light materials, comfy heel shoes and a lot of ideas to create a perfect stylish everyday look.

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