Sunday, November 15, 2009

Don't Be Afraid to Try Talbots

It took me half a century to get up the nerve to walk into Talbots. For starters, there was the name—Talbots. Personally, when I see the Talbots sign, I picture a family with a mom named Bunny, kids with names like Margo and Trip, summer digs on Nantucket, winter digs in Killington, and, of course, a golden retriever. Even if I could ignore the name, there’s the Talbots clothing—conservative WASPY wear—in the storefront windows. Not exactly the look I’m going for these days.

Oddly enough, it was my husband who gave me the courage to try Talbots. He bought me a couple of things one Christmas. You can imagine my surprise when I opened the Talbots boxes and found a sweater and pair of slacks that didn’t look like something Ali MacGraw wore in Love Story. The pants, cotton with a touch of Spandex, had a slightly lowered waistband. They were neither ‘mommy pants’ nor ‘teenage tramp pants.’ They weren’t uber conservative, just uber comfortable.

Since then, Talbots has been my first stop for pants. The pants come in a variety of styles, colors and fabrics. And while I’m there, I often pick up a blouse or skirt, sometimes even a dress. This season, Talbots has several dresses that I think would look fabulous on a woman in her 50s. I’ve tried to illustrate one here. The neckline is wonderfully feminine without being cleavage bearing (not a flattering look for most 50-somethings). Another Talbots dress--a white, sleeveless wool sheath--was recently seen on Michelle Obama. She looked like an absolute knockout.

There’s no denying it: If Ali MacGraw wanted to recreate her Love Story look, she could do it at Talbots. But I’m not interested in wearing Talbots head-to-toe. Instead, I like to mix a simple Talbots separate--a skirt or pants—with a garment from another place that is a little more stylish or off-beat. By and large, I find Talbots clothing is well made, reasonable priced and flattering to the after 50 figure.

Recently, I went to a Talbots Outlet for the first time. The financial crisis has taken its toll on the Talbots company and the only store left standing in my area is the outlet. I suspect most women are thrilled to bits when they hear the word "outlet." I, for one, do not share their enthusiasm. Apparently, I don’t have the patience or skill set needed for rummaging for bargains at outlets. The sheer quantity of merchandise—different sizes, colors and styles stuffed together in countless racks—plus the absence of a recognizable floor plan tend to turn me off. In addition, and I may be delusional to think this, some of the clothes in outlets don’t seem as well made as the clothing in the regular store. The rejects, perhaps? Nevertheless, I love the cut and comfort of Talbots pants and was willing to brave the outlet for a pair. Also, I had read that the Talbots collection was more stylish this season and was curious to see if it was true.

As expected, the outlet had a huge inventory of clothing crammed into racks zig-zagging across the cavernous space. It took me a while to track down the pants I wanted, but I did find them. As I fingered my way through the racks, I noticed many of the season’s trendy styles—drawstring pants, men’s trousers, shirts and blouses with v-necks, ruffles and floral prints, flyaway cardigans and more. I picked out a drastically reduced summer skirt and a wool black and white straight skirt. When the saleswomen rang up my purchases, the total for the pants and two skirts was what I usually pay for a pair of Talbots pants alone. Not bad. I’ve illustrated my new skirt here with a favorite Eileen Fisher sweater and a white Anne Taylor blouse—a perfect low-key office outfit. However, I can wear the skirt with almost every colored shirt, blouse or sweater I own. My v-neck aquamarine cashmere sweater with a dangly necklace and camisole makes it a little more feminine—a good choice when I’m meeting friends after work for dinner. I can’t stress enough that feminine is a great post-50 look.

I won’t hesitate to go to the Talbots Outlet the next time I need pants. However, my recent experience hasn't alter my opinion of outlets. I like bargains as much as the next person and I understand that retail corners have to be cut to provide them. However, you have to be vigilant when shopping at a company’s outlet to make sure that the discounted garments are as well made as those found in the regular stores. Be sure to check the workmanship—the seams, buttons and zipper.

Outlet bargains aside, I still prefer the smaller regular Talbots shop, where I can easily admire the clothing because they are neatly arranged according to styles and size on shelves and racks. Also, there’s room to move around the displays. And when I’m ready to try the clothes on, the dressing rooms are roomy, well lit and don’t look like the scene of a recent clothes fight. Having salespeople available if I need them is another perk. And finally, if I can postpone a trip to Talbots till late season, I often find a lot of items on sale.

Of course, there’s always online shopping. Talbots has both its regular collection and outlet offerings online. Unfortunately, not all the garments I saw at the Talbots Outlet appear online, including my new wool skirt. Another drawback to online shopping: it may be difficult to visualize what a 2D dress on the website will look like on your 3D body. Or maybe that’s just my issue. You can check out Talbots latest collection and find a store near you at