A few years ago, I was walking around downtown Portland when I stepped into a clothing store and started looking around. Within a matter of minutes I found two or three shirts that I liked and looking further, I saw a few pairs of pants to go with those shirts as well as complementing sweaters and a blazer. It was quickly turning into a productive shopping day except for one thing - I was standing in the menswear section. So it was productive but mainly for the benefit of my husband. And then I realized that I’d been in this position many times before. My husband has never liked shopping so when I would go out browsing for myself, I’d pick up clothes for him too. And it was always much easier to shop for him. Professional menswear has consisted of a single, uniform style for over a hundred years, varying mainly in its degree of formality. By contrast, womenswear has consisted of hundreds of styles that are still changing today. It’s what we know as fashion. And for women who love fashion this is great; in particular, the current trend of fast fashion means a neverending flow of new clothing styles. But for women who don’t love fashion, don’t have time for it, or who just want high-quality clothing that shows consistent and timeless style, the current state of fashion and the experience of buying clothes can be overwhelming and painful.
Women’s workwear is estimated to be a $35 billion market. In spite of this, for the longest time there has been no real definition for what it means to be workwear. There is an enormous opportunity in that – an opportunity to define a market and create a workwear lifestyle that resonates with working women today. Importantly, there have been significant shifts in the workplace over the last two decades as dress codes have become less formal, trending towards business casual and even casual. This means that workwear can be everyday wear, and it becomes possible to have a single wardrobe that you can wear everywhere. At the same time, women are busier than ever as they balance their home and work lives. In this environment, a more uniform style of womenswear makes sense.
The idea of simplifying womenswear into a more uniform style has some precedent in the U.S. More than one hundred years ago, in the same decade leading up to women’s suffrage, a group of activist women set out to implement a campaign for dress reform.1 In 1916, they formed a committee to explore and design a standardized dress for women. Their motivation for this project was their fatigue with the cost and effort required to keep up with the constantly changing fashion styles. Sound familiar? After several months of meetings, the committee presented a single dress style, named the Biennial Dress, to a wider audience of women. The new dress and its underlying mission were applauded, but in the end, it’s adoption never took off. If it had, fashion for women might have been very different today.
So why Lily Kastur? It’s simple; we aspire to be the next incarnation of that mission started a century ago. We believe it’s time for standardized dress 2.0.
Founder | LILY KASTUR
1. For a fuller account of the standardized dress movement, see The Lost Art of Dress by Linda Przybyszewski.