Westport Style: Why don't Westport women dress up anymore?

Westport's French fashion savant shops at boutiques on Sconset Square.

Westport’s French fashion savant shops at boutiques on Sconset Square.


France may have their Joan of Arc, Marie Antoinette and Catherine Deneuve, but Westport has its own French fashion savant. You may have seen her in town or even know her, but with the goodwill of Franco-American relationships a priority, she has requested anonymity.

“I’m not terribly comfortable commenting on the style sense of other women but, many Westport women asked me, “You’re so dressed up. Where are you going?” Always surprised, she answers, “I dress here the way I do in Paris!” She said she’s left wondering why don’t Westport women dress up a bit more?

It’s true by all accounts Westport women are hooked on athletic gear. The slinky stuff made of Lycra/ spandex, stretchy tights, tops and jackets that suck you in, that move when and where you do, have commandeered Westport’s street scene, taken over the restaurants, and are blamed for quieting the sales of fashion retailers.

“You see, in France apres gym or work out, we shower and put on an outfit that’s suitable for where the rest of our day will take us, explains our style savant. We aren’t as committed to a single look or way of dress.”

Lauren Rownin, a local fashion stylists explains, “Westport women are very busy, but the two things they love the most are their kids and workingout. They get out of bed throw on a pair of yoga pants, a stretchy top, causal jacket, a pair of designer sneakers and there’re set for the day. After they drop off the kids at the bus stop they head for the gym. It’s all about casual comfort.”

Westport’s Main Street has undergone change, with many of the old-name retailers who once populated its landscape moving to the new Norwalk mall with some claiming the rents are too high, while others cite a decline in customer traffic, and still others the internet. Most likely it’s a combination of all, but the new construction now going on signals Main Street maybe on the mend.

Nonetheless, Westport’s style story is a local one. Fashion brands must learn that what goes on in their other retail locations has little bearing on what their Westport customer wants to wear or how she wants to look. Sameness in apparel and accessories, last year’s fashion silhouettes, colors and fabrics, coupled with merchandise that does not feature quality or display an ageless appeal will not entice the style savvy Westport woman out of what has become her uniform. Like her French style-setting counterpart, she must be romanced, her fashion ego massaged with the latest trends, but most if all her mystique polished with a ‘”knowing” style that’s all her own.

Coco Chanel, the maker of the modern feminine mystique once said, “I don’t understand how a woman can leave the house without fixing herself up at least a little — if only out of politeness. And then, you never know maybe that’s the day she has a date with destiny, and it’s best to be as pretty as possible for destiny.”

Westporter Marilyn Harding is a byline fashion journalist having covered the American and European designer collections, and is a product forecasting consultant to an international network of leading retailers and designers. Her “Westport Style” column appears monthly.