Thursday, March 3, 2011

On Mr. Porter and wardrobe building

I came across this interview with Net-a-Porter's Natalie Massenet in the Wall Street Journal in which she talks about how Net-a-Porter came into being and grew into such a powerhouse. At the end, she remarks on the difference between how men and women shop. Here's the pertinent passage:
With Mr. Porter, we are not intending to just reskin Net-a-Porter and call it a men’s site. We’ve thrown away every thing we know about shopping online and started from scratch because we’re working with a customer base that’s inherently not crazy about going into stores. We’re tailoring the navigation and the services to cater to the male psychology of shopping, which is very different from a woman’s. Men shop to build a long-term wardrobe, while women focus more on short-term, trend-driven pieces. [italics mine]
I found the italicized concept pretty intriguing, so I went over to the Mr. Porter website (the male arm of NAP) to check out how this difference might translate into a different approach to dressing and strategy for selling.

Besides such hilarious features as "How to Please Her" (so dating anxiety isn't just confined to women!), the section that really intrigued me was the "Wardrobe Manager" section. It's basically what we've been calling the French Method for dressing. There's sub-sections that keep list the essentials for a complete wardrobe, a section to keep track of desired items, a re-order section to replace old and worn-out favorites, and a section that compiles recommendations from friends and the site. What this Wardrobe Manager suggested to me was a methodical, thoughtful approach to dressing as well as a style that remains consistent over time.

I really liked the Essentials list that they generated for their customers. While I don't agree that a tux is an essential item in a wardrobe (though for their target clientele it could be; but I imagine it's really on the list to flatter the consumer), I really appreciate the thoughtfulness behind the rationale for each of these items. Example:
It's useful to have a few casual shirts; you can always spot a man who wears the same shirts at the weekend as he does to the office during the week. Fabrics should be a bit heavier and less formal, which brings oxfords and substantial linens to the fore, and allows colours to be more expressive, because strong hues look better when the cloth is thicker.
Now I know it's difficult to compile a list of essentials for women, who have so much more variety in what they can wear, but I would love to have a list that narrowed down the features of any one essential item so that shopping becomes more analytical, targeted, and likely to end in success. I know various blogs do that to some degree, and I really love to hear the thought process behind figuring out what people really need and enjoy. I myself know that I hate overly textural fabrics next to my skin, but it took so much trial and error to come to that realization.

I would almost say that this approach to dressing, as evidenced at Mr. Porter, is more analytical and less emotion-driven, but I think that's only on the surface of things. Underneath, there's still that tried-and-true advertising strategy of creating anxiety about some heretofore unperceived deficiency or flaw, and then offering the panacea. Witness the "you can always spot a man who wears the same shirts at the weekend as he does to the office during the week." i.e. don't be that one of those boorish men who doesn't know how to have fun.

Anyway . . . Another long post. I realize I do this blogging thing all wrong, with lots of texts, very few pictures, and no covet-worthy items. So I appreciate the kind words in the comments that have encouraged me to keep writing. I hate to inundate or create more noise, so it's good to know that it doesn't come across that way.


  1. I love when you post and thank you for sharing your thought on Mr Porter. In terms of the words in italics, I agree and I wish women could shop like men. But the majority of women who shops are more fixated on more than less.

  2. I wish there were more women's sites like that! For me, it's the opposite. My boyfriend buys very cheap things and I try to buy lasting pieces.

  3. I agree with Fleurette, some women have a lot to learn from men. I am still in the process of trying to learn this.
    I am glad to see you have started posting more often, I really like your thoughtful posts :)


  4. I love this post, and who cares if you're blogging the 'right' way? Your way works for me - super thoughtful & true!

  5. Man, I'm so envious of men! They just don't care; the old mind games of advertisers don't get to them; they're pretty impervious in general.

    Love your writing style, and astute observations. Never noisy.

  6. Great post. I really try to build my wardrobe in this way- making lists, focusing on essentials. I'd say generally women don't do this though. I agree with leilani, blogging is about you expressing yourself, who cares if it's not the "right" way.

  7. Thanks for the comments! I appreciate every one of them.

    One of these days, I'll actually follow the implicit advice in my posts and actually compile a list and approach shopping more methodically.