Times Writer Finds J.C. Penney's Focus On Fat People Clever, Amusing

"Why would this dowdy Middle American entity waddle into Midtown in its big old shorts and flip-flops without even bothering to update its ancient Helvetica Light logo?" asks the Times' Cintra Wilson in a remarkably nasty piece. Brace yourselves, kids.

Let me say, first of all, that I often like Cintra Wilson's "Critical Shopper" column: she writes with bite and personality and can be funny. In a paper often characterized by a tone as carefully bland as NPR's, she can be a breath of fresh air. But today's column, on Manhattan's first J.C. Penney, is a marvel of snobbery, cruelty, and ugliness.

Her overall point is that Penney's is middle-brow: a progenitor of the Target-championed "masstige" phenomenon, which gets name-brand designers to do cheapo lines, it is, she notes, a polyester-heavy rarity in the fashion mecca of Manhattan. Criticism of fast fashion, suspect manufacture and earth-unfriendly materials are one thing. Finding the clothes uninspired, poor copies of fashion is, I guess, a fashion writer's prerogative. But Wilson's aesthetic objections go way beyond that.

It took me a long time to find a size 2 among the racks. There are, however, abundant size 10's, 12's and 16's. The dressing rooms are big, clean and well tended. I tried two fairly cute items: a modified domino-print swing dress with padded shoulders by American Living (a Ralph Lauren line created for Penney's) and a long psychedelic muumuu of a style generally worn by Rachel Zoe. Each was around $80; each fit nicely and looked good. I didn't buy either because I can do better for $80, but if I were a size 18, I'd have rejoiced.

But wait, there's more! "The petites section features a bounty of items for women nearly as wide as they are tall; the men's Big & Tall section has shirts that could house two or three Shaquilles. And this is really, remarkably smart."

Because, you see, there are apparently people who wear these laughable sizes and are reduced to these knock-off fashions. It's understood that her readership will never set foot in this bit of middle-America; hence, I guess, the need for her report. This is, she concludes,

the genius of J. C. Penney: It has made a point of providing clothing for people of all sizes (a strategy, company officials have said, to snatch business from nearby Macy's). To this end, it has the most obese mannequins I have ever seen. They probably need special insulin-based epoxy injections just to make their limbs stay on. It's like a headless wax museum devoted entirely to the cast of "Roseanne."

This isn't, may I remind you, The Daily Mail. It's the New York Times, the alleged Paper of Record. Is this an attempt to be relevant? To draw on the snark of the blogosphere that the kids are supposedly so crazy about? Well, let me give you a little internet home-brew: FAIL. EPIC FAIL, even. I could add "compassion fail" and "humanity fail," if I so chose. I'd say "journalism fail," but if you keep this up, I won't need to.

Playing To The Middle [NY Times]