What Is Hanger Appeal? And Are There Two Sides?

Hanger appeal, though not a word you'll find in the dictionary, is a pretty common phrase for those who enjoy shopping. Everyone has had the experience of spotting a dress, shirt, or whatever out of the corner of their eye and being drawn to it immediately. But, unfortunately, after trying what had seen so tempting on, you were filled with nothing but disappointment. This experience is what I always thought of when I thought of falling for a piece's hanger appeal. However, recently, I remembered a little story from my life that changed my outlook.

An Example of Hanger Appeal

Much earlier in my life, I had the pleasure to live in the sunny, relaxed beach town of Avalon. Situated in New South Wales, Australia, and only 45 minutes north of Sydney, the state capital. The locals were known for their laid-back, yet trendy and fashionable manner. And being an area generally filled with relatively wealthy families and individuals, the surrounding boutiques and malls were well stocked and patronized.

If you've ever had the opportunity to move to a very new, very different town or city, you know that at first, it can be quite difficult to make friends quickly. Fortunately, at that time we had two young kids, so getting to know their classmate's parents was a great first bridge.

Because of my work and my background (Latinas have a justified reputation for being a bit vain), I have always been a well-dressed kind of mom. At the time, I had just done a couple of years of costume design in Paris and had done some styling for some very interesting women (a story for another time).

I found that whenever people knew that you were in that trade, the immediate question is: Did you make what you're wearing? After a while, I learned that it is better to wear what I've made. Not only does it fit better and suit my style, but I can be my own walking billboard, which has opened up a number of interesting opportunities in the past.

I dress with simple lines, mostly small prints and monochromatic or jewel tones I have learned with time this can make me look two sizes smaller, a few years younger, and a couple of inches taller and for the most part, it is all in my head.  This is called confidence (I think).  Having clothes that fit you well gives you just that.  So what this got to do with hanger appeal anyways? Nothing and everything.

Styling someone is perhaps the best shopping experience one can have, especially if the person paying has a Black American Express card or just an open account with the store in question.  My first client if I can call her that (she became a good friend) was the wife of a very wealthy Texan man.  I never saw the man, by the way, he was one of those traveling suitcases some women marry. 

Her daughter had been chosen for the lead role in the school's musical theatre performance. Our kids went to the same school though mine were much younger than her. The school contracted me to make the dress for the lead girl, a precocious 13-year-old with powerful vocals that would leave any rock star staring in envy.  Needless to say, I made a great dress and made a good impression on her mother. 

After the project was finished she boldly asked me if I knew where she could find a dress like that (that of her 13 years old), she apparently “needed it” and money was no issue.  I said you can find something similar at Herve Leger.

To which she replied, “Well what are you doing tomorrow? Would you come shopping with me? I will send a car for you.”

I said sure and my “job” had begun.

We went shopping, and as it turns out the dress did not look very good on her at all. Fortunately, something else caught my attention on a nearby hanger. It had a tight skirt and a flowy layer of silk charmeuse on top.  When I pointed it out to her she wrinkled her nose and said “grosse”.

But to which I replied “what are you 9? Just try it!”

The truth is that on the hanger the thing looked like candy floss stuffed with sausage.  But, once she put it on, the dress smoothed her bumps and the silk fell covering the important bits she did not want to show. For me, it was a lesson worth learning and one of the best examples of the reverse side of hanger appeal. 

hanger appeal

For the first time, I realized that after a certain age some women are reluctant to show their armpits or their upper arms.  I had no idea that if you lost a lot of weight the arms might still remain large or the skin would get loose. So, a loose transparent silk layer that showed just enough and nothing at all would have a marvelous effect.  Perfect!

The dress did many things for her, being on the short side it showed her killer muscular long legs while both covering her arms and showing a plunging back.  She became the first person in Australia that had officially called me a stylist.  After that, we would often go shopping, then to lunch, then she'd drop me at school where I would pick up my little ones.

“Reverse” Hanger Appeal

I hope that little story illustrates the idea that hanger appeal can work both ways. I hope it can also show some of the value in learning how to design and make your own clothes, as it can help you see things in pieces that others without that experience simply can't.

Why does this phenomenon exist? Well simply put, a hanger is not a person. No article of clothing is accurately represented without a human body wearing it, and even then it is hard to tell if that particular piece is suited to you.

From my experience, I believe that for those who don't know much about making or designing clothes, the experience of hanger appeal (or reverse hanger appeal) is usually a projection of your current mood. If you're feeling particularly good, most things around you are going to seem good to you, and vice versa.

How To Combat Hanger Appeal

I feel that an understanding of what makes well-designed and made well-made clothes is the key to having a better eye for clothes, on and off the rack. It is hard not to have a completely different outlook on fashion once you've completed your first few fashion projects, no matter what skill level you're at.

Another key, in my opinion, is to be well versed in the classics. The classics are built on rock-solid foundations of style, design, and functionality. Nearly every fashion innovation is built upon the classics, so once you know them, you have a window into so many more.

I hope you all enjoyed this little story. Subscribe to our mailing list to keep in touch. I've placed a quick form below for your convenience. And Until Next Time, Happy Sewing!

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I’ve long felt, when shopping, that if it looked good on the hanger, it wouldn’t look good on my lumpy body. However, if a dress looked bad on the hanger it had a chance!