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Fashion's 'Resort' Season: What Is It, And Why Does it Exist?

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You know Frank—he's been writing about menswear, sales, television, new shops, the recession, Lisa Loeb, the Golden Girls and getting blasted for Racked for over two years. Well, we think it's time you got to know him and his quirky-irreverent views on life and fashion even better with his column: Love, Frank. Taking the form of an open letter and always signed with love, Frank will rant about whatever style-related conundrum he encounters in a given week. So buckle your two-toned leather Moschino belts, folks, it's going to be ? Something.

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Dear Confounded Shoppers,

Yes, the stores know it's January. Yes, those stores are aware of the weather—the wet chill and the gray, short days. And yet, they don't have a single coat left for you. And you can't buy a winter accessory for your life. In fact, they're adding insult to injury by stocking racks and racks of billowing printed linen and poplin; peep-toed wedges; huge beachy totes; short, knee-skimming dresses; and menswear that would not be inappropriate on a mid-century cruise.

Because it's not winter anymore—despite the forecast. It's Resort, or Cruise, or—if you're at Sears—it's Holiday.

You see, after the holiday season, the leisure class traditionally beelines from their Beacon Hill and/or Upper East Side and/or Rittenhouse Square and/or Westchester real lives to their warm winter roosts down in Palm Beach or on the Cayman Islands. Said leisure class has long since completed their fall/winter wardrobes (before anything got marked down, because that's tacky); and now they need some new lightweight, jauntily printed play clothes for their weeks of al fresco brunches and horseback riding on the beach.

The original resort wear was Lilly Pulitzer. Grab this or one of a few other signature Lilly Pulitzer prints for your desktop here.

Specialty stores and labels have been catering to these fancy customers for generations—think Lilly Pulitzer. High-end designers, however (think Givenchy or Chanel or Ralph Lauren), added separate Resort collections later, in the '80s. Stores stocked it and people ate it up. As the New York Times noted in 1989, "the most mysteriously labeled of all fashion seasons" was a look "whose time has come."

Of course, this way of life has nothing to do with the rest of us. The only al fresco thing we're doing is trudging to the bus or digging the Toyota out of the slush.

So, why has the notion of Resortwear trickled all the way down to the Gap and Kohl's?

Well, there are a number of reasons. One of which, certainly, is cash. Why should a brand or a retailer sell two seasons of fresh new clothing a year when they can push four or more—especially when stores like Zara get new one-off micro-collections every 15 minutes? Further, why shouldn't said brand or retailer expect their design and development teams to squeeze out four or more unique, salable, directional collections a year? It doesn't cost them anything extra—aside from, you know, the sanity of an employee or two ?

Chanel Resort 2013

Two: Because in many parts of the country, winter is truly short or never happens at all. In the last decade or two the populations of places like Florida, the Southwest, Las Vegas, and California have exploded. Areas once mostly populated seasonally by lucky snow bunnies and year-round by retirees, renegades, and the service industry have become home to a shopping class of working families. Those people don't need wool coats, but they do need to get dressed for work. Which explains why a place like Macy's is selling bright turquoise from late November to early March. There's a market—and it's a relatively recent one.

Further, Macy's likely considers resort a part of its holiday offerings—at least in New Jersey or the Midwest. Retailers stock special items in November and December; articles you can wear to a holiday party or gift to someone. No matter the "it" color you will find reds and rich jewel tones; you'll find spangly party dresses and tuxedo shirts. The notion of holiday dressing is valid no matter where you live—and, again, it's a way to freshen Fall stock (which has been hanging around since as early as July); and give you the consumer a preview of Spring to come.

Which brings us to the fact that Resort (and Pre-Fall—and even more recent addition to the fashion calendar—in June) offers a glimpse at a brand's intentions for the big, upcoming seasons; they allow designers (when they're not going crazy from work overload) to create a continuous year-round narrative.

So, yes, it's frustrating that you can't buy a sweater in January (or a swimsuit in August). But, in a small way, it makes sense—stores think ahead so you don't have to: Pushing coats when you're thinking about lemonade and making sure you're set for the office holiday party or that month in the Caribbean (depending on your lot in life) when you're trick-or-treating.

· Love, Frank [Racked]