There are a few universally loved items I buy like clockwork for every actress I dress whenever we are starting up a new show. They are the workhorses of their show wardrobes -- pieces we rely on every single day.
A properly stocked show closet always includes the following: some Commando brand thong underwear, a Barefoot Dreams robe, a pair of Uggs for warmth on set, some Flexees boyshorts and a set of microfiber Karen Kane tanks in black, nude, white and cream -- preferably in doubles, as actresses steal them ALL THE TIME. They're that good.
(Click anywhere on photos for purchasing information.)
[Edit: A clever commenter pointed out that if you sign up for Karen Kane's emails, they send you a 20% off coupon!]
Oh! They also come in plus sizes -- up to a 3X.
But almost EVERYONE I put in them ends up going one size down from what they'd normally wear in them, as the idea is to have them fit as snugly as possible without crushing your internal organs. I personally own at least 7 dozen of them.
Have you ever picked up one of the sheer, airy, see-through chiffon tops currently ruling the racks of department stores and thought, “What the hell am I supposed to wear under a transparent shirt?” I’ll bet you have, and this tank top is your answer.
It’s one of the single most useful items you can have in your wardrobe. It’s an incredible layering piece (made of super soft nylon and spandex) that manages to smooth out every bulge and creates a totally sleek line under clothes. Plus the straps are wide enough to hide your bra straps. They do make a spaghetti strap version of this same tank, but I’m a die-hard fan of the true wide "tank" strap cut.
I didn’t realize until just recently that Karen Kane actually makes these tanks that I swear by right here in the USA. In fact, they are made only about 10 miles from me -- just south of downtown Los Angeles!
Karen Kane has been around since 1979, when they operated out of Karen’s garage in Studio City, California and did all their own sewing and manufacturing. (Yes, there really is a Karen Kane, a true California girl in every sense of the word, born in beautiful Santa Barbara.) Their clothes are sold in every major department store around the country, so I was stunned to see that they actually manufacture the bulk of their clothes in the USA these days.
It’s really quite uncommon for such a huge company. I did a little digging and found that Karen Kane has historically made 50% of their clothing in the U.S. and 50% overseas, but has recently changed that mix to 80% made in the U.S. and only 20% oversees.
It’s part of a welcome manufacturing trend called “onsourcing” or “reshoring”. An August 2011 report by the Boston Consulting Group called "Made in America, Again" explains why China's manufacturing cost advantage over the U.S is shrinking, and fast. From the report:
“For many goods, when transportation, duties, supply chain risks, industrial real estate, and other costs are fully accounted for, the cost savings of manufacturing in China rather than in some U.S. states will become minimal within the next five years.”
I hadn’t considered that Karen Kane had any clothes I’d be interested in besides my beloved tanks until I started writing this post. In my mind, it was a line of clothes worn by dorky moms with boring office jobs.
So I was kind of stunned to see that their current line of clothes actually appealed to me in a big way. Maybe it’s because I’m getting a little bit older, but there were tons of pieces that were fashion forward without being totally cloying. I’ve been dying for some simple, on-trend pieces that weren’t calling a ton of attention to themselves.
I noticed that not only were the Karen Kane dresses simple and cute, they all appeared to be long enough to actually cover my ass. Fingertip length is my jam. I need to be able to bend over and pick things up without fear of flashing my bosses. I have enough problems at work -- I don't need to add "flashing people" to this list.
The Karen Kane pieces I've seen seem to reflect the quality that the price ($48.00-$198.00) implies -- it's not friggin' Prada but it sure is a cut above most mall clothing. Patterns match up, seams are sewn straight and the fabrics don't bunch, twist or scratch you. I've for sure never had a Karen Kane garment break my whole body out in hives. (Pro tip: clock their sales like crazy -- the prices are almost instantly half off!)
I love that Karen Kane's plus-size clothing options mirror a lot of the same looks as their "straight" sizes. There is such a gap of style in most lines that deign to cater to those who may be outside the "norm" of sizes. Why shouldn't my best friend, who happens to be a 2X, be able to buy the same jacket we are both admiring?
As Marianne so eloquently pointed out in her "Confessions of a Former Lane Bryant Employee: What I Learned From Selling Clothes to Other Fat Women"post:
"There's a certain despair that comes with not being able to buy clothes -- access to plus size clothing is a huge issue (and one that reaches beyond fashion) because you can't leave the house naked. You can't go to work without work-appropriate clothing. You can't feel confident about yourself and your abilities if you cannot accomplish the fundamental task of getting dressed in the morning."
As a commenter on her post further pointed out:
"Not being able to dress in a similar way to your friends is profoundly misery-making to many young women. I think it's vital for plus-size stores to up their game when it comes to reflecting mainstream trends."
It IS time for retailers of all stripes to up their game. Both in servicing plus-size shoppers and in a commitment to bringing manufacturing back to the U.S. Karen Kane has scored a direct hit in attempting to make good on both of these fronts. I'm looking at their garments first when I pull for a show these days.
And trust me on the tank top -- it's damn near magical.
I'm on Twitter: @IveyAlison