Shopping with Kim Crow

If you read her style column in The Plain Dealer, you already know how fabulous she is. She’s pretty — not perfect. She splurges — within reason. She realizes that a good outfit makes you feel great, but won’t change

I got to know Kim Crow over a cup of coffee and a newspaper every Wednesday morning: me, curled up in my coziest chair and her, smiling above her weekly style column in The Plain Dealer.

If you’ve read her, then you know she’s like the best girlfriend you never had: She knows where to shop to look cool, but not too cool for your age. Compliments you all the time — sincerely. Makes jokes at her own expense.1 Knows where to go for the best pedicure in town. Recommends making quality purchases, but not going into debt for that super-high-end handbag. Teaches how to sneak purchases into the house on the grounds that most husbands will never understand how important it is for us to look put-together.

Vogue makes me feel poor, fat and frumpy.

Kim makes me feel fabulous.

She does this by serving as a fashion filter — attending the shows, tracking the trends and following new lines, then weeding out the unwearable, outrageously expensive and just plain ugly. Her column is written for the 99 percent of women who aren’t a wealthy size two.

She de-snobs fashion.

So you can see why I had to call her up. Our column-and-coffee relationship was not enough. Really, I only had one question for her:

“Will you be my friend?”

Getting to Know Kim
Age • 38

Lives • In Ohio City

Grew up • Madison, Ohio, in Lake County

If she were worth millions, she’d wear •Vera Wang, Prada and Oscar de la Renta

Fashion pet peeves • Flip-flops in the office, the Eva Longoria/Juicy Couture look

The state of her closet • A horrible mess, then totally organized for six weeks, then a horrible mess again


Favorite color to wear • Brown

Dream handbag • A classic quilted Chanel bag (available at Saks Fifth Avenue)

im Crow says yes!

We arrange the perfect girls’ afternoon out. While all my other friends are at work or caring for their small children, Kim is there when I need her most — for jeans shopping.

On a sunny Thursday afternoon, we meet at Girl Next Door in Rocky River. I get a speeding ticket (37 in a 25) trying to be early to meet my new friend and end up being late. But when I walk in, Kim is chatting and laughing with the sales girls.

They ask her if she’s going to try on jeans as well. “You know my rules,” she laughs. Her favorite, most flattering cut is an A-line skirt.

Today she’s wearing a brown jersey Susanna Monaco dress, wedge heels and a hand-tooled silver and leather bracelet made by designer Dana Schneider. Her orange bag is Marc by Marc Jacobs, a brand we will soon discover we both frequently covet and occasionally buy. On the short side and blessed with a creamy complexion, she’s the kind of woman who will look eternally cute. She always seems to be smiling or just on the verge of doing so.

Kim’s going through the racks, oohing and ahhing and occasionally harrumphing. What makes her mad, she says, is the small range of sizes offered by cool designers. Most only make up to a size 10 — too small for her curves.

She’d like to lose weight. We’d all like to lose weight. But we also like to enjoy life — and cheese. Kim’s ultimate going-out temptation is the gourmet mac and cheese at Lolita. At home, it’s nachos on the couch.

The trick is finding jeans that disguise those indulgences.

Out come stacks of jeans by Citizens of Humanity, Joe’s Jeans and True Religion.

“They’re so soft,” Kim says, examining a pair of Citizens she finds on display. The quality and wash of the fabric, as well as the design, justify the $100-plus price, she explains. When I try on The Rocker by Joe’s Jeans and come out of the dressing room, Kim is waiting.

A bad friend is too self-absorbed to flatter you. A good friend finds the best in you. Kim shouts it.

“Go look in the mirror,” she yells. “Your ass looks fabulous in those jeans!”

I head for the mirror and turn my torso to take a look. Premium denim has done wonders for my nonpremium derrière.

If you have only one pair of designer jeans, Kim advises, they should be a “dress jean.” These fit the bill: long enough to wear with heels, an almost-black wash and super snug. Jeans worn out to dinner should not sag, she says.

I am happy. With apologies to all of my other friends, I am much happier with Kim than I am with any of you. You may have invited me to dinner, given me gifts and helped me out of numerous binds, but you never did this.

The only issue now is the price — $172. Steep. I could easily buy three or four pairs from another label for this amount. Kim’s heard similar comments countless times: “I don’t like the way I look, but I don’t want to spend any money on clothes.” Or, “I want to look cool and hip, but I think it’s a sin to spend a lot of money on clothes.”

As a reader, I know better. Kim does not advise spending a fortune on clothes. She advises buying less, but of a better quality. She suggests evaluating a purchase by anticipated cost-per-wear.3 I’ll put these jeans on dozens of times before next summer and dozens more after that. I love these jeans.

Kim’s right. I should buy them.

Jeans purchased, we’ve got an hour before our pedicure. The sun’s out, so we opt for a drink al fresco at The Pub in Rocky River. Kim orders champagne.

“I like your sunglasses,” she says.

“Marc by Marc Jacobs,” I counter cheerfully, knowing she will approve. It’s a stylish brand without being showy. It’s not like having a big “DG” hanging next to your temple, advertising that you paid $300 for your Dolce & Gabbanas.

Soon, we’re talking about what’s appropriate to wear past age 35. She loves an artsy, romantic look, but says she’d look better in something more structured. We talk about the good boutiques, the bad ones, the chains worth shopping at and the ones we always spend too much money at (Anthropologie).

It’s a fluffy conversation, but it gives us “common ground,” as Kim points out. We’re having fun. Dare I say, becoming friends?

This, says Kim, is one of the benefits of fashion. You can call it trivial, but you can say the same of more male-oriented bonding agents — football, cars and beer. None of it will change the world.

Kim knows this.

“If you’re an intelligent person,” she says, “to justify spending all of your hours writing about hemlines, it would be a bore.” But every morning, every person gets dressed. “It’s bigger than what it seems.”

Your clothes tell people who you are and where you are in life. “Fashion is all about image, which is all about perception — and that’s where it gets interesting for me as a writer.”

Then, she continues, there’s the “love-hate relationship most women have with clothes and beauty products. Now that’s fascinating stuff, because I find that even the women who say they don’t care about fashion at all base that in part on having a tortured relationship with it.”

We walk into Renuvo salon for a pedicure, and Kim shares a flurry of hugs, kisses and compliments: “Oh, I love your skirt.” “That color looks great on you.” She elevates the mood in the room — with a quality her co-workers call “relentless good cheer.”

She picks out a polish to match her new handbag, a plum Tori Burch clutch. She bought it at Knuth Shoes in Pepper Pike for $350.

Kim’s a lot more prudent than her handbag purchases might indicate. In college at Ohio University, she decided to become a graphic designer, not because she preferred it to writing and reporting, but because she knew she’d always have a job if she learned in-demand design skills.

“I’m a very practical person above all things,” she says.

Laying out stories for her college paper every night from 10 p.m. until 4 or 5 a.m. was grueling but fun, and it landed her a job quickly after college at Gannett Suburban Newspapers in Westchester County, just outside of New York City.

At 23, she went to the Charlotte Observer, where she began covering fashion when a co-worker went on maternity leave. Three years later, she switched to thePittsburgh Post-Gazette, where she met an illustrator named Ted Crow. She was 26 when she bought her first home — an arts-and-crafts bungalow she loved so much, she decided to hold her wedding there. She married Ted at 32.

Kim spent only $75 on her wedding dress (from Caché, modeled after Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy’s gown, bought on eBay).

But her budget spiked with an $800 water bill that followed months of preparing her garden. “It was the hardest I ever worked — physically — in my life,” she says. She used every trick she knew to force her flowers to bloom for the ceremony.

But when her sister had her first child, Kim decided it was time to come home. The Plain Dealer hired her as the style and PDQ editor.

All of this she tells me from her pedicure chair at Renuvo. When she says something funny, she leans over, wrinkles her button nose and delivers the line. This summer, she says, she happily came down the steps of her Ohio City home wearing her most recent find, a tunic-style Calypso electric-blue silk dress she was going to wear out to dinner with Ted.

“Oh,” he deadpanned, “is that a new potato sack?”

She tells me about her mom’s obsession with Meg Ryan’s hair. How she takes a tape measure along to her hairstylist appointments to get the layers just right. About the time a woman shouted at her in the mall not to wear white after Labor Day. “It was a drive-by insult,” she says. She’s showing the same humor that’s in her columns, a knack for noting and retelling the funny in life.

Toes painted, our day done, the flurry that is Kim says her goodbyes and we walk out.

Before we part, she extends her arms and confirms it.

“We’re friends,” she says. “Friends hug.”
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