Grown-ups frequently complain that mall stores cater to teens. Yet one by one, the "grown-up" concepts introduced by the big three: Gap (Forth & Towne), Abercrombie & Fitch (Ruehl No. 925) and most recently, American Eagle's Martin + Osa, have failed. Do the chains not understand what post-college shoppers want to wear into their 30s and beyond? Or are those shoppers not buying what they say they want? With Martin + Osa, I'd say it's a bit of both. AE didn't skimp on the trappings at Martin + Osa: the dramatic wood store exterior, the musky scent, the spacious fitting rooms that are like an escape to the country. Perhaps they should have spent more time developing the look of the clothes. A little bit J. Crew, a little Banana – Martin + Osa offered some great basics (I own several), but failed to truly distinguish itself and connect with its intended customer base. That said, shoppers need to step out of their rut, stop complaining and consider the alternatives – or the alternatives disappear and we're left with ultra low rise skinny, relaxed cut capris and not a whole lot in between.
But not quite yet. Martin + Osa is still receiving new spring merchandise and stores, including the Mall of America location, will remain open until they sell through it (sale merch is currently and extra 30% off; jeans are $25 off). Stores will close by July or August – maybe sooner, as people discover Martin + Osa, now that it's getting some attention.

Martin + Osa has always impressed me more for the store design and attention to details (no, you’re not just imagining that woodsy fragrance) than the merchandise. Yes, Martin + Osa – right here at the MOA, just a couple doors down from the Gap on the second level. Perhaps its that big wood wall next to the entryway where most stores have windows that throws people, but I’m willing to bet a whole lot of shoppers don’t know Martin + Osa exists. I’m frankly surprised it still does. The chain is owned by American Eagle, and targets thirtysomethings who’ve graduated from cutoffs and tanks. That would be me, except every time I visit, I find the clothes pretty boring and pricey. Nothing I couldn’t find at J. Crew or Banana, except J. Crew and Banana offer more fashion and better sales. Still, desperate as I am for the perfect summer tees, I stopped in recently and did find a few items worth trying on. And here’s the key. Even if you have no intention of buying, try something on at this store. The fitting rooms are true escapes: large, with cabin-like wooden walls and a scenic view on the back wall so you can visualize yourself stepping into the perfectly neat, preppy life those khakis will offer. During my stay, I was given a full-size bottle of Fiji water, which made wriggling in and out of my shirt totally worth the hassle. Next time I’m thirsty and in need of a getaway, you’ll find me in the fitting rooms at Martin + Osa. Please knock.

In case you missed my plus size fashion spread in last Sunday’s Pioneer Press, here’s a list of useful shopping resources:

  • La Rue Marche in Hudson, Wis. recently added a substantial selection of trendy plus-size apparel
  • b & lu – St. Paul-based website devoted to trendy, affordable plus size fashions
  • Maurices just added a plus size shop (16 to 24) in most of its stores, creating a new option for younger women looking for casual, career and dressy looks.
  • Did you know that American Eagle offers extended sizes, online only?
  • Great jeans: Svoboda
  • Great dresses and more: Monif C. and Kiyonna
  • Old Navy seems to be eliminating plus sizes in stores, but the online selection is still worth a look.
  • Other online resources: Igigi , Alright and Alloy
  • Curvy fashionista Sara Bartlett of St. Paul offers tips and reviews of plus-size fashions.