Nancy Upton visits plus-size standbys Avenue, Ashley Stewart, and Lane Bryant.
This shopping trip resulted in a very mixed bag.
Many stores, across the style board, develop an image or type in our minds – whether cultivated or unintentional. After viewing window displays on numerous trips to the mall, or driving past them every day on the way to school or work, we get a pretty good idea in our minds of what is going on behind the front door.
However, savvy retailers know that once they become yesterday’s news, they need to shake things up a bit, go in a different direction. Think about the branding and re-branding of the Gap in recent decades to visualize this point.
Bearing this “retail evolution” idea in mind, I decided to check out three very familiar plus-size standbys and see how their offerings have (or have not) evolved. The outcome was mixed.
1. Ashley Stewart
My first stop was Wynnewood Village, site of one of two Ashley Stewart locations in Dallas. Opened in the 1950’s, this shopping center probably used to be adorable. In 2012, it’s extremely depressing. There are over 6,000 parking spaces (really), and if I had to venture a guess, there were about 17 total shoppers. It felt like an episode of The Twilight Zone.
Speaking to the store itself, Ashley Stewart carries sizes 12-26, and is gently-priced. After taking a look around, I have to call into question the quality of the pieces, however, as many fabrics looked very thin. There is a big difference between affordable and cheap. There also aren’t any discernible seasons or trends represented in the selection. The clothes could have been stocked at any point in the last five years.
If you decide to check out Ashley Stewart, head straight for hosiery and outerwear, which are currently on sale.
Stocking sizes “14 and up” (I spotted a 34/36 in the store), Avenue has the best size selection of the three retailers I visited. What I found most unique about this store, however, was the astounding span of horrible to great in the styles themselves.
This is a store in which both a 16 year-old girl and a 90 year-old woman could find things they like. Avenue definitely doesn’t cater to one demographic over another, but don’t expect fashion-forward styles. For example, immediately upon entering, I spotted the ugliest shirt I have ever seen (pictured here). Avenue’s stretchy fuchsia velvet top with bell sleeves is number one, with a bullet, the worst shirt of all time. If Barbie worked at a 1980’s-era Renaissance Faire, but had to make her own costumes, she would wear a very small version of this unfortunate shirt.
However, directly next to Renaissance Barbie’s blouse, adorable gold and silver sequin tops were stylish and affordable. Great faux furs, a denim selection to die for (with most pairs priced around $40), and DVF-style wrap dresses also made the cut. Over-done basics in awful colors did not.
When it comes to Avenue, I’d recommend visiting the website and calling ahead to your preferred location to make sure they have what you’re looking for.
3. Lane Bryant
Growing up in Waco, Lane Bryant was the only plus-size store at the mall, and I have vivid memories of walking past the mannequins clad in under-designed, monochromatic suit sets and thinking, “Those fake people look boring.”
Today, I am thrilled to report that this is no longer the case.
Offering sizes 14-28, Lane Bryant has stepped up its game in a major way, combining a clean interior, knowledgeable sales staff, and both fashionable and functional clothing for a wide range of tastes. As opposed to the other stores I visited, there were style choices to be made here. You’ll likely find clothing that not only fits, but fits who you are. This is a perk often denied to plus-size shoppers.
Notably, Lane Bryant also offers collaborations. The store is featuring a DKNY line right now that rocks an awesome faux leather jacket (pictured here, $80) and some sweet graphic tees. There are also plenty of accessories, shoes in sizes 8W-12W, and a fantastic selection of denim. Finally, a new system called LB2ME means that, if an item is out of stock, you can pay for it in-store and have it shipped to you for free.
Despite being the priciest store I visited on my trip, Lane Bryant represents retail evolution at its best.
(Lead photo, credit: Lane Bryant via Facebook; Inset photos, credit: DFW Style Daily)