The message to consumers ages 25 to 40 could not be clearer: It’s time to grow up.
It is a message that more and more clothing stores are sending. In the past year, Abercrombie & Fitch, all but synonymous with high school and college, has created Ruehl No. 925, for the postcollegiate crowd. The king of preppy, J. Crew, has started Madewell, for twenty- and thirtysomething women. The dominate casual clothing chain, Gap, has begun Forth & Towne, for women 35 and older. And young-adult retailer Pacific Sunwear has created One Thousand Steps for shoppers over 20.
-- "Leaving Behind the Torn-Jeans Look," NYT, Sep 5, 06
But those of us who are in the 25-40 demographic ought not get big heads or anything: retailers are hoping to establish their thirtysomething brands before Gen Y gets to that age group. Of interest in the article:
The prices at Martin & Osa are unlikely to shock anyone who has paid full price at Banana Republic, Kenneth Cole or French Connection, but they are by no means inexpensive. A cashmere turtleneck is $168, a merino cardigan is $88 and a pair of chino-inspired track pants is $78.
“We are going after a customer whose closet is overflowing,” said Ms. Martin, who shortly after entering a room for an interview asks if she can turn on mood-setting music. “She does not need a T-shirt. She needs an experience.”
Actually, I need a t-shirt. I can't wear an experience out in public without getting cited for violating indecency laws. Does anyone else think it's cute how there's this underlying assumption that "thirtysomething" equals "spending like a drunken sailor"? You can get a well-made cashmere t-neck for 29% less elsewhere.
Also of interest:
As part of their research, [Michele and Charles Martin ] spent hours at airports, particularly hubs like Chicago O’Hare, to see what their target customers wore when they wanted to be comfortable.
They spotted jeans, of course, but also drawstring pants, sweats and hoodies — in short, clothes that the Martins believed were often too casual and too young for those who wore them.
To recap: thirtysomethings, you are apparently too old to be wearing drawstring pants, sweats and hoodies in public. Now go put on this $168 cashmere turtleneck and this $78 pair of ... track pants.
I am really, really curious as to how this whole "Thirtysomethings! Shop here!" thing is shaking out for retailers. It's been a year since Forth & Towne's launch, and I am not seeing the clothes catching much media buzz. The chain's made $13 million in sales since Q3 2005, but it seems a little early to assess anything like how cyclical sales cycles will affect bottom-line growth.
The one move that really intrigues me: J. Crew's Madewell brand is actually positioning itself as a less expensive, more casual counterpart to the main brand. This seems like a natural next step for the firm. Longtime customers like me will remember that the company repositioned itself in late 2003 by contracting the number of items in the line, yanking the price points up dramatically and moving from a youthful, trendy profile to a more preppy-chic angle ("Mickey Drexler's Redemption," New York, Nov 29, 04). Bringing in a lower-priced, casual line is a great way to appeal to customers who want the look but can't stomach the $88-per-merino-sweater price. It's sort of what Ann Taylor did with Ann Taylor Loft -- and look how well that turned out; the lower-priced chain now has a greater percentage of overall sales.
But I keep circling back to the ideas that retailers are targeting my demographic with pricier, presumably less casual clothing. Will it work? My thirtysomething cohort had been documented as not being big clotheshorses. Then again, these chains really aren't for us, are they?