What happens when a preppy store sets up shop in the mall? This is usually not a good sign for the purist consumer.
Once a store with a preppy base goes down the mall path, they increasingly find themselves producing items instead for the capricious mall shopper.
- Rather than for product development - which includes the subtle and almost invisible improvement of core products over a span of years that keeps the loyal customers coming back - money is diverted into splashy marketing and advertising.
- Companies often bow to the pressure to produce many "new" items several times a year. They build garments that are often bold and garish, designed for a season, not a lifetime, that will compete for the eye of the passing potential consumer. Items are often made more cheaply, to generate higher initial profits (and then to remain slightly profitable during the inevitable price slashing).
Different companies handle the lure of the mall differently. Here are some.
Traditional preppy companies that are on the bubble:
- Brooks Brothers (on the slick side - best for business)
- Vera Bradley (have abandoned their classic patterns)
- L.L. Bean (for whom Eddie Bauer should be a cautionary tale)
- Lands' End (in the shadow of Sears)
Companies that have maintained their integrity:
- J. Press
- Orvis (Although a new approach to their Women's offerings may be decades overdue, and their Spring Men's selections could use a little attention as well.)
Ralph Lauren, despite offering a slew of trendier items, still offers year after year, a venue for women to procure their perfectly classic Polo Shirts, Oxford Shirts, Rugby Shirts, and Cable Sweaters. The Men's offering are almost always on target.
Given this, here is a question. Where do Vineyard Vines, Lilly Pulitzer and Sperry Top-Sider fit in?
It is more useful and less wasteful for purists to seek out the niche companies, preferably with a hands-on owner firmly in place at the helm. This is where one will find an extremely high percentage of products that fit their lifestyle. Excellent examples include:
Customers, especially women, must work harder and harder to cobble together a classic and functional wardrobe. Ferreting out the staples consumes more time that could otherwise be more productively and satisfyingly spent. Companies that shift or undermine their base-beloved items don't help.
But the best dressed will seek out the best items, and remain loyal not just for years, but generations. The rest of the people will shop at whatever store happens to be next to the food court this week.