Byline: Holly Haber and Rusty Williamson / Carol Emert / Laurie Stanek
Innerwear departments in major discounters may not always win prizes for ambience, but they're packed with an array of value-priced brands, with bras in particular getting the spotlight. Vendors have been reporting a growing demand for brands from these mass merchants, and the stores appear serious in featuring them, even though sizing may not always be complete and some specialty items may be in short supply. Sports bras are well covered, however. WWD sent reporters coast to coast to shop major discounters, and here's what they saw.
DALLAS Wal-Mart's impressive SuperCenter stores aren't much of a visual treat, with only minimal splashes of signs and harrowingly bright lights. But in the intimate apparel and sleepwear areas, as in others, deep and wide inventories compensate for the dearth of visual merchandising: There are a lot of bras, panties, camisoles, robes and slips, and they're packed onto racks, hung on walls and stacked in vertical stands. The throngs that congregate in these popular areas create a squeeze in the narrow aisles. Such was the case in the women's intimate apparel and sleepwear sections at the Wal-Mart SuperCenter on Highway 183 in the Dallas suburb of Irving, near Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport. A visit one sweltering August mid-afternoon found a packed parking lot and crowds to match in the intimates area, a giant wedge in the middle of the store flanked by women's sportswear, handbags, children's wear and men's furnishings. The area was denoted by a simple "Intimates" sign dangling high in the air. Call it bra paradise for the bargain-minded, with a spectrum of vendors, from national brands such as Playtex and Fruit of the Loom to lesser-known labels like Love Pats and Secret Treasures. Sports bras led the lineup, and there was a niche just for the category, ironically located within the sleepwear section. Brands there included Gitano, LA Gear and Secret Treasures, among others. After passing through the cozy sleepwear alcove that housed everything from negligees by Midnight Hour and sleep shirts by Club Bed and Night Star, a shopper runs into more bras, this time not limited to the sports variety. Hanging on wide grids in neat rows near some dressing rooms were bras by Bill Blass, Jordache, Hanes Her Way, Playtex, Bonjour, Fruit of the Loom and White Stag. Packaged panties from many of the same vendors lined wall racks across the aisle from the bras, dominated by Hanes Her Way, Just My Size, Lady Manhattan and Vassarette. It was Vassarette, in fact, that seemed to get the most play of any brand in the innerwear department, in camisoles, panties, bras, slips and sleepwear. At a Kmart store on Belt Line Road, also in Irving, bras and panties in myriad brands and styles dominated the intimate apparel department. The foundations area, which spread across two-thirds of the innerwear department, was surrounded by the hosiery, accessories, misses' sportswear and maternity apparel departments. Red and white banners along the top of the back wall listed several national brands of foundations, but that was the extent of visual merchandising. There were no displays or photographs, giving the innerwear department somewhat of a bare-bones feeling compared with other departments. For example, the cosmetics department featured many eye-catching back-lit signs. Foundations brands identified by the signs included Playtex, Hanes Her Way and Just My Size. Index card-sized signs at the top of fixtures identified bras and panties by Fruit of the Loom, Bonjour, Chic, Self*Expressions and Sasson. There also were the chain's own brands, including Jaclyn Smith and Expressions By Fiore Collezione, and there were lots of bras that had no labels. Bras and panties were arranged haphazardly on silver four-way fixtures, with brands sometimes mixed together. The assortment of sizes was spotty--it was nearly impossible to find a 36C cup size. Bras by Playtex, however, were displayed coherently and comprehensively in their own niche. But the mass retailer slumbered when it came to merchandising sleepwear under its Ashley Taylor and Kelly Reed labels. Sleepwear offerings included loud floral muumuus, and shifts in boring cotton prints and in semisheer nylon pastels reminiscent of the Fifties. There wasn't a satin slipdress in sight. At a nearby Target outlet in Irving Towne Center, sleepwear was trendier and got a comparatively greater percentage of floor space in the innerwear department. It was displayed along the aisle and took up almost half the space allotted to innerwear. Target featured polyester charmeuse slipdresses under its Honors label in solids and floral prints, trimmed in lace. Also prominently displayed were cotton knit crop tops in solid brights with matching pull-on pants, also by Honors. The department showed some display effort: The knit pajamas and the charmeuse slip were featured on models in big color posters suspended from the ceiling. Target offered more conservative fare with printed cotton nightgowns under its Gilligan & O'Malley label. A selection of boldly printed muumuus similar to Kmart's was available under the Honors label. In foundations, Target featured lots of push-up bras in solid satins, satin jacquards and cotton thermals. Foundations brands included Playtex, Hanes Her Way, Just My Size, Chic, Candies and Self*Expressions. There were sports bra brands from Spalding, Jacques Moret and the Pro Spirit label by Target.WASHINGTON Eye-catching displays of Vassarette and Bestform bras were front and center at a Caldor outlet in the Seven Corners area of Arlington, Va., a suburb of the nation's capital. The bras and some panties were attractively arranged and displayed on racks topped with framed, brand-advertising posters. Store personnel had apparently taken pains to make sure the area was tidy and well organized, with colors arranged together, and all items neatly on their hangers. All of the items on these stands featured strong colors such as plum and bronze in satins and textured treatments that had a look of embroidery. The bra displays along the aisle included cleavage-enhancing push-up bras by Her Secret by Vassarette, and underwire, lace push-up bras by Show-off by Bestform. Another rack of similar merchandise was located behind a table display of cotton panties by names such as Hanes Her Way, on sale for $1.39 each. The department was bordered by a display wall on one side separating it from the footwear department, and on the other side by nightwear and junior dresses. A good selection of activewear, primarily exercise bras and bike shorts, was just across the aisle. These departments were located on the second floor of the two-story store, a former Lord & Taylor. Just behind the bra displays on the aisle were two long display stands--one for sports bras and the other for bras discounted to three styles for $15, some of which were full-figure styles. Near the back wall were shelf racks, one showing Hanes Her Way and Fruit of the Loom packaged panties, one with Fruit of the Loom shapers and bras, and one holding boxed Bestform and Playtex bras. Other display stands housed cotton panties by L.A. Gear Sport and L.A. Gear Naturals. While Caldor's selection was excellent for women looking for average-sized bras and panties, there were few specialty items such as shapewear or basic, full-figure foundations . A Kmart unit in Annandale, Va., carried some of the same merchandise, but the innerwear department was much smaller and unkempt. Store personnel had haphazardly deposited three shopping carts holding items such as hangers and a wheeled rack in the aisle in front of the department. Eight round fixtures along the aisle displayed a mix of bras by Self*Expressions and Fruit of the Loom; coordinating bras and panties by Kathy Ireland, and sports bras by Chic, which were being promoted in a "buy one, get one free" sale. There also was an array of cotton thongs by Ashley Taylor Panties for $1 each, and packages of three styles of panties by Bestform Silver Saver, discounted to $6 from $6.99. There was an attempt to decorate the innerwear department with a table covered with a cloth and a candle, but the candle was wrapped in cellophane and had a noticeable price sticker.LOS ANGELES Bras are apparently a big business at the Kmart unit in Hollywood. The innerwear department is dominated by a number of bras ideal for wardrobing, ranging from tailored cotton and sleek satin looks to push-up demicups and sports styles. The size of the bra section is an indicator of the amount of bras Kmart sells. "We expand on whatever sells the most," said Sam Kesmirie, fashion manager for the outlet. "If it doesn't, we'll just cut the category." On a recent visit, the innerwear department seemed to take its cue from its Hollywood locale in achieving a well-lit, colorful look. Stocked with such vendor names as Playtex, Hanes Her Way, Bestform, Fruit of the Loom and Just My Size, the department housed each innerwear category independently with visually stimulating fashion colors and styles. Panties were merchandised on one side of the area and could be purchased individually or in packages of two or three styles. The opposite side of the department housed a large selection of sleepwear and robes. Slips and shapewear occupied a minimal amount of floor space But a consumer in search of a specialty item, such as a nursing bra, would have had a difficult time finding it--hidden behind nightshirts and almost outside the innerwear department. Among various other labels turning up in the department were Sasson and Chic in sports bras and Bonjour in crop top and bikini sets.
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