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.
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