TRENDS HIT MASS, MODERATE
Byline: SOPHY FEARNLEY-WHITTINGSTALL / HOLLY HABER / CAROL EMERT
Upscale department stores don’t have a monopoly on fashionable swimwear. WWD examined swimwear on the mass and moderate levels, interviewing buyers as well as venturing to the stores. The result was plenty of trends, from crochet to plaid, at great prices.
CHICAGO — A recent visit to Sears, Roebuck & Co. and Target stores in the Chicago suburbs showed that these mass-market chains are in tune with current trends, especially plaid, and can offer them at very competitive prices.
Neither store had any style priced over about $45 at full price. Since both stores had 30 percent off summer markdowns in progress, prices were even better — going as low as $9 for a trendy plaid string bikini at Target, for example.
Sears swimwear department was located conveniently between accessories — close to the straw hats and sunglasses — and Mainframe, the junior department. Misses’ styles, junior and special sizes were sensibly housed in a single area, which also included some coverups like oversize cartoon-character T-shirts.
The majority of the racks bore “30 percent off” markers, and customers were thumbing through the selections, which catered to a wide range of tastes and figures.
Sears was strongest on larger sizes and figure-control suits and also had a much better selection of one-pieces than two-pieces.
The most fashion-forward look was a plaid one-piece with an underwire top by At Sea Level with a Mainframe label, which sold at $30 full-price and was still available in a range of sizes.
Some other fashion looks, however, seemed to have sold out in smaller sizes. For example a natural, crocheted one-piece at $40 (full-price) was only available in 16 or larger.
The selection of bikinis was much more limited and seemed to be targeted at the junior market. There were a few crocheted bikinis by At Sea Level, which sold for $30 full-price, but only in red. The same brand also had some plain tops and bottoms, sold separately at $12 each and not on sale. The tops were either a more constructed bandeau style or string style halter-necks, but the range of sizes was limited.
In addition, the colors were unfashionably bright or a gaudy floral print, except for a few suits in basic black.
Suits designed to mask figure flaws — with skating skirts, tummy control panels, etc. — were available in all shapes, styles and colors. Some of these also showed a nod toward fashion, for example, a plaid suit by Beach Street with a hip-minimizer, cut very low on the legs. However, the price tag was missing.
Target’s selection of swimwear was much more limited, and everything was marked down 30 percent. A sign helpfully translated full prices to their marked-down level, since individual tags hadn’t been amended.
Display was limited to a single poster of a model wearing the plaid string bikini mentioned above, only one of which remained in the department in a color other than the one on the poster.
Target’s fashion was all invested in plaid, with a couple of different one-piece styles and color tones by Pro Spirit at $28.99 and $15.99, both full price. There was also a red plaid lingerie-style bikini with underwire top, also by Pro Spirit, at $28.99.
Target also had a good selection of basic ribbed tank suits in a variety of colors by South Point, a division of Jantzen, at $17.88.
For the hard-to-fit figure, the choices at Target were much more limited, although the few styles there were attractive. They included a polkadot bikini with a skating skirt and bust-enhancing top by Honors for $39.99, full price. Honors also had an attractive one-piece suit, also for $39.99 full price, with a blue, yellow and silver ethnic print with a tummy control panel and bust enhancer.
ATLANTA — At Steinmart, Jacksonville, Fla., Mike Remsen, vice president and divisional merchandise manager, said swimwear accounts for 4 to 5 percent of total women’s sportswear business.
Steinmart features swim-wear year-round in some of its Florida stores, but most units start their swimwear selling season in mid-February or early March, and the season wraps up by Labor Day.
Remsen said this year that markdowns started the week of July 4. “We’ve noticed that the season is starting earlier, but we have more of a wear-now customer,” he said.
He explained that since many pools don’t open until Memorial Day, his customers will put off buying a suit until then. “We have also noticed that department stores are ending their seasons earlier, which is good for us.”
He said his customer is very aware of the trends and that this year the focus seemed to be on push-up bras and top details. He pointed to the success of the bust enhancers in lingerie as also adding fuel to the trend.
A spot-check of an Atlanta Steinmart found a large, well-organized selection of suits from Sirena, Amica, London Beat and Christina. There were lots of suits to be found with details like quilted patterns, crocheted fabric, fringe trims and lace-up bikini tops. Suits ranged from $18 to $54, which, at 25 percent to 50 percent off regular prices, are Steinmart’s everyday prices.
DALLAS — Vivid florals under an array of labels dominated the swimwear department at J.C. Penney’s NorthPark Center store here, where more than half the remaining styles had been reduced by 30 percent to 52 percent by the first week of July.
Penney’s markdowns came later this year, starting in mid-June instead of May. The delay helped Penney’s do more regular-price business and achieve more than a 10 percent sales gain so far this year.
Beverly Anderson, buyer, expects next year to add about three national contemporary misses’ brands to the swimsuit mix, which already offers a myriad of brands, including Penney’s private labels, Sunrays for juniors and Le Cove for misses’.
With the new brands and continued strong swimsuit business overall in the industry, Anderson anticipated another good year in 1995, though she hasn’t yet set her plan.
Penney’s isn’t expanding its square footage for swimsuits, increasing the number of doors that carry it or trying any new marketing strategies for the category.
In the NorthPark store, two mannequins in floral swimsuits stood amid streamers of blue, silver and white waves at the front of the department, next to racks of discounted junior swimsuits.
Hanging on a T-stand topped by a $24.99 sign were lots of floral one- and two-piece styles that had been marked down from as much as $52, including an aqua and red floral maillot by Via Marina and floral tanks by Bahia.
Other looks included crocheted solid tanks by Backflips, textured navy tanks by Sessa and a blue and white gingham bikini by Penney’s private label, called Sunrays.
Nearby was another rack of junior styles marked by a $19.99 sale sign. It held a red and black plaid underwire bikini by Backflips as well as a group of bright floral, plaid and solid fluorescent suits by Hobie and Citrus.
Other junior styles were discounted 30 percent, such as a navy and green plaid bikini by Jantzen that originally was $66.
Ocean Pacific suits hanging nearby remained at full-price — $52 for a floral tank and $60 for a floral or multicolor striped bikini.
One of the more unusual styles, which was mostly sold out, was a navy and white Looney Tunes tank emblazoned with a big yellow Tweety Bird for $24.
Misses’ styles were shown deeper into the department, beginning with racks of Carol Wior tank Slim Suits and high-waist, two-piece styles with hard-cup underwire tops, all reduced to $39.99 from $62. They mixed bright floral fabrics with bright solids or black.
A few other high-waist bikinis were hanging with Wior two-piece looks, such as a Cole of California number reduced to $39.99 from $66 and Palisades Beach Club style reduced to $29.99 from $36.
All were the familiar style of the floral print hard-cup bra top with a solid bottom swathed at the waist with a matching same floral print.
Racks of one-piece styles followed, including black and pink or black and white skating skirt maillots by Palisades Beach Club that had not been discounted from their original price of $52.
Similarly, a Christina Bust Enhancer black tank with a padded bra trimmed with a white and metallic gold print was still at its full $48 price.
Some groups of suits were reduced 30 percent, including printed tanks by Cole of California that were originally $72.
A rounder of matronly large-size swimsuits completed Penney’s swimwear offerings. The department also showed bright cotton beach towels, shorts and coverups.
WASHINGTON — Swimsuits are not a major category for Woolworth’s variety stores, which generally carry a small selection, and then only during the spring and summer months.
A recent visit to an inner-city Washington Woolworth’s found just one rack holding about 30 suits — 10 bikinis and 20 one-piece suits, all in Lycra spandex and nylon.
All of the one-piece suits, which came in solid colors such as robins-egg blue, orange-yellow and pink, carried the DeWeese label and had simple, traditional lines and scoop backs. They were marked down to $15 from $20.
The bikinis, made by Why Things Burn, featured bright, floral prints and generic styling. They were selling for their original price of $20.
While the swimwear rack was located near the front of the women’s apparel section, most of the department was dedicated to casualwear, such as jersey knit pants and blouses and lingerie.
Apparel appeared to occupy only about 15 percent of the store, located in the Columbia Heights neighborhood, which is home to an ethnically mixed and largely immigrant population.