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Elitists may scoff, but “basic” clothes are a multibillion-dollar business

A sign for an Ann Taylor clothing store in Manhattan on May 18, 2015 in New York City. Ascena Retail Group which owns Lane Bryant and Dressbarn, announced it is purchasing Ann Taylor and Loft retail stores for $2.16 billion to expand its women's apparel business.
Andrew Burton/Getty Images
Ann Taylor fits nicely into Ascena Retail Group’s audience of professional suburban women.
  • Marc Bain
By Marc Bain

Fashion reporter

Published This article is more than 2 years old.

When Ascena Retail Group announced on May 18 that it is acquiring Ann Inc., owner of the Ann Taylor women’s clothing brand and its Loft line, for $2.16 billion, it became one of the most powerful specialty retailers of women’s clothing in the US.

The new acquisition gives Ascena combined sales of more than $7.3 billion, according to the press release for the deal. The company, with its plus-size stores Lane Bryant and Catherine’s and mall fixtures Maurice’s and dressbarn, got to that point by serving a largely unsung clientele of professional suburban women who aren’t necessarily the lank, willowy type. And they did it by selling clothes meant for performing in everyday life.

As Bloomberg points out, these clothes won’t likely be featured in a Vogue editorial anytime soon, anymore than one might expect the debonair men’s magazine GQ to do a spread with clothes by the outdoorsy brand Eddie Bauer. The Ann Taylor lines do present a more fashion-forward offering than the labels they’re joining, but as a whole these brands don’t seek to push any boundaries or offer unique designs—or even to copy clothes that do, as is the habit of labels such as Nasty Gal, Zara, and H&M.

These clothes are “basic”—at worst in the derogatory, internet-meme sense, as when the design lacks a strong, defined point of view and starts to feel generic and disposable. (One might wish the clothes always had the same sassy and sexy resolve as Lane Bryant’s great ”I’m no angel” campaign, which took aim at the rail-thin universe of lingerie brand Victoria’s Secret.)

But they can also be basic in the sense of offering simple, standby pieces that women can wear every day, or make part of a personal “uniform” (in a sense, something like that of art director Matilda Kahl and many fashion designers). These stores offer conservative, uncomplicated outfitting for the suburban woman—which is also why the fashion world generally ignores them.

So while mantis-framed models parade down the runways of the world’s glamor capitals, drawing the attention of press, social media, and legions of onlookers, a significant population of women wakes up each morning and gets dressed in clothing that is meant to be easy and attractive, even if that attractiveness doesn’t match the beauty ideals of the fashion elite.

That’s the population that Ascena serves, and now, with Ann Inc. under its umbrella, Ascena will have nearly 5,000 stores focused on dressing it.

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