Are Mall Brands Making A Comeback?

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We have a confession to make: With all the online market research we do, we don’t frequent the mall as much as you may think—if at all. Call us fashion snobs, but we’re often prone to writing off mass-market stores in favor of smaller niche brands and high-end designers—after all, we stand behind a quality-over-quantity approach to our wardrobes. That said there are certainly exceptions, and after one editor had a particularly enlightening experience with a throwback brand (that she even worked at as a teen, no less), we decided to take a deeper dive into what mall stores had to offer today.

Abercrombie & Fitch's new fall look. Photos: Courtesy

The backstory: A TZR editor was perusing the web for a chic-yet-affordable off-the-shoulder dress and found the perfect piece at—wait for it—teeny-bopper haven Abercrombie & Fitch. Not only was the dress rendered in black (the brand just introduced the color into its clothing last year), it also boasted an under-$50 price tag. An in-depth inspection of the product photos (read: full-zoom view and eyes pressed to the laptop screen) revealed no visible signs of questionable fabric or otherwise spotty design details. And so prompted said editor to add the dress to her shopping cart and further plunge down the A&F rabbit hole, discovering a plethora of '70’s-inspired separates and nary a gigantic moose logo in sight. When her order arrived at RZHQ, it sparked a round-table discussion kicked off by, "You'll never guess where I bought this stuff from." That was when we realized this was just one of several recent instances in which we've noticed a renaissance in heritage brands we'd all but abandoned.

Looks from Ann Taylor's Winter 2015 collection. Photos: Courtesy

Ann Taylor is another prime example—with each new season, the brand continues to throw a sharp dart at of-the-moment trends, all while maintaining its signature attention to tailoring. Enter the Winter 2015 collection, featuring elevated outerwear and forward-thinking silhouettes in a way that makes you do a double take. The mall mainstay also recently introduced a new, laid-back sister store Lou & Grey, which boasts off-duty essentials that feel refreshingly youthful and highly wearable.

Kylie and Kendall Jenner showing off their latest collection for PacSun. Photo: Courtesy

Then there is PacSun—primarily known as a go-to for surfers and skaters—which has been building up a roster of cool collaborations, giving the brand serious fashion cred. No longer just a destination for punky sneakers, graphic tees and sweatshirts, the brand's recent partnerships with Kendall and Kylie Jenner and Erin Wasson have expanded its offerings in a way that feels applicable to a slightly older market (we're talking upper 20-somethings, FYI). And yet the capsule collections remain overtly SoCal- and bohemian-inspired, staying true to the retailer's ethos.

Looks for work and play from White House | Black Market. Photos: Courtesy

Another example is White House | Black Market, which remains a destination for office-wear but has recently recharged in a way that feels appropriate and trend focused for the modern woman. Perhaps in part due to the combined influences of the normcore and French-girl movements, the brand's collection feels more relevant than ever in terms of taking a pared-back approach to dressing. With a clean color palette focused on neutrals and sleek but unfussy silhouettes, WHBM's separates are perfect for achieving a put-together look that's not overstudied.

The key takeaway from all of this? Next time you're at the mall, revisit the brands you've likely been passing by for the last few years—you just might find the hidden (and affordable) wardrobe gem you’ve been looking for.