Explain: Dressbarn's Unbelievable Success

One of retail's biggest recession successes has been Dressbarn, which recently reported second quarter sales of $594.1 million, a whopping 73% increas
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One of retail's biggest recession successes has been Dressbarn, which recently reported second quarter sales of $594.1 million, a whopping 73% increas
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One of retail's biggest recession successes has been Dressbarn, which recently reported second quarter sales of $594.1 million, a whopping 73% increase from 2009.

A big reason Dressbarn has done well as of late: Its acquisition of a company called Tween Brands, which includes Justice--a less-slutty version of Rave, a popular mall store when I was a tween--and Limited Too, originally an offshoot of The Limited.

But Dressbarn itself--which is known for drab work wear in misses and plus sizes--is also doing very well. Second quarter sales for the store increased by 7% to $209.3 million. And sales in stores that have been opened for at least one year--called comparable store sales in retail speak--increased by 6%. An increase in comparable store sales is a mark of true success for a retailer. Yet I'm mystified. How can this be? How can such a crappy store continue to make money?

Before this discussion becomes a debate over fashion snobbery, I'd like to say: I get it. I get that Dressbarn isn't a store for the fashion-obsessed, I get that not everyone in America wants to wear mint green and bondage heels and I get that H&M doesn't suit most 60-year-old women.

But look at the options. There's Gap. There's Target. Heck, there's LL Bean and Land's End. Why are people drawn to a place that sells drab, unflattering apparel? This season, Dressbarn's theme seems to be flared jeans and hippie shirts. While this look can work on certain women, it's definitely not universally flattering, especially in such boring color ways like the trumpet sleeve shirt shown. It can't be because of the price--the aforementioned stores all score well in that area.

This isn't a matter of fashion. It's a matter of style. Most women want to look presentable and stylish, no matter how much or little interest they have in the runway. So why are they traveling to Dressbarn, of all places, to achieve that?