F-I Fashion Week: Vintage Lane Bryant

Continuing with this week’s theme, I have a few vintage Lane Bryant catalogs from the late fifties and early sixties. I didn’t realize the company had been around so long. In the catalog dated 1959, they mention 60 years in business. Other than design which I’ll get into in a moment, there were a few interesting things about the catalog.

For one thing, nowhere does LB list the measures that constitute their sizes. At first I thought it was bizarre but then I realized there was something clever about it. You were instructed to measure yourself (chart below, download full size order form) and include that with your order. If you ordered the wrong size, they’d send you their size based on your measurements. I say that’s clever because it gave the company a very good idea of their customer’s sizing profiles. I feel confident in saying that data was collected, analyzed and most likely used to develop their sizing.

The other interesting thing about LB was marketing and sales. I doubt few manufacturers were selling consumer direct via mail order to this extent in those days. I guess they had to. As recently as 1980, only 15% of the US population was obese. They had to be national to be viable. I wonder how many customers they had in those days? I wonder if they have a corporate historian, probably not. Lane Bryant also had generous credit policies and would ship COD.


Now onto the good stuff, pictures! Boy, they sold everything from coats, dresses, blouses, slacks, bras, corsets (weren’t these being called girdles yet?), slips, sleepwear, shoes, gloves and hats. My first thought is how did they manage all those skus without computers and barcoding?

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21 comments

  1. Natasha says:

    What’s weird about Lane Bryant or was true a couple of years ago was that I got a catalog from them that featured totally different style clothing to what they had in stores. Almost like they were two seperate entities.

  2. Vesta says:

    Yes! I want that coat! I have to say, these fashion week posts are keeping me highly entertained. And I’m learning even more about details that go into well-designed clothing. Thanks!

  3. Trish says:

    Thanks so much for that first pic: that great coat with the parallel darts is just super. I was just teaching about parallel darts yesterday in flat patternmaking. I mentioned that the students only get to learn it (from me) if they are keeping up with all the basics so I hope your post inspires them to work hard at home.

    The coat is gorgeous and other than fabric utilization, I think it would still be a great hit today if done correctly.

    Thanks so much, Kathleen… oh, K, I also got contact info and the name of the school in Santa Fe (not Albuquerque) that brought on 20 new Accumark stations.

    I used your book today to talk about ratios for my collection design students. I also suggested the students read your great section on cut order planning, ply, etc.

    I also want to buy a bunch more of your books for the fashion classroom/laboratory and I have students who also want to purchase the book. I will be talking to you as soon as I get a chance… take care and thanks, as always, this blog is the best!!!!

  4. Catherine McQ says:

    “I doubt few manufacturers were selling consumer direct via mail order to this extent in those days.” They probably didn’t want to compete with Montgomery Ward, which started the first mail order business in 1872, and Sears Roebuck, which followed in 1888. JC Penney didn’t start its catalog until the mid 20th Century.

    Lane Bryant retail stores and the Lane Bryant Catalog don’t just seem “almost like…two separate entities” — they are. A number of businesses have sold their retail or catalog operations, or the right to use their name, to another company.

  5. Natasha says:

    “Lane Bryant retail stores and the Lane Bryant Catalog don’t just seem “almost like…two separate entities” — they are. A number of businesses have sold their retail or catalog operations, or the right to use their name, to another company.”

    Well that would explain why the styles in the catalog are so mumsy looking compared to the trendier store. I can’t gush enough about their new right fit jeans. I will be sad when I’ve finally lost enough weight that I don’t fit into their sizes. As it is I need a newer smaller pair and I only bought one last week. Talk about keeping the economy afloat single handedly.

  6. Lisa NYC says:

    Very impressive catalog selection. Just look at all the detail on some of dress bodices. Very interesting!

    LB’s idea to get measurements from each customer was very smart. It probably saved them a lot of returns and headaches.

    Although I am still doing children’s custom clothing until I launch my line this Summer, I have my customers use http://myfittingroom.com to enter their child’s measurements to send to me.

    I save all the measurement info which helps me with sizing in my RTW clothing.

    With friendship,
    Lisa

  7. Sandra B says:

    Lane Bryant may well have a company historian. I read a history of them in a magazine called Figure, which seemed to be a corporate promo affair for Lane Bryant, The Fashion Bug and Catherines. (amended: a quick internet search suggests they promote more than just those three companies now) Apparently it was started by a European migrant called Lena Bryant as a maternity wear company that diversified into full figure fashion. A typo turned it into Lane Bryant. http://www.ajhs.org/publications/chapters/chapter.cfm?documentID=283 gives an interesting account of her life.

  8. J C Sprowls says:

    I had thought LB’s retail had been bought by The Limited. This article confirms that.

    What I think is poignant are these two things: a) LB was a designer-entrepreneur (smart, too!) and b) “After measuring some 4,500 women in her store and analyzing statistics gathered on some 200,000 others, Lane Bryant Malsin determined that there were three general types of stout women and she designed clothes to fit each type.”

    This is the point of success for the BBW. LB defined a silhouette/body shape based on objective research and empirical data. She then designed specifically for each silhouette/body type. She already created this wheel, it’s up to the courageous DEs to carry it forward.

    I like the idea of requesting measurements instead of ordering by size. This creates several possibilities:
    –it protects your sizing surveys,
    –it allows you to continually refine your sizing surveys,
    –it provides the best-fitting garment for the client,
    –etc.

  9. Tiffany says:

    The LB stores used to be owned by The Limited Company. They were sold about 5 years ago to Charming Shoppe. They also own Fashion Bug and Catherine’s. I loved when LB was owned by the limited. I think the clothes had a better fit and were better made. I rarely shop there now because I have to alter everything.

  10. Jennifer E. says:

    great pictures Kathleen – love the first coat

    Lane Bryant catalog is now changing name to Woman Within or something like that to distinguish it self and is run as separate company. Interestingly enough the Lane Bryant family was bought out by the limited (I think) and now run separate plus size company but now called Figure to Fashion

  11. Babette says:

    I recently saw “Fletcher Jones: The Fabric of a Dream” about an Australian garment manufacturer. They developed 72 sizes for mens trousers. Each time the company founder saw someone in his trousers where the fit was bad (in about 1930s), he’d offer to alter the trousers for free if posted back to the company. He’d also ask who sold the trousers and when he had the name of the retailer, he’d pull their retail arrangement.

    Eventually they had to open their own stores because they were running out of retailers.

  12. Angela says:

    Trish,

    Why do you call the lines in the first coat darts instead of pleats? Because the fullness does not taper to 0 and rather is presented into fullness in the garment I would think these would be considered pleats.

  13. cybele says:

    I’m obviously not quite suited for the fashions of our modern times. I really want “lane_bryant_dress6.jpg” … that’s some nice fashioning (I want sleeves! everything’s sleeveless or slinky/clingy these days).

  14. Kathleen says:

    I’d agree those lines in the coat are seams and not that seams can’t form darts but these weren’t. I love the lines of that coat, I love shaped seaming. I should make that coat. I also love the neckline of the polka dot (image 7). I think I’m going to do that one too.

    I need to buy a dress form. It’s too hard to take pictures of self wearing stuff.

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