Apparel price point categories

Have you been confused by terms such as bridge, contemporary or moderate used to describe the different classes of goods in the apparel industry? So is everyone else, definitions are blurring all the time. [This is doomed to be a work in progress, your clarifications and corrections are welcomed.] Usually, the price point category refers to where the product lies in the pricing spectrum ranging from discount to designer. However, some definitions aren’t so neat and tidy. For example, some product classes -like sportswear or sleepwear- can limit your price point category. I don’t think there is such a thing as designer sportswear according to the industry’s definition (gracefully sidestepping consumer marketing efforts) which is limited to dressier items but you can find dresses in every category. To make matters more confusing, it is possible to find sportswear by known designers in their lower tier labels. Even more perplexing, it is possible to find designer or bridge items at discount where it means another thing entirely. Let’s take a stab at this, shall we?

The initial or intended category usually falls along price lines. It is typical that quality levels increase or decrease accordingly. The categories are:

  • Discount
  • Budget or Mass Market
  • Moderate
  • Contemporary
  • Better
  • Bridge
  • Designer
  • Haute Couture

Discount: (also known as Off Price)
There are two kinds of discount goods. The first kind are produced specifically for the discount market, usually low quality throw away type items. Some items produced for discount are known designer names who’ve over licensed their brand. Oleg Cassini is probably the most infamous but there are plenty of brands that produce items that are only intended to be sold at their outlet mall store. Wal-Mart is easily the best known discounter.

The second kind of discount goods are products that have been sold in the off price market because the items didn’t sell at the intended price point category (close outs and discontinued). There’s a broad range of discount stores too. Some sell goods that are disposable (dollar stores) and others sell moderate (TJ Maxx) and others better to bridge or contemporary (Burlington Coat Factory). Discount is difficult to pigeon hole because it is relative. All other price point categories are easier to define by price.

Budget or Mass Market:
Intended for broad consumption, these are often derivations of popular styles and staples. Some are notorious (Forever 21). Sears sells budget priced products and probably Penney’s too.

This can be difficult to define; a lot of labels straddle this category. These include brands like Levis and Zara. Dillards is considered to be a moderate department store although their men’s wear can hit contemporary and better price points. The bulk of sportswear falls into this category if not lower.

FYI: this is the cut off point for children’s apparel although most lines are moderate or lower. This is usually the lowest price point category for what consumers consider a “designer” line such as Jones New York and Liz Claiborne. Again, it’s hard to pigeon hole a “designer” name brand because they have a stable of similarly named labels designed to hit varying price points.

Although similar or higher than Better in pricing, Contemporary implies the latest in new styling being avante garde and trendy. Targeted for younger fashion-forward consumers, sizing is typically limited to juniors and misses. Examples of contemporary lines are Bisou Bisou and Betsey Johnson. A lot of DEs are actually in this category although some entertain the notion they’re bridge or designer*. In my opinion, this is the cut off for sportswear*.

Bridge is the gap between contemporary and designer labels, a lot of DEs aspire to hit their stride here so there’s lots of competition. Better known bridge labels are Lauren by Ralph Lauren and DKNY by Donna Karan.

This is the second most abused category by consumers and those aspiring to enter the market. The easiest way to define this category is to say it includes the RTW lines of haute couture designers such as Chanel and Issey Miyake but it also includes US based designers like Calvin Klein.

This category is most abused by enthusiasts, consumers and DEs alike (Juicy Couture anyone?). It’s really simple. If you’re not a syndicate member, you are not a couturier and I don’t care how well you sew. Haute Couture is limited to syndicate members producing made to measure pieces. Besides, if you wanted to make money, haute couture is a money pit. High fashion is a marketing method, the drama that drives sales of their RTW lines and how they pay the bills.

*One designer I know just couldn’t understand the limitation of product class and how it affected her line within price point categories. She produced a sample line of upper end sportswear, really nice stuff but her product limited her to contemporary -at best. After going back and forth with others who were attempting to grind some sense into her, she quipped “I’ve decided I’m a designer line” and then proceeded to adopt all the trappings of designer lines (four color glossy catalog etc). Then she stalled not being able to find a sales rep and we haven’t heard from her since. Pity, she was quite talented.

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  1. Lisa B. in Portland says:

    I read about this in school and it’s in some old fashion design as a career books I have, but your definitions are better, Kathleen. (My mom’s middle name, btw.) This kind of goes along with the stuff about how to price your line, etc. Thanks!

  2. Sonia Levesque says:


    Happy to have a simple and detailed description of those categories. I had the basics, I definitely knew about NOT to abuse Couture and Designer… And I can’t tell you how many times I had to defend the “real couture” when I assured them that we DIDN’T produce it in Québec (!). lol

    “You can’t say that! We HAVE designers!”, everyone replies.

    Well, we do have great designers. But it can’t be called couture. I’ll refer them to this web page… ;-)

  3. Pricing is a tricky issue. We design handbags for urban cyclists and produce them in Chicago, which puts us solidly in two product categories: Bike accessories and fashion handbags. Urban bike accessories are made in China and rarely exceed $60, probably in the Moderate category. Meanwhile, locally made handbags easily go for $200+, probably in the Contemporary category. We tackled the disparity by pricing our bags in the middle, between $90-$160.

    Unfortunately, the issue persists despite our “fair” price. To the bike shops, we are “designer” and they are skeptical if they can move merchandise at such a premium price point. To the boutiques, we are too “moderate”, and they want to charge more or at a minimum demand an explanation of why our product is so inexpensive.

    We are thinking of broadening our line to include offerings at both ends of the spectrum instead of straddling the middle, but any other suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

  4. Amy says:

    Thanks for clarifying. What about categories within categories – like organic bridge or organic contemporary? Surely this would change the price point…perhaps organic RTW is still too niche to apply to the typical structure?

  5. bente says:

    Thanks for this interesting post Kathleen. I must say it is a confusing question. It is important to market yourself in the correct categorie.
    I am still in doubt about my line because it is contemporary Children’s wear. I am a designer (degree from Paris) and every piece I make is designed and I do not copy “shapes” or “patterns”. I make all the measurments and grading. And I do not mass produce. I have always worked with trend understanding, to be contemporary and sometimes on the advantgarde twist, even if that doesn’t show on the line so far. Is it wrong to call a children’s line Contemporary? Should I rather define it as “better”?
    What is “high end” by the way? Doen’t anybody use that definition?
    Also, I thought Zara was mass market, just like H&M. At least the prices in Europe are.

  6. Jillian says:

    Thanks for clarifying the price points. I liked the store examples given. I had a question about classifying athletic/fitness apparel brands since it was not mentioned. What would you classify companies like Lululemon,Stella McCartney for Adidias, and Nike? We were thinking of Lululemon as more a niche market/contemporary since they specialize in yoga styles. Stella would be contemporary to bridge, maybe because of her contemporary appeal? And nike? It seems like they are mass market to better (depending on the item) What does everyone else think?

  7. Kate in England says:

    This is interesting… As a tailoring student, I wonder where Savile Row (bespoke outfits costing upwards of £3,000 GBP) would fit into this?

  8. Great topic. My question is about niche markets. I create “art-to-wear” (what ever that means) and I suppose it would fall somewhere in the better to contemporary range with my retail price points ranging $500 – $800 for jackets. However, everyone (consumers) throws around the word designer or high-end. Is there a way to express to the consumer audience of the best / contemporary niche category? I can just imagine someone asking me about what I make and my response is “uh, well its better”

    As for Haute Couture I saw a program on PBS regarding this. It was amazing to find out how secretive and exclusive this society is. It was interesting to watch how this group uses the allure of prestige to market their other labels.

  9. Brenna says:

    You are so generous with your knowledge and expertise! Thanks. Like others who responded, I have also been confused about how to label my work. I am working on a line that could be called contemporary, because it embraces the latest looks, but is not designed for juniors and misses, but for women “of a certain age.” I am going this way because it is difficult to fit into “bridge” which is often European sized, with thinner shoulders, shorter waists, and little hips and thighs. At a certain stage of life, the body changes and shifts. There are a lot of women out there who are in great shape in their forties, fifties, sixties and beyond. I think these women want to look fashion forward without looking like they are wearing our daughter’s clothes. I think there is a range between these two areas. I am working on size charts for a demographic of women who are fit, possibly of a larger build, not what is commonly called “plus size” (I hate that term) or women’s sizing. When I see the clothing in the “women’s departments” it reminds me of grandma. I would love to hear your opinion of this idea.

  10. Izzy says:

    Thank you for this! I was just looking for what exactly “Bridge” was, I’m so glad I found this. I work in a department store whose lines run from what I now understand to be “Moderate” (Levis) to “Designer” (Calvin Klein). I usually work in the Juniors areas, which include Moderate to Contemporary clothing, but this week I’m working in “Bridge sportswear,” and I had no idea what that implied, since my manager only gave me a list of labels found in the area. Thank you for your clear and understandable clarification of the classification! A list of brands and price points isn’t nearly as helpful as this explanation was.

  11. Guillermo says:

    Very helpful article. Thanks for all the valuable posts. They are super helpful when diving into the details of the fashion world. One question. In a number of posts you mention DEs. What do you mean by those letters? Designers?

    Thanks and keep up the good work.

  12. max says:

    what a nice article! thank you very much.. i’m having a hard time defining where ethnic footwear model(s) could fit in.. no designers and such.. all models are urbanized WITHOUT an extra desinger touch. could anyone give me a hint, please?

  13. Angela says:

    This is a very helpful discussion. However, FWIW I don’t think that “better” is the cut-off for children’s clothing. Look at Jacadi, Bonpoint, Oilily, Jottum, etc. I would categorize them as “bridge” based on price and quality — they are certainly better quality than the “better” brands you cite, like Jones New York and Liz Claiborne, where you aren’t even guaranteed that the clothes will be sewn straight any more.

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