Can dropping a single letter reinvigorate a struggling brand? That’s the question some are pondering after Dress Barn, the US chain of mid-market women’s clothes and accessories, last month introduced DressBar, a stylish new collection and shopping experience.
The collection—which is available through in-store boutiques and a standalone pop-up in New York, and via a sleek e-commerce platform—considerably elevates the retailer’s style profile, with collaborations from high-end designers like Carmen Marc Valvo and Heidi Weisel.
It also suggests that Dress Barn has an eye on evolving shopper expectations—from what they want to wear to how they like to shop—more than its customers may have thought.
The collection’s name, while only one letter shorter than the masterbrand, has an entirely new tone and feel, shifting associations from shopping in a stable to a sophisticated, even decadent experience. In fact, Dress Barn is now shifting to dressbarn, losing the space and adopting a lowercase ‘D’ in its logo.
The DressBar name also aligns with some of the boutique experiences popping up in the style and beauty space, like BaubleBar and DryBar, both of which offer a customized, à la carte experience to products and services that takes inspiration from a real bar. DryBar, for instance, offers patrons glasses of champagne while BaubleBar calls its jewelry curators “bartenders” and has also tested how its fans take to brick-and-mortar pop-up shopping.
The in-store Dress Bar experience is a notable departure from the retailer’s traditional locations: the bi-level open concept space, located on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, features blooming trees, a photo booth and an artful, colorful layout and arrangement of the different dresses and complementary jewels.
The brand has also stepped up its digital experience on its new e-commerce platform, accenting a clean, open interface with bright photography and chic designer sketches.
More notably, though, the site takes inspiration from other curated technology experiences like music discovery (Songza) or food delivery (Seamless), giving customers the chance to browse items according to where they’re going (a wedding, out for cocktails or weekend fun) or how they’re feeling (smart, compliment-ready or daring).
Overall, it’s a surprisingly successful move from Dress Barn—well designed and thoughtfully executed, it’s not only recapturing the attention of its existing clients but also introducing the brand to entirely new demographics, including younger fashionistas.
With the NYC pop-up shop closing in June, however, some may be wondering about the future for the Dress Bar. Will it be a short-lived experience, an ongoing component of the Dress Barn portfolio, or, most interestingly, are we witnessing the first, cautious steps of a more holistic and lasting rebrand?
Only time will tell the future for the Dress Barn brand—but its competitors should consider the bar officially raised.
—Darcy Newell is a New York-based verbal identity strategist.