The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

10 September 2007

Remembering Lane Bryant

Now this is fascinating: Fashion-Incubator has scans from old Lane Bryant catalogs, 40 to 50 years ago.

Which, in turn, led me to look up Lane Bryant herself, who was born Lena Himmelstein in Lithuania in 1879 and shipped off to New York in 1895, supporting herself as a seamstress. ("Bryant" was David Bryant, her first husband, whom she married in 1899 and who died shortly after the birth of their child.) Mrs Bryant continued as a dressmaker, and some time after 1904, at the request of a customer, designed a chic maternity dress with an elasticized waist and a pleated skirt, a distinct departure from traditional maternity wear, which no one would ever see because you simply didn't go out of the house while you were expecting. It was an immediate hit.

In 1909, Mrs Bryant remarried, to Albert Malsin, who took over the business end of the Lane Bryant shop while she concentrated on design. New York newspapers, however, would not accept advertising for the store, what with all those evil maternity outfits on display. Eventually one paper did agree to run an ad, and when it appeared, the store was completely sold out within twenty-four hours. A second store had been opened in 1915, in Chicago, but feeling that they could not rely on newspapers, the Malsins opened up a mail-order branch, which by 1917 was bringing in $1 million a year.

This, though, is the story that gets me:

Lane Bryant Malsin was a pioneer in customer relations and corporate philanthropy. At her suggestion, Lane Bryant, Inc. worked with the Red Cross to replace any Lane Bryant customerís wardrobe that was destroyed in a disaster. In 1947, for example, after a major explosion and fire in Texas City, Texas, the company re-outfitted 58 mail order customers whose homes were destroyed. After World War II, Lane Bryant stores became clothing donation centers to benefit displaced persons in Europe.

This, boys and girls, is how you build customer loyalty.

The catalog excerpts are also instructive, because while they did list sizes, they encouraged you to send in a total of eight different measurements, and if based on those measurements they thought you had ordered the wrong size, they sent you what they thought was the correct size instead.

Mrs Malsin died in 1951; The Limited bought the company in 1982. The original catalog still exists as Woman Within, operated by Brylane/Redcats, and the retail chain (with Web storefront) continues under Charming Shoppes ownership.

Posted at 6:45 PM to Rag Trade

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What a beautiful story, a real American spirit (as I thought it to be).
I checked the catalog - oh my, they really do ask for 3 measurements with your jeans order!

Posted by: Tat at 4:06 PM on 12 September 2007

The switch from Lena to Lane was the result of a typo in an early ad. She made the decision not to correct it, which was probably a good business move.

Posted by: triticale at 4:37 PM on 13 September 2007

No sense in confusing the general public, especially if you'd like to get money from them.

Posted by: CGHill at 8:14 AM on 14 September 2007