Deb Shops: A History

Deb Shops A History

We’re sure that many of you reading this article will be able to recall how popular Deb Shops were back in the day.

It began as a clothing brand that was primarily devoted to providing fashionable clothing for teenagers. The brand specified that they catered to girls from the ages of 14-21. 

Many of us remember heading into Deb Shops with our friends on weekends, during a period in our lives where we were just beginning to take an interest in fashion.

They were famous for boasting a whole host of different brands in their stores, continuously keeping up with the trends of the time. 

Gradually though, they decreased in popularity, filing for bankruptcy several times, before finally closing for good in 2017.

If you’ve been on the hunt for a detailed history of Deb Shops, look no further, because we’ve got all the info right here. Simply keep reading to find out more. 

Where It All Began 

Considering that Deb Shops really reached the peak of their popularity in the 1980s and the early 90s, many people may be surprised to find that the brand was established as far back as 1932, long before they reached the cultural narrative. 

One of the most amusing facts about the brand is that they didn’t start out selling fashion for teenagers, but rather a selection of different hosiery for women.

Their first store opened in Philadelphia, and they were known as one of the very best suppliers of these items. 

After opening, they were considered to be a very reliable brand for women’s hosiery, and even supplied these hard to get items during WW2. 

The only thing holding the brand back from opening up more stores, were the strict regulations that the government of the time had relating to the use of nylon in clothing.

But, this regulation eventually lifted, and Deb produced more and more affordable, high quality hosiery. 

Eventually, they were able to branch out and open several more stores in the Philadelphia area. 

The Summer Of Love 

Many of the undergarments sold by Deb Shops saw a decrease in popularity. This wasn’t because the quality of the items had declined, but rather because the fashion industry was quickly transitioning.

The 1960’s saw women forgo items such as the girdle, as well as bras, items which Deb Stores were famous for. 

The brand, however, was quick to change its products, and was able to keep up with the trends of the time. They began selling sexier lingerie, which appealed to the fun loving and naughty vibe of the decade. 

As well as making changes with their products, Deb Stores also decided that they would need to expand the brand to different areas.

They witnessed many families moving away from the big city, and finding solace in smaller, suburban areas. 

Whilst this was happening, Deb Stores decided to expand into shopping malls everywhere, where they opened large stores that sold a whole range of different products.

They weren’t just limited to undergarments anymore, but rather, lots of different clothing items. 

It managed to make excellent profits, reaching a total of 400,000 dollars in the 1970s. 

Massive Success

The popularity of Deb Stores only grew as we moved into the new decade, and before long, they were destined to become a cultural phenomenon.

That’s right, the 1980s had just hit, and Deb Stores were moving onwards and upwards. 

In just two years into the decade, Deb Stores boasted 121 stores in total. The original president of the store rejoined the company, after which they decided to go public.

This was incredibly lucrative for all of the shareholders involved, as they made an immense profit of 27 million. 

The company was already wealthy before this, but this took them to new heights. The former president of the company, called Marvin Weiner, sat down to a conversation with Forbes in 2007.

He said that they were continuously making profit at the time, and never experienced a single period of debt. 

This meant that they were able to focus solely on expansion, and helping their brand to reach even more places. 

Their brand focused solely on selling clothing that was targeted towards girls from the age of 14 – 21.

They got all the hip new brands and styles in stock, and visiting the Deb Store on your way home from school became a popular trend amongst teenagers. 

The reason why it was so popular amongst teenagers of the decade is because the clothing that they sold was incredibly affordable.

Most could simply save up their pocket money in order to purchase some of their favorite clothing items. 

Teenagers were also becoming more and more interested in fashion during the decade, and this meant that very few people over the age of 30 would shop in their stores (Check out When Is One Too Old For A Certain Look?).

Some of the most popular items that they sold in their stores were their dresses. 

The dresses would emulate many of the designer brands of the decade, essentially replicating them, but sold at an incredibly reasonable and affordable price.

They sold all manner of different styles, including casual day dresses, as well as more stylish elegant evening varieties. 

Because they did such a good job of staying on top of trends, most of the clothing items that they sold would be gone in a flash.

Because their items were being cleared by buyers at such a fast pace, this allowed them to generate new stock, which boasted even newer trends.

The result was a chain reaction of buy and sell that appeared to have to end. 

The items that did not sell as well as others would go to clothing outlets, where they were marked down in price and were sold for a lower amount, so the company was still able to make a profit. 

Changing Times 

This brings us into the brand’s history just preceding the 1990s. The brand was concerned because there was a prediction generated that there would be more than 15 percent less female shoppers between the ages of 14 and 21 by the early portion of the next decade. 

This meant that they would need to devise a new strategy, in order to make sure that they would continue to receive customers into their stores.

This meant that they would need to cater to the older generation of women too.

The way in which they developed their strategy so that their former teenage customers would continue to shop with them, was by making the ‘junior’ section a size instead of an age group. 

This way, the women would still be able to buy junior clothing (depending on their size) as well as larger sizes that the brand also began to produce. 

They began to sell a wider range of items, not all of which were deemed to be particularly fashionable or cutting edge.

The brand knew however, that if they wanted to appeal to older women, they would be required to start selling some more basic items. 

This meant that they started selling plain blouses, vest tops, jeans, and jackets. Most of which were muted colors. 

Continued Popularity

The brand continued to skyrocket, and were incredibly popular throughout the latter part of the 1980s.

This meant that the executives’ decision to cater to older women was paying off, as they were getting more shoppers than ever. 

There were also other changes made, but this time to the actual branding itself. Previous to this portion of the decade, the Deb Store slogan was made up of white, green, and purple, but this was changed.

The slogan now consisted of raspberry, purple and white. The more serious and deeper colors associated with the slogan were designed to appeal to older audiences. 

They began displaying many of their clothing items in the windows of their stores, so that people could witness what they were selling before entering.

Previous to this, their stores were completely windowless. 

This gave the brand a more light and airy feel, and in turn attracted more customers. They also upped their game in terms of dressing up their mannequins.

Their mannequins would be layered with different items of clothing, as well as accessories. 

Although this seems like an obvious marketing strategy by today’s standards, this was fairly new during this period of time. It clearly worked though, as it saw a massive increase in sales.

Instead of selling individual items on clothing racks, the brand was now offering new styling tips. 

Some of their clothing items were already paired together on the rack itself, so customers could pick up a whole outfit without the hassle of having to pair things together themselves. 

They would also sell more clothing by making matching items. 

So, some of their skirts for example, might contain the same pattern as a handbag. This would urge people to collect the full look. Again, this is another popular marketing strategy today. 

The brand was also able to make a profit by changing the location of their stores in terms of where they wanted to expand. The rent in large malls was increasing, and this meant that they were turning over less of a profit. 

This meant that they began to open stores in strip malls, which were far less expensive in terms of rent.

Many of these were in smaller towns, where people would have previously had to travel into the bigger cities to go to a Deb Store. 

Although they weren’t turning over the same profit in the smaller towns as they were in the bigger cities, they were still making more money. This is because of the reduced costs in renting from smaller malls. 

Potential Trouble 

During the very end of the 1980s, Deb Stores witnessed their first issue in terms of profit. Some of the clothing brands they introduced in this period weren’t as popular as they thought they’d be.

Women just didn’t seem to be as interested in fashion as they were in previous decades, and getting the newest trends just wasn’t as big of a deal. 

Another thing which contributed to Deb Stores losing out on profits, was the fact that customers were frugal enough to wait until the clothing in Deb Stores hit the outlets.

They would wait for the items to be marked down in price, and following this, they would buy the items at a reduced cost. 

In order to avoid this, the executives did some inventory control in order to sell more items at their full cost.

They also made some additional adjustments in their warehouse, where they manufactured a computer that would be able to determine how popular an item might potentially prove to be, and how much profit it might generate.

This proved effective, and eventually they were able to set up several more stores, 361 in total, in locations such as California, Washington, and Oregon. 

This final year of the 1980’s became one of their most profitable, as they made total sales of 202 million dollars. This was truly record breaking for the brand. 

Growing In The 90’s

The company continued their success into the 1990s, and they opened more stores in locations such as New Mexico, Idaho, and Colorado.

The number of stores they biased peaked at this point in time, and became a grand total of 373, earning 229 million, the biggest figure to date. 

However, as the decade progressed, the company began to see a decline in profit. They spent 1.8 million dollars in order to purchase a block of stores owned by a competing brand, but this venture didn’t pan out. 

Deb Stores had begun to decrease in popularity, seeing a total loss of 4.2 million for the company. 

Books Galore 

Books Galore 

The company panicked at the decrease in interest in their clothing stores, and so decided it was time to branch out into other ventures.

They bought the company Atlantic Book Stores in 1995, for a total of 4.7 million dollars. 

This helped to save the company from any further losses, and they decided to expand Atlantic Bookstores to larger warehouses.

By doing this, they were able to ultimately avoid competition with other book companies such as Barnes and Noble, because of their large set up.

Barnes and Noble traditionally had smaller stores with less items than Atlantic Bookstores. 

The acquisition of the book store helped to diversify their selling market, and simultaneously keep the company out of debt. 

The Beginning Of The End 

In the early portion of the 2000’s, Deb Stores continued to decrease in popularity. In 2007, they finally hit a wall, and decided to sell the company to Lee Equity Partnerships.

The closing sale was 395 million dollars. 

The founder, Marvin Rounick said that he was pleased with the deal, and being 67 years of age at the time, thought it was best for a new company to try and revive the brand.

He thought that the high level of clothing production experience demonstrated by Lee Equity Partnerships could bring new success to Deb Stores. 

Lee Equity Partnerships made a new growth plan for the brand, which they thought could attract new customers.

This however, proved to be ineffective, and they couldn’t attract the same number of customers as the original owners did in the 1980s. 

This eventually led the store to file for bankruptcy, and all of their 295 stores closed in 2015. They did try to venture out and exclusively sell plus size clothing in 2008, purely through online stores, but this never panned out.

Eventually, all of the online stores closed unexpectedly too. 

The Legacy Of Deb Shops 

Deb Shops are a popular part of the cultural narrative for women who grew up in the 1980s. As we touched on briefly in our introduction, visiting Deb Stores on the way home from school was a popular pastime for young girls. 

The store always boasted the newest trends and styles for young women, and was able to withstand several periods of immense change.

Who would have thought that a small company that exclusively sold hosiery during WW2 would become the cultural phenomena that it did, as well as being a leading trendsetter for young women? 

Final Thoughts 

To sum up, Deb Stores were a large part of American fashion history during the 1980s and 1990s. Most of us who grew up during this period in time will fondly remember some of the colorful items sold by the brand. 

The brand was able to achieve success despite the changing decades, firstly selling nylon undergarments, before moving on to cater new fashions to young teens.

Eventually, the brand began to produce clothing for older women, introducing more basic and essential wardrobe items. 

The brand however, began to decline in the mid portion of the 90s, because of the decrease in customers.

To try and stay afloat, the owners bought a popular book store company, so that they were able to stay out of debt. 

The inevitable happened in the mid 2000’s however, when a company called Lee Equity Partnerships bought the brand, but despite hopes, they became bankrupt in a few short years. 

We’d love to hear about your experiences of visiting Deb stores, and what you recall about shopping there. So, if you have any memories, please share them below.

Willa Price
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