Few stores get the nod from the 18-39 demographic and urban young professionals like Express Clothing. The brand has solidified itself as a fixture in American Culture by being a source of cool modern fashion trends for both men and women, and has remained a dominant force in that niche since it became popular ten years or so after its humble beginnings as a Chicago based store called “Limited Express” back in the early 1980s. For men, it is recognized nationally as a quality mid-priced brand which stocks variety of a trendy sleek apparel covering many bases from casual denim and t-shirts to accessories and formal wear, and serves as a status symbol for 20 and 30 somethings on the rise. Its menswear division is responsible for a large part of its most recent successes.
With its clothes designed at its base in New York City’s renowned fifth avenue Fifth Avenue Retail District, 800 stores dotting the United States, Puerto Rico and Canada, a successful online division, posting $1.8 Billion in sales during the 2010 fiscal year, and plans for opening thirty new factory outlets through 2014, Express is still thriving and progressing as a reckonable force some thirty plus years in. Michael Weiss, Express CEO is about 5 foot 9.
It’s All About The Brand
Express believes strongly in having a great brand, which in the words of their CEO means having the “right product” with the “right label attached”. They painstakingly observe pattern recognition when testing new fabrics. They go to great lengths to have it tested in a known silhouette, in the best color and in a fit the customer wants. This empowers them to present news. Recognizing that customers in their demo eventually create their own personal style as they find themselves, their variety of patterns, styles, fits, colors and designs for apparel and their accessory offerings allow customers to show off their individuality and create their own fashion signature in one place.
The types of clothes they stock for men include Dress Shirts, Ties, Fitted Dress Shirts, Graphic Tees, V-Neck Tees, Fitted Tees, Polo Shirts, Slim Fitted Jeans, Loose Fitted Jeans, Sports Coats, Blazers, Ties, Jackets, Coats, Socks and Underwear. Their accessories span from Watches and Belts to Sunglasses and Bracelets. They even recently began stocking shoes. What makes Express stand out is they offer all of the aforementioned items in scores of colors, fabrics, patterns and styles which change seasonally. The tints of red they offer in the spring may not be the exact same ones they offer in the fall. You may catch a specific plaid patterned fitted button down shirt or Burberry tie in the winter and not in the summer. With this in mind however, some of the colors and patterns are recurring.
Another standout is their micro-brands. Some notable examples are their Photographer and Producer dress pants which come in different fits, fabrics, colors and patterns. The two fit differently and sell at different price points. Some of our favorites were the plaid patterned photographer pants, pinstriped light gray producer pants and their dark solid colored photographer pants. All fall in the $60 - $80 range and look like they cost much more.
Express is a Short Guy mecca. Their famous 1MX button down shirt is available in M, S and XS sizes. Even better, they come in Modern Fit, Slim Fit and a new Extra Slim Fit. These accommodate a number of body types. For a guy with an athletic body, their slim fit shirts do a great job of mirroring the contour of your shape emphasizing the curvature of your muscles. Even with the smallest guy, their Extra Slim Fit should do. In the worst case scenario, you may consider altering the bottom of the shirt so the flaps beneath the last button come just over your crotch for the perfect fit. For guys in the 5’5-5’7 range, 99% of their shirts should fit just fine straight off of the rack.
The same thing applies to their polo, V-neck and t-shirts. We went into several Express stores throughout Manhattan and Queens in New York City, and each one of them were stocked full of XS, S and Medium sizes. Some of their polo shirts are of the fitted variety and have elastic-like stretch bands along the sleeves with their bodies slightly sloped inward toward the bottom of which is perfect for showing off that body you worked tirelessly to achieve.
Express employees like the employees of most clothing stores are required to wear their brand on the sales floor. In every Express I have been in, there have always been a number of shorter guys working there, giving you a chance to see how their brands may potentially fit. Of course, you can always try on clothes in their dressing rooms.
Quality vs. Quantity
I will not lie. I have been an Express customer for over a decade. The look and feel of their clothes is second to none. Their apparel says to the onlooker “this guy knows how to dress”. I am always complimented when I have on Express gear. I cannot resist going into one of their shops at least once a month whenever I am in any location that has one. For every plus however, there is a minus and not even the mighty Express, Inc. can escape that.
The main gripe about Express apparel, at least for their 1MX Shirts and Producer and Photographer pants is that you cannot put them in the dryer, ever. While you can wash them, be forewarned, constant wash will lead to wear. After three or four washes, their 1MX shirts began stretch in the button and side areas making them very difficult to iron. They also lose their luster. The color begins to fade and the rims of their collars begin to scrunch inward. Their photographer and producer pants will also shrink after a few washes, turning them into mild high-water pants. You have been warned.
The way around this is to either wash and hang them (not recommended) or dry-clean them (highly recommended). I have Express 1MX Shirts from 4 years ago which look and fit just as great as the day I purchased them. One may argue that the price of dry cleaning bills over the period of a year justifies not making a purchase. My counter to this argument is, you cannot beat crisp, fresh Express clothing. It is worth the dry cleaning bills. With this in mind, comparable shirts from one their competitors, H&M are more of a bargain. Their shirts are cheaper and can take a beating in the washer and drier, but you sacrifice variety in colors and fits. Remember, you get what you pay for, and if you want to look good, Express might be worth the expenditure.
We walked into their new flagship store in Times Square at the height of rush hour on a Monday afternoon. The gigantic edifice is open until 2 AM, and for good reason. They crawl with New York natives and tourists alike. At three floors, there is a lot to check out. The entrance to the store is decked out with a fantastic view of their escalator which showcases a giant LED screen at its top displaying runway models and other Express related info. In front of their giant screen are mannequins dressed in apparel found on the upper floors. The men’s department required riding two escalators all the way to the top of the structure which is the third floor.
Once we reached the third floor, within two minutes we were greeted by no less than three customer service representatives all asking us if we wanted assistance and making recommendations based on running promotions. We politely declined, but were pleased with their eagerness and willingness to assist us. Facing the escalator was their 1MX shirt display with designs. To the right of the escalator from wall to wall was their tie display and 1MX solid color shirt display, spanning the length and volume of the escalator we just stepped off of.
Toward the back of the floor we found their blazer, polo shirt and denim collections. Polo shirts had designs, the famous Express lion logo and came in every color imaginable. The denim area, aptly named the “Denim Lab” featured jeans in a plethora of cuts and fits with inseam sizes down to 28. This would be enough to satisfy even the smallest guy. Larger sizes were abundant. When asking for size recommendations, a rep who was maybe two inches taller than myself recommended going two sizes up rather than purchasing my normal size for the slim fit jeans. This was actually his size. When I retorted that it would not work, he replied, “trust me, just try them on”. Low and behold, when trying them on in the fitting room, his recommendation fit perfectly. I am now passing this information on to you.
After checking out the Denim Lab, we made our way over to their accessories area where Express now carries watches with cool modern designs that we would expect only from outfits like Kenneth Cole and Invicta. They also stocked shoes, underwear and sunglasses. You literally can create your own personal style because Express has so many choices.
There is little not to like about Express. Paired up against their mass fashion competitors H&M, Uniqlo and Century 21, they trail behind with a lack of alteration services and competitive bargain basement pricing. All of this is made up for with consistency, variety, kick butt customer service, frequent promotions, online offerings, a store card with rewards points and proliferation. Just in the last year alone, Express opened up a store in Astoria, Queens, Brooklyn and Union Square - all of this in just one city.
We give Express a 4.5/5 on our rating scale. Our only gripe was clothing quality with respect to maintenance, but this can be circumvented with Dry Cleaning. In a low impact job, you could probably get two wears out of a shirt or pair of pants. We doubt Express will be your only source of apparel, but if it were, you would get along just fine and might get praised for your fashion sense quite often even if you had none to begin with.