With Lord & Taylor adrift once again, in search of a buyer that might be willing to turn back years of neglect, it’s easy to forget that the department store was a cutting edge retailer for well more than a century.
It’s also easy to blame Lord & Taylor’s current predicament — in bankruptcy barely a year after being acquired by a small apparel rental e-retailer — on the well-documented challenges in the department store sector, the apparel segment and retail more widely. But in its 194 years, Lord & Taylor weathered all sorts of storms: pandemics, economic depressions, world wars, social upheaval. For years it maintained a loyal following, which came to be mostly middle class women who depended on its store associates to find the pretty dresses that suited them, and that they could afford.
The retailer came into its own in the mid-20th century, a good time for the American middle class, which has declined ever since as income inequality has steadily worsened. Much of the credit goes to Dorothy Shaver, a chief merchandiser who eventually led the company and shaped not just its logo but also its support of designers in the U.S. whose talents were ignored by the Parisian fashion elite.
The 21st century has been a different story for Lord & Taylor, forsaken as it was by owner Hudson’s Bay Co. The department store conglomerate has seemed more focused on its real estate holdings than on the storied retailers that sit upon them, perhaps with the exception of luxury department store Saks Fifth Avenue… Retail Dive