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I went shopping at Express and saw firsthand why the retailer has filed for bankruptcy

Jordan Hart   

I went shopping at Express and saw firsthand why the retailer has filed for bankruptcy
  • Express filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in April, and it's closing 95 branded stores in the US.
  • I visited some of its NYC locations to see what the merchandise looks like.

Express has been a clothing retailer staple in malls across the US for years but filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in April and will close 95 stores.

So, I visited two Express locations destined to shut soon. One thing I found: there's no need to rush to get these deals.

Express was known as a place to get business casual clothes before the boom of remote work in 2020, but the style choices and high prices left me uncertain about exactly who its target audience is in 2024.

That seems to be backed up by Neil Saunders, managing director of retail analysis GlobalData, who told Business Insider:

"The formal and smart-casual market for both men and women has softened over recent years because of a rise from working from home and the casualization of fashion."

He continued: "This puts Express firmly on the wrong side of trends, and, in our view, the chain made too little effort to adapt."

The clothes I saw felt like they were in line with last year's obsessions — like metallic styles as seen at Beyoncé's Renaissance Tour. Everything else also seemed a bit dated. Maybe I, a 24-year-old, am not the target audience, but I noticed that the options didn't fit the "clean girl," "mob wife," or "y2k" aesthetics dominating social media right now.

I also work from home most days, so business casual makes up less than 50% of my wardrobe. But I can't say the slim-leg editor pants from Express fall into my ideal work attire.

The other thing that surprised me when I visited the two soon-to-be-closed locations in New York City was the prices. Even taking 30%-50% off Express's clothes didn't bring items down to a cost I'd see as "affordable" — like H&M or Gap.

Although the signs said, "Everything must go," marking down a $248 blazer to $209 didn't feel more urgent than any other seasonal sale.

Saunders told BI that the clothing at Express "is poor in that it is overpriced, lacks differentiation, and comes across as very bland."

I wouldn't go so far in my description, but I think many styles could be found elsewhere at a much lower price point for the quality.

Meantime, other than the big signs, it looks like business as usual in the Express stores I visited. The sales associate who rang up my items even offered to sign me up for the rewards program.

When asked if it mattered since the store was closing, he said it'd take $10 off my total of $71 for the pair of pants and blue tank top I bought.

An investment group led by brand management firm WHP Global is considering acquiring "a substantial majority" of the company, according to a statement from Express on April 22. Some existing lenders committed $35 million to support ongoing operations.

Representatives for Express declined to comment and directed BI to the news release announcing the filing. CEO Stewart Glendinning has said the company is "taking an important step that will strengthen our financial position."

"Bankruptcy will allow Express to reset the business, including shutting down a number of badly performing stores," Saunders said.

All in all, Express would need some serious overhauling to appeal to a critically online — and dare I say fashion forward — Gen Zer like myself. But it's a good place to stock up on some new job interview clothes at a (small) discount.

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