If there’s one thing that current fashion is telling us, it’s to expect the unexpected. Over the last few months, Chico’s has seen a shift in the demographics engaging with its content. Millennials and Gen Zers have been discovering the retailer, once considered the domain of middle-aged women. Younger shoppers are proudly tagging the brand in looks featuring both thrifted vintage Chico’s, as well as new finds.
Caitlin August, a 34-year-old with a background in secondhand fashion, went to Chico’s this spring with her grandmother, who lives in a Fairfax, Virginia retirement home. The shopping trip was a post-vaccination reunion outing. “Her favorite thing to do is go to lunch and shop, and to the movies, but we didn’t feel comfortable doing that yet,” August said. So they went to Chico’s, one of her grandmother’s favorite stores. “She loves Chico’s. She has always loved Chico’s,” August told Glossy. August said that she has always shopped “outside of her age,” and is a fan of linen and palazzo pants, which she found at Chico’s in high school. She stands by the brand: “They have some of the best textiles. As far as thrifting goes, you can find a pair of ’90s linen trousers for $6, when the same trend from a designer retails for $350.”
At Chico’s with her grandmother, August spotted a pair of green trousers. “They were giving me Gucci on a yacht!” she said. Her grandmother purchased the pants, a sale find, for her, as a gift. When asked if creating content around the pants was immediately part of the plan, August said yes — but that the intended audience was still her grandmother. Sharing fun content and discussing fashion have been ways for the pair to keep in touch throughout the pandemic. For the resulting video, August paired the pants with a trendy cropped tank, which she re-fashioned from a thrifted shirt. The text at the top: “Challenge accepted Grandma.”
Chico’s is excited by its newfound popularity, of course. Kimberly Grabel, svp of marketing, noted that, thanks to the “quality of the garments…they last a long time, so there’s an after-market for a lot of the products we sell.” As a result, the brand has seen its products passed down across generations, a fact it embraces. In its spring catalog shoot, model Leticia Herrera is accompanied by her two sisters and her daughter.
But, “in the last 3-6 months, [we] started noticing that we were getting more pickup from these younger, very fabulous influencers and stylish dressers, who were incorporating pieces of Chico’s into their total look,” Grabel said. When the Chico’s team first started seeing a spike in social tags, in 2020, they were linked to certain timeless looks — and Chico’s hallmarks — like animal prints. But since, the Chico’s styles getting love have been across the board, she said.
“It speaks to the ongoing evolution of personal style…the fact that there aren’t rules anymore,” said Grabel. “[Chico’s] has always been known for very expressive style — bright colors and prints that make you happy — and comfort, but everyone wants that now.”
Grabel said the company can’t directly attribute the new interest in the brand by Instagram influencers and vintage shoppers to its newly acquired customers “who are being retained at a meaningfully higher rate than in fiscal 2019.” But, she said, the year-over-year average age of Chico’s customers has dropped 10 years since Q1 2020.
According to Tribe Dynamics, Chico’s “thrived during the pandemic and in early 2021, pulling in $6.4 million in earned media value from June 2020 to May 2021.”
In May, TikTok user Emmaline Childs (83,000 followers) posted a video: “I just walked past a store, and I thought to myself, that outfit is super cute,” she said, pausing and bashfully biting her lip. “It was Chico’s. If you need me, I’ll be in Forever 21 pretending I’m still young.” Clearly, Chico’s team has a sense of humor because they reached out to Childs and sent her a haul. The resulting paid post is captioned, “I offer my sincerest apologies to Chico’s.”
@emmalinechilds#ad I offer my sincerest apologies to Chico’s. #lovechicos #haul #chicos #millennial #eldermillenial #fashion♬ [No sound effect] Refreshing summer tropical house(855495) – MATSU
In December, Hannah Enos, 22, posted on Instagram wearing a vintage Chico’s shirt, fashioned as a belted shirtdress, found at Savers thrift store in Boston. It was paired with polka dot tights and high heels. For the post, she had her roommate take photographs of her around her campus at Lasell University in Newton, MA. Commenters chimed in asking where she’d found her dress. One example: “Your outfit is 🔥 where is that orange dress from ?? 🥵”
“When Chico’s first DMed me back in February, I was so excited. They loved how I styled the piece and asked if they could use my pictures in the future, which I of course said yes to,” she said. The shirt is not her first style from Chico’s, either. “I actually own quite a few thrifted pieces from Chico’s — tops and bottoms. My second favorite piece is another really cool button-down with a warm-toned print that’s quite abstract,” she said. “After finding this piece, I do look for more Chico’s pieces whenever I go to a thrift store. Out of curiosity, I’ve browsed Chico’s website for current pieces and saw potential in a few items for myself, but I definitely think vintage Chico’s has my heart.”
Though Chico’s is seeing pickup both in secondhand and new clothing posts, the uptick in #thrifted hashtags linked to the brand speaks to a number of current fashion trends. There’s a decreased obsession with wearing high-end designers and a rise in concern for shopping and consuming sustainably.
Though August’s green pants were purchased new at a Chico’s store, she’s spent much of her career working in secondhand fashion. “Thrifting sustainably answers some of the largest problems we are facing today with human rights and environmental issues. I definitely think thrift is moving fashion in a new direction which is exciting and overdue,” she said. This mindset is increasingly common among younger shoppers.
“We’re not thinking about age in our design process,” Grabel said. “[Younger customers are] not something we have chased after.” Chico’s, she said, has always created “chic and artful apparel — easy, relaxed, in high-quality colors and prints that are fun and happy. Historically, these were things women of a certain age responded to, but now we all want those things.”