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Wednesday, Jun. 27, 2007 at 10:44 am

Clothing Websites Designed for Women

By Holly Buchanan
June 27th, 2007

I recently received an email from a reader who has a website that sells cool women’s clothing by indie designers callled Smashing Darling. She was asking about design (Web design, that is).  I love the concept of the site, but–simply from a gut feeling–the site’s design didn’t appear professional to me.  It didn’t inspire confidence in their credibility.  It didn’t look like a woman’s clothing site.

This got me thinking; what does a women’s clothing site look like?  Is there some sort of template I’ve come to expect?  So, I pulled up a bunch of sites–yes, some are for women and men–and, to my surprise, there actually were a lot of similarities.  Take a look.

holly_edbauerEddie Bauer



Liz Claiborne

holly_anntaylorAnn Taylor

Lord & Taylor

JC Penney

Lands End


Guess Factory

Newport News

The main thing thing that struck me was the use of white space. But there seem to be some other common themes (hint: navigation). What are the other similarities you can pick up? Or perhaps some interesting differences?

Do you agree Smashing Darling has a design that somehow lacks credibility? Maybe it’s just me, but I keep wanting to scroll up – it looks like the top is cut off for some reason. What do you think?

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Comments (22)

  1. Yes, this website is extremely lacking in professional design. The primary desire to scroll up has to do with the bar code being “attached” to the ceiling. And the excessive (and weird) whitespace and completely unconventional navigation structure that stacks menu items on top of each other. I dont know if this was intentional…or just bad design choices, but you are justified completely by your feelings.

  2. agree w/ the barcode comment, but disagree somewhat with “lack of credibility.” it looks exactly what i expect an “indie” site to look like. it has some core elements of mainstream, mass-market women’s clothing sites, but purposely goes against some of their design conventions in order to build credibility with it’s target audience–the indie-consumer.

  3. I agree with Brendan that their goal is to build credibility with the indie crowd, and their aesthetic generally does that.

    In fact, they say it clearly on their About Us page: “We created a place for EVERYONE who loves fashion that thinks beyond the mall.”

    Still, it’s a cool looking site that feels a bit off. I think red is a bit overused, and the contrast it creates with the clothes is too rigid. While they’re definitely getting across an edgy look, their clothes aren’t actually that “edgy” per se. They’re fashion-forward, and as hip as anything I see on the Lower East Side/East Village/Williamsburg/Ft. Green hipsters here in NYC, but that doesn’t mean that there should literally be hard edges to it. If they were couture that would be one thing, but they’re really trying to put an honest face on indie retail–which is a great value proposition, and something lacking in the market outside of local boutiques.

    The 3D effect for the background is also throwing me off. I think Holly has a good point about how that’s different than how the other sites use white space. Still, I don’t think you’d be trying to scroll up if they had a different background–it’s not about the top navigation so much as what’s around it.

    Here are some of the things they’re doing right–and, in some cases, much better than the mall retailers:
    -Great product page copy (minimal when it needs to be; appropriately personal at other times)
    -Nice variety of products
    -Models look like real women, and seems they’re having fun. all have their own style, which ends up adding to their brand.

    Things they could do better:
    -Get rid of over-used red outlines (which are cautionary and create unnecessary boundaries).
    -Better photos – some product shots are in low light conditions and others even show an outline of the flash (yikes). Although that’s kind of “indie” in a Vice Magazine or American Apparel sense, it doesn’t do much to push their brand–or to sell clothes, I’ll bet. Those are probably their poorest converting pages.
    -Navigation on the left is a bit squirrely – it’s well executed, but not well planned (if that makes sense). I think they do a relatively good job with category pages, so i think if they expanded the category pages, and used more of that good copy, they wouldn’t have to rely so much on tricky left-hand navigation.

    Overall, they’ve got a slight marketing problem, but they don’t have a brand or a product problem–not by a long shot. It would be great to see these folks emerge on a bigger level (like American Apparel but not as pretentious-for-its-own-sake). Besides, we all know Holly’s a T.J. Maxx shopper. ;)

  4. I think 8R3ND4N has a good point. They need to consider who their competitors are, which may not be Eddie Bauer or Ann Taylor, but places like
    Etsy, Swrve, or even Mechanical Bunny.

    Another case of knowing the audience…they might still want to tweak the design, but with feedback from the people who are interested in what they carry.

    (I’m a crossover person: I have to dress professional for work, but I love quirky handmade clothes and jewelry too.)

  5. I agree, it does lack credibility and it does seem to cut off at the top making you feel like you should be able to scroll up. Maybe the whitespace is to keep a clean feel as not to distract from the clothing. It also makes the colors stand out. As for the Smashing Darling site the head of the model is cut off too. The black background is distracting. The site all together is not credible in appearance in comparison to the other women’s clothing sites. The colors on the other sites are subdued neutral colors whereas the smashing site has primary colors that are distracting. As you click into the site the photographs are definitely lacking appeal. Most are manikins and women whose heads are cut off. Personally I wouldn’t be impressed enough to buy and maybe it’s because I have expectations for what a clothing site is supposed to look like. Besides what’s with the barcode?

    Great find,

  6. I understand that they care a lot about the “indie” image but it comes at the expense of usability. There are fundamentals that are not being followed here that make this an overall bad visitor experience.

    I think that there are alot better ways to convey that image.

    Also… I don’t think “indie” people surf or transact a whole lot differently than “non indie” people. But if someone has a usability study that says differently…i am eager to see it.

  7. To elaborate on the ‘white space’ remark; the problem here is a lack of contrast on the site.

    In 800X600 resolution sites, you always choose a background color that will create contrast with the body. The reason behind this is to pull people’s eyes towards the body content, and minimize any time spent looking at the blank background.

    If this clothing site were mine, I would change the background color to a diffused blue color. Not only would this pull people’s eyes towards the relevant content; but blue, according to Western color psychology, is a color often associated with trust.

  8. Those are things I hadn’t previously taken into consideration. I really like the Lord & Taylor page as I find it not too cluttered and very easy to navigate…helping me find the things I want to buy (and I am a girl who likes instant gratification ;-) )

  9. [...] more of a hassle than a bargain. The main reason being that people launching online web stores like women’s clothing stores – forget to factor in TWO elements to their costs: software (non-human) and labor. Just because the [...]

  10. Holly, this topics really hits home with me. I’ve had a growing and successful women’s clothing business on Ebay for seven years. Ebay recently encouraged me to create an “off-Ebay” site to capture a wider audience. I researched many of the sites you mentioned and came up with something I hope captures the spirit of these higher brands but is distinctive and resonates with our demographic–fashion conscious professionals ages 25 to 45. My site is It just went live last week. Do you think it’s on the right track from a woman’s point of view?

  11. [...] read more here [...]

  12. maybe, maybe not, but your site defintely looks trashier…

  13. Holly, this topics really hits home with me. I’ve had a growing and successful women’s clothing business on Ebay for seven years. Ebay recently encouraged me to create an “off-Ebay” site to capture a wider audience. I researched many of the sites you mentioned and came up with something I hope captures the spirit of these higher brands but is distinctive and resonates with our demographic–fashion conscious professionals ages 25 to 45. My site is now Since it went up over 8 months ago, my ebay revenue has increased by 27%.

  14. I dunno! For me the sites are OK. I think these famous clothing lines didn’t spent much on websites because they already did spent too much doing runways, fashion shows or exhibit and TV ads or print ads.

  15. Maybe their clients are indie. That’s why they don’t spend more effort and money on their website. And they really don’t target the classy people buying online. Maybe that’s not their forte.

  16. The design of Smashing Darling looks fine to me. It looks clean and simple. I agree that women sites use a lot of white space, and maybe some soft colors too.

  17. [...] Buchanan, an expert on marketing to women online, reviews various women’s clothing sites in this post, showing us that many of these things apply across the [...]

  18. Good observations, it seems like most corporations are just too afraid to stick out.

  19. I think the design of the site is fine but it could be a better option to change the background colour but seems that they are happy with the current design.

  20. Yes, i can agree with you. The Design of this site lacks credibility indeed. And i think its the white space IN THE CENTER of the site. They should change the color in the middle of this site.

  21. I think there are only a couple of changes necessary such as telling the visitor what to do and quit distracting him/her with these images.

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Holly Buchanan is a marketing to women consultant specializing in marketing to women online. You can read her blog at She is the co-author, along with Michele Miller of The Soccer Mom Myth - Today's Female Consumer - Who She Really Is, Why She Really Buys.

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