Are retailers abandoning an overcrowded teen market for a more sophisticated, older woman? Wachovia Securities retail analyst Joseph Teklits thinks so. Gap, Express, Abercrombie & Fitch and Gymboree are among the converts going up-age, Teklits said in an August report. The result, he says, has been a 17 percent drop (1,200 stores) in the outlets dedicated to teens in four years.

Gap said in September it plans to target baby boomer women with fashions at affordable prices.Using Sex and the City fashionista Sarah Jessica Parker and rock star Lenny Kravitz, among others, to market its emphasis on “individual personal style,” the company plans to open 10 test stores by late 2005.

Meanwhile, Express has morphed from back-to-school clothing to a new incarnation as Express Design Studio, whose apparel “takes a young professional from workplace to weekend through its unique offering of fitted pants, tailored jackets and the key pieces that add sexy sophistication to a professional look,” parent Limited Brands said in a statement.

Gymboree, a children's retailer, also moved up in age, opening 10 Janeville stores across the country that offer casual clothing for 30-somethings. Gymboree plans to open 14 more Janevilles next year. Abercrombie & Fitch, meanwhile, is opening four new Ruehl stores, where it's targeting the post-college career starter.

Abandoning Teens?

While Teklits argues that retailers are leaving a glutted teen market, where same-store sales were flat to down over the past few years to follow their grown-up clients, Abercrombie spokesman Tom Lennox disagrees. He says Abercrombie still serves the teen markets with its West Coast-influenced Hollister line for 14- to 18-year-olds and its preppy look for 18- to 20-year-olds.

The new Ruehl entrant doesn't take away from those stores but is a logical expansion for the retailer to the 22- to 30-year-old post grad who wants to go to the Big Apple and make it. Ruehl stores, which come complete with a fabricated family saga about a family engaged in crafts and leather goods that lived in a townhouse in Greenwich Village, are designed to look like that town house and “bring the excitement of that to the kids from Minnesota who can't get to the Village,” says Lennox.

Abercrombie & Fitch may not be abandoning the teen market that has rewarded it so well, but according to Teklits, Gap and Express, with total annual sales of $7 billion, are leaving teens with fewer options and those who sell to them with less competition.

Whether the teen market has truly matured or not, retailers are clearly looking toward a more grown-up market.