Will Last Century’s Styles Open Today’s Wallets?

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For some clothing brands, the summer of 2010 looks a lot like the summer of 1910, and 1949, and 1957 — basically, any time but now.

Eddie Bauer is reintroducing jackets that the company supplied to World War II pilots and 1950s mountaineers. Jantzen’s ruffled halter bikini is modeled on a pin-up-girl style it sold in the 1940s. Sperry Top-Siders is selling white buck shoes based on archival pieces. And L. L. Bean has revised a hunting shoe that a 1914 catalog sold with the warning “You cannot expect success hunting big game if your feet are not properly dressed.”

Brands are combing their archives in the hope that old clothing styles with a classic feel will assuage consumer anxiety in shaky times. With some Americans feeling as if they can’t trust government, Wall Street or big business, the brands are betting their heritage lines will evoke memories of better times — and help pry open shoppers’ wallets.

“We’ve been through a very unsettling time, and it’s when people are discontent with the present that they really start appreciating or having a nostalgia for the past,” said Nigel Hollis, chief global analyst for the market research firm Millward Brown. “Marketers are seeking to tap into that.”

The public has little confidence in most American institutions, particularly Congress and big business, according to Gallup polls taken over the last several years. And consumers are not spending: after months of sales growth, for example, the Census Bureau reported on Friday that May retail sales declined 1.2 percent, much further than analysts expected and the first decline since the fall....

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