In 1962, Lorne Huycke opened a small swimwear boutique in Newport Beach, CA, and named it Lorne's. A few years later, he and his wife were at a fashion show when she noted that one of the models in a black bikini looked like a wet seal. Huycke liked the expression and renamed his company Wet Seal in response. By the 1970s, the retailer had expanded and opened several more locations in California, but it was cash-strapped by debt until it was acquired by the Canadian retail chain Suzy Shier in 1984. Under new ownership, the brand found secure footing and began a more stable period of growth. By 1990, Wet Seal had gone public. The chain expanded beyond California and was operating more than 100 locations.
Wet Seal encountered more financial woes in the '90s, but it also successfully acquired the Contempo Casuals chain and launched a new sub-brand called Arden B. Further ups and downs in the last two decades culminated in the chain declaring bankruptcy in early 2015. The company was forced to close more than 300 of its retail locations as part of ongoing restructuring. Today, about 170 Wet Seal stores are still in operation, and the brand continues to have a successful e-commerce division.
The Wet Seal catalog of apparel and accessories primarily targets teens and twentysomethings interested in fashionable apparel at low prices. Tops include t-shirts, graphic tees, tanks, croptops, bustiers, v-necks, cardigans, pullovers, and sweaters. You can also find trendier options like bodysuits and dressy tops like blouses and tunics. Outerwear options include bomber jackets, anoraks, moto jackets, fleeces, vests, and blazers. In dresses, the brand offers shift dresses, bodycon dresses, shirtdresses, skater dresses, maxi dresses, sweater dresses, casual dresses, night-out dresses, and more.
Jeans are among the brand's most popular bottoms. The denim collection features cuts like skinny, boyfriend, flare, bootcut, cropped, and roll-cuff jeans, as well as jeggings and destroyed jeans. Other bottoms include leggings, joggers, trousers, chinos, capris, shorts, and skirts. In intimates, you can find bras, bralettes, bandeaus, sports bras, boy shorts, and panties. The vast majority of the basic apparel options are also available in plus sizes that are comfortable and flattering for full-figured women. The Wet Seal shoe collection features fashion-forward and comfortable boots, booties, ballet flats, heels, wedges, and sandals. In terms of accessories, options include belts, hats, scarves, watches, jewelry, and more.
Wet Seal has frequently been on the verge of going out of business for the last several decades, but its clothes continue to be popular among brand loyalists. Many of the retailer's fashions are basic enough that they will appeal to young women who are interested in apparel with a stylish edge. Others are a little bolder and are more likely to be appreciated by those who prefer "trendy" clothing. Almost regardless of the styles you prefer, however, the brand's clothes tend to be incredibly affordable so that you can easily add several new options to your wardrobe without breaking the bank. We give Wet Seal 4 stars out of 5.
- Established 1962
- Fashionable apparel at low prices
- Sold at:
- Wet Seal stores and online
- Types of items:
- T-shirts, graphic tees, tanks, croptops, bodysuits, cardigans, sweaters, dresses, jeans, leggings, trousers, joggers, capris, shorts, skirts, activewear, jackets, intimates, accessories, shoes, boots, sandals
- Related brands:
- Blink by Wet Seal, Arden B