Whatever Happened To Wet Seal?

Remember the '80s,'90s, and early-to-mid 2000s when teenage girls looked forward to nothing more than shopping at the mall with their friends? Where did these girlies spend most of their time in the mall? Their favorite trendy clothing stores typically blasted pop music and had inviting lighting. They also sold cheap yet stylish outfits that helped those young ladies dress like their favorite famous party girls without blowing all of their allowance on one garment. The perfect example of one of those hyper-trendy stores was Wet Seal.


According to FundingUniverse, Wet Seal started in 1962, grew its presence over decades, and had many changes in leadership and business. The retailer's most recent CEO was Melanie B. Cox, per FashionNetwork, and the California-based fast fashion brand was all about providing the trendiest clothes and the most stylish store experience possible. "Freshness is the key... If customers are entertained, they'll stay longer," Ken Chilvers, the former company president, told the Los Angeles Times, back in the '90s — but this isn't the '90s anymore.

With trendy clothes and a fun atmosphere, would Wet Seal stay successful? Nope. In a 2023 video caption, a TikToker even went as far as to describe Wet Seal clothing as "vintage." Thus, Wet Seal's success was like a fashion trend — hot for a while, but it didn't last forever.


Wet Seal eventually shut down

While Wet Seal may once have been every fashion-loving teenage girl's dream due to the stores' trendy clothes and exciting interiors, the company's business and financial aspects weren't having so much fun in the mid-2010s. According to The Wall Street Journal, the retailer filed for bankruptcy protection in 2015. Eventually, Wet Seal shut down all 171 stores, resulting in significant job losses. "Unfortunately, the company was unable to obtain the necessary capital or identify a strategic partner, and was recently informed that it will receive no further financing for its operations," said Michelle Stocker, vice president slash general counsel, per The Wall Street Journal.


Moreover, the once-popular retailer no longer has a website, proving that the company has been and still is done in 2023. However, people who enjoy and miss Wet Seal clothes can still shop "vintage" Wet Seal clothes at some thrift stores and websites. For example, ThredUp has many Wet Seal garments for affordable prices at the time of writing, and Walmart still sells some Wet Seal garments in 2023, too. Wet Seal officially shut down, but you can still find some of their pieces if you're willing to search.

People prefer shopping online as of the late 2010s

Back when many young people still enjoyed shopping at malls, Wet Seal's clever visual merchandising helped the stores stand out. "It used to be you'd go into a store and it would be: 'This is our pant section,' with doughnuts separating the sizes ... We thought that's not how most people picture clothes ... So we threw away all of the doughnuts and put tops and bottoms together," Ken Chilvers told The Los Angeles Times. At the time, those stylish visual merchandising techniques helped inspire in-person shoppers to have fun styling the clothes, leading to people wanting to buy more Wet Seal garments. However, fast forward to the late 2010s and all of the 2020s — not nearly as many young people bother shopping in person anymore.


In 2017, 67% of millennials shared that they'd rather shop online than in-person, per Statista. Those young women who may have been impressed by Wet Seal's stores' visual merchandising and interiors before that point likely forgot about it as they got more into online shopping options. Wet Seal was once a hot mall spot, so as mall culture faded out, so did Wet Seal's popularity.

Wet Seal is inactive on social media

In this modern social media-obsessed world, it was our instinct to look up Wet Seal on various social media platforms, starting with Instagram. While the Wet Seal Instagram page is surprisingly still up at the time of writing, the company's last post was from October 2021. Unsurprisingly, Wet Seal did not appear to have a TikTok account, as the company seemed to shut down around the same time as the era when young people started discovering TikTok. However, Wet Seal still has a Twitter page with over 22,000 followers. The most recent post was from May 2021, showing a cryptic message with the words, "The whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately," perhaps referring to the retailer's uncertain fate and eventual downfall.


Wet Seal's YouTube page is still up in 2023, too, and viewers can still watch the videos, but the last video only has around 300 views and dates back to 2019. While the Wet Seal Facebook page still has more than a million followers at the time of writing, the last post was from 2021. Finally, Wet Seal's LinkedIn page doesn't appear up-to-date in 2023. The page has not acknowledged that the brand shut down, still referencing the "168 stores" and potential job opportunities. Therefore, Wet Seal still has many social media pages, but those pages appear outdated, inactive, and show no indication of any comeback or brand revival.

The future of young people's fashion is going in a different direction

In previous eras of female fashion where ultra-feminine looks and mall culture was the norm, Wet Seal seemed set for success. However, in the 2020s, the shopping scene in our more modern, inclusive society doesn't tend to favor those traditionally popular themes, prominently because of Generation Z. Not only is online shopping taking over, but the messaging behind the brands is changing, too. For instance, Generation Z tends to enjoy nailing androgynous dressing, so brands that cater to all genders will be more likely to succeed in 2023 than brands that serve party-ready, classically feminine looks.


Furthermore, young shoppers are leaning more toward sustainable options. Wet Seal was a prime example of a trendy fast fashion retailer, and many Generation Z shoppers are choosing to ditch fast fashion in 2023. "Usually, when I'm shopping, I like to see what's ethically sourced, or if it's environmentally friendly ... I'm willing to pay for more expensive stuff when it's ethically sourced," Trinity Gbla, a 19-year-old junior at Howard University, told CNBC in 2021. You can expect Generation Z and maybe even Generation Alpha to spend their money on slow fashion or thrift pieces instead of trendy yet often unethical fast fashion.