What €150 can buy you in non-mumsy Dunnes


For years, Dunnes Stores has been ignored by younger customers because of its ‘mumsy’ image, but its current collection challenges that of Penneys – on both value and fashion, writes ROSEMARY MacCABE

FOR MANY a year, Irish people had two stores to choose from for their cut-price fashion fixes: Penneys and Dunnes Stores. When, in the 1990s, UK stores began their gradual domination of the Irish high street, the Irish stores began to fade into oblivion.

It was, for a while, all about the kids from across the Irish Sea.

While Penneys developed a cut-throat business model: on-trend pieces churned out at a rate of knots that channelled the collections of London, Paris and New York, Dunnes Stores seemed to fall off the fashion radar. Like Marks Spencer, it was considered that little bit “mumsy”; great for cheap knitwear, but not for fashionable attire.

With the arrival of the Savida label in 1998, Dunnes seemed to take a turn in the right direction, but, pitched at higher prices than the rest of the store, the fashion-forward line seemed ill-matched. Shoppers with money to spend were in Topshop, bargain-hunters, in Penneys.

But that’s not the case at the moment. A friend shows up at a party in a shrunken black jacket with military detailing. Where did you get that? The reply, whispered: “In Dunnes.” The defence: “I was looking for tights . . . ”

A wander through Dunnes yields surprising results. The stores are dotted – not crammed – with items, and the products are more affordable, more trend-led, more, well, like Penneys.

So how do the shops compare? Penneys’ claim to fame starts with price and end with its vast selection. There is no doubt that if you’re looking for choice, Penneys has it. Stores are teeming – overflowing, even – with wares, from skinny jeans at €11 to floral shorts (also €11), plaited metallic sandals (€6) and floral tea dresses (€15).

Dunnes Stores, on the other hand, has less to offer, but isn’t there some old adage about quality, quantity and the assignation of value? If Penneys is a labyrinth, replete with Jim Henson creatures, Dunnes Stores is a country garden maze. It houses a smaller selection of equally on-trend pieces – floral lace dresses at €15, dark denim skinny jeans at €10 (beating Penneys’ €11) and real leather gladiator sandals at €18.

Even Savida, although still more expensive than Dunnes Stores’ regular range, is down in price – and up in wearability. Soft nudes dominate the palette, with a beautiful silk-look crumpled jacket coming in at €30 and a tiered dress in shades of peach, also €30.

Where Dunnes Stores falls down is in accessories. While Penneys has mastered the art of creating 50 different handbags, giving them some vague appearance of organisation and selling them at bargain prices (Chanel-lite totes at €7), Dunnes seems stuck in a rut of “traditional” faux-leather handbags and gaudy earrings, which may be cheap but won’t have you reaching for your wallet – or even your coin purse.

When it comes to clothing stores, accessories aren’t everything, and while we may still flock to Penneys for our cheap earrings, bangles and charm necklaces, at present Dunnes should give us all serious pause for thought.