The Revisit: Does Century 21 Still Live Up to the Hype?

We dropped in unannounced to see for ourselves.

Century 21

The view from the Market Street entrance to Century 21. | Lauren McGrath.

When we got a sneak peek inside Century 21 before it opened in the fall of 2014, we couldn’t get enough of the Gallery’s brand-new, face-lifted megastore. But as so many stores have experienced time after time (ahem, Nordstrom Rack), it ain’t easy out there for an off-price retailer in the middle of the city. Call us cynics, but we worried about the state in which we’d find all that Chloé and Saint Laurent after all this time. High-brow doesn’t generally mix well with clutter.

I made my way down Market Street fueled by La Colombe and a burning desire to see the real state of affairs at Century 21, its grand-opening luster long gone. I had visions of gorgeous beaded Valentino platforms smushed on a shoe shelf next to patent leather Jessica Simpson heels and clothing racks in disarray. Braced for the worst, I dove in.

First of all, kudos to the staff at Century 21; that has to be the most orderly department store I’ve ever visited. The two-floor, 100,000-square-foot space is still full of great brands at discounted prices, all neat and organized—a far cry from the expected Marshall’s-level chaos.

Century 21 bags

I need that Betsey Johnson star-studded bag. | Lauren McGrath.

The massive handbag selection can look overwhelming at first but, like most of the store, it’s sorted by designer. There’s a small but well-curated selection of high-end brands, displayed in glass cases. For these, I’d skip the trendy, fuzzy Jason Wu bags and opt instead for a timeless Saint Laurent top-handle bag; at $1,779 it’s still an investment piece, but it’s about $1,000 less than normal retail price.

Century 21 vacation

All these beach essentials make me want to book a trip. | Lauren McGrath.

Since my last trek to Century 21 in late November, the winter hats and gloves have been replaced by seasonal accessories like breezy summer scarves and straw beach hats. Pair that with the top-notch caftan selection upstairs in women’s (caftans!!), and you’ve got one-stop vacation shopping. Just don’t set your hopes on finding a bathing suit for the trip; the spread is really limited.

The eyewear section is a store standout; the entire first floor’s back wall is stocked with sunglasses by the likes of Prada and Tom Ford. Don’t miss the low-grade non-prescription specs in frames that aren’t your standard shapes.

Century 21 vintage

Don’t miss this treasure trove of vintage bags. | Lauren McGrath.

Fun fact: There’s an awesome vintage mini-store located on the first floor with handbags and luggage by Louis Vuitton (mostly) and other luxury designers. The store-within-a-store is run by LXR&Co, and has been there since last February. Be sure to check out this section if you’re considering making your first wardrobe foray into designer brands—LXR&Co gets new inventory every two weeks.

The women’s shoe department delivers a mix of brands and price points, with higher-end brands like Chloé and Gucci (very picked-over) sharing space with more middle-of-the road options like Vince Camuto and Nine West (underwhelming). In short: Skip this.

Century 21 Womens

A Missoni jacket, fringed Seven jeans and the paltry plus-size section.| Lauren McGrath.

Upstairs in women’s, you’ll find of-the-moment trends in the contemporary department from brands like BCBG and Theory, but in the designer racks (think: Missoni, Lanvin), clothes feel very last season. The denim collection doesn’t disappoint – check out the cute fringed Sevens above – and the lingerie selection is stellar.

If you don’t know to look for them, you might miss the petites and plus-size sections, both of which carry a few options for workwear and about a half-rack’s worth of denim. Disappointing.

Century 21 Men

The sprawling men’s department. | Lauren McGrath.

Surprisingly, the men’s department is huge. You’ll find crisp suits, smart shirts and ties galore. Head here for essentials like button-ups, undershirts, and tons of denim options, but don’t expect to find many fashion-forward designs.

While the home section may look small, the accessories collection isn’t one to miss. You’ll find glam statement pieces like glitzy lamps, mirrors and throw pillows to feed your inner diva, as well as gold geometric accents for the minimalist’s abode.

Also check out the sprawling kid’s section, boasting pint-sized designs from brands like Seven, Diesel and True Religion. You’ll have the best-dressed kid on the playground.

All  in all, I’d call my surprise drop-in at Century 21 a success. The staff was friendly and attentive, the organization was on point, and the quality of brands hasn’t taken a nose dive like I expected. Well done, Century 21; I’m impressed!

Hungry for more Century 21? See what our editor bought on her last visit.
Want to see another unannounced revisit? Check out our Primark check-in

The Details: 821 Market Street, East Market. 215-952-2121.