Men’s wear was among the hottest categories in 2014, and expectations are high that the momentum will continue into the new year.

This story first appeared in the January 5, 2015 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Driven by a slimming of the silhouette in suits and related products and buoyed by the popularity of ath-leisure, men’s wear continues to outperform other areas of the fashion business. And while suit sales have slowed a bit, men’s wear retailers and manufacturers are confident that other classifications are poised to take their place.

“The momentum will continue, provided manufacturers and retailers provide newness and exciting merchandise,” said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst for the NPD Group. “It’s up to retailers not to get cautious — they have to drive business. They didn’t do it with the women’s and teen markets and look what happened. Men’s has been the most popular area and must stay in the forefront. There’s a huge opportunity there, and I see the growth continuing.”

Cohen said ath-leisure will “top the list,” but offering updated colors and technical innovations throughout the market will also drive sales. “Outerwear will continue to dominate,” he said. “We’re just scratching the surface there.”

According to fashion insiders, the most popular categories this year will include athletic-inspired sportswear; performance clothing, such as travel suits; hybrids and bomber jackets, with performance properties that can take the place of blazers; footwear; accessories, such as the man bag, and other tech-inspired pieces. To continue to spark sales among young men, manufacturers are offering merchandise that blurs the line between sportswear and dresswear as guys get comfortable wearing sneakers with their suits and pull on a merino half-zip over their cashmere sweatpants.

“Men’s wear has incredible momentum right now,” said Joseph Abboud, chief creative director of the Men’s Wearhouse. “It started with the young guys discovering getting dressed up. They’re attracted to men’s heritage brands, and custom is no longer just not off-the-rack but is now an expression of personal style. Slim is not news anymore, but we’re still early in the curve of dressing up.”

Abboud likened today’s men’s wear scene to that of the late Nineties, when golf crossed over from pro shops to mainstream department and specialty stores. “Guys are wearing sneakers with cashmere jackets — there are no more rules. [Fashion has] taken on a life of its own, but we have to clarify it for the customer.”

Abboud said the “downside of men’s wear is, when we think like women’s wear, we get in trouble.” Trying to reinvent the wheel every season is not a viable strategy, and the men’s industry has to move slowly and offer modest updates, he believes. “But guys are confident today, and they love getting dressed up, so it’s a really exciting time for men’s wear.”

Eric Jennings, men’s fashion director for Saks Fifth Avenue, believes the opportunities at the luxury level lie in “the new advanced contemporary and advanced designer zones.” He said men today are “lifestyle buying,” picking up everything from suits to socks within these areas of business. “The contemporary zone has evolved to be more designer-aspirational. It used to be just jeans and T-shirts, but now it’s full lifestyle,” he said. “It’s more than just a sea of denim.” Designer brands are also expanding their offerings to address the demand.

To attract customers, Saks is getting its buyers to look at these zones “holistically,” rounding out the ready-to-wear offering with furnishings, shoes and accessories “to complete the look,” he observed.

In addition, Jennings said Saks this year will “dig deeper into social media to spread the men’s wear gospel.” Its “magalog” and social-media efforts will be enhanced to showcase these lifestyle stories and help men navigate the new waters.

Cohen also sees further opportunities in the men’s market. “The sleeper category will be sleepwear,” he said. “The younger generation is wearing pajama pants as streetwear, and they’re very perishable, so they need to keep replenishing them.” Underwear is also seen as a prime growth area this year. “It’s not replenishment anymore,” he said. “Guys are buying multiple styles.”

Socks, on the other hand, have slowed. “The market got lazy and stopped providing novel looks,” he said. “We’re seeing very boring assortments hitting stores now.” Denim manufacturers also “shot themselves in the foot by not providing anything new and exciting,” he added. Cohen expected that vendors have learned their lesson and, by the second half, will begin flowing in new styles that will boost business.

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