It’s tailored’s time once again.
Streetwear has dominated the conversation in men’s wear for the past several years, but the dialogue is changing. At the fall runway shows in Europe in January, there was a noticeable shift toward a more dressed-up aesthetic.
Retailers are ready.
But while the selling floors will be more skewed toward tailored, it’s clearly not your grandfather’s suit. The fashion influence of streetwear and comfort of ath-leisurewear have had a dramatic — and lasting — impact on the entire men’s market. So instead of a sea of solid navy and gray single-breasted suits, there’s color and pattern and modern silhouettes in both suits and sport coats — and they’re being paired with upscale T-shirts and the ubiquitous sneaker.
The sneaker remains the one hot layover from the streetwear explosion, but even that is shifting focus, with a dressier silhouette coming to the fore. And for fall, comfortable boots may even kick sneakers to the curb.
Ironically, the return to tailored comes at the same time Goldman Sachs said it would be relaxing the dress code for its employees in light of the more casual workplace (although bankers will still have to wear suits when they meet prospective or actual clients). This thankfully doesn’t mean a return to the golf polos and khakis that proliferated in the Nineties when Casual Fridays were the “new thing.” Instead, a more elegant take on sportswear, one that blends tailored and casual elements, is becoming the new uniform, whether you’re a banker or a tech titan.
Bruce Pask, men’s fashion director for Bergdorf Goodman, said he’d been “having intuition for a while” about the return of a more dressed-up trend. “So we started showing a more sartorial representation on our [designer-focused] third floor. And the latest runway season solidified that direction. But it’s different than traditional tailoring. It’s a more polished, more elevated look. There’s still a ‘suit’ element, but it’s more ‘fashion.’”
So while the designer brands may remain the same — Louis Vuitton, Dior Men, Burberry — “there are now more options,” he said. The creative directors at these big houses, who had been at the forefront of the high-end streetwear-influenced collections, are “now finding this new direction exciting — and that customer is going along.”
This is not to say that Bergdorf’s is walking away from all of its streetwear offerings. The store has a shop for Kith, but Pask said the brand is “embracing tailored” by offering dressier topcoats with its unique aesthetic. Amiri, another fan of the streetwear followers, has infused a more tailored component into its collection.
Even the more traditional designers such as Giorgio Armani and Tom Ford are feeling the impact of the return of tailored, Pask said. The store is getting behind Thom Browne in a big way this spring, offering an exclusive assortment of the designer’s dressy eveningwear.
“It’s an easy way for men to follow what’s going on. The suit has been a uniform for a long time and men feel comfortable wearing it,” Pask continued. “And for the generation that didn’t grow up wearing it, it’s aspirational and cool.”
But because wearing a suit is no longer a requirement for most jobs, the dressy uniform has changed. “Men are living a much more active life today,” Pask said. “And they need durability and adaptability in their wardrobe.” That means stretch, wrinkle- and water-resistance properties, unlined jackets, pants with drawstring waistbands. He pointed to Z Zegna’s Wash & Go suit as a “well-priced, sporty style” that fits the bill, along with Prada’s tech suits and Harris Wharf London’s cotton pique sport coats that “feel like a sweatshirt.”
Louis DiGiacomo, general merchandise manager of men’s wear for Saks Fifth Avenue, said his company is also “adjusting our assortment” to take advantage of the dressier trend. “We’re primarily focusing on our flagship and the gateway cities,” he said. “That’s where we’re seeing a more polished aesthetic.”
Saks is continuing to rely on the same core designer and luxury brands, but offering “more elevated sportswear” from these collections, he said.
“Luxury streetwear and ath-leisure are still there, but it’s now a smaller part of the business,” he said. “It’s time to dress up appropriately at work and going out after.”
The retailer’s “core designer brands” such as Dior Men and Fendi are offering full lifestyle looks such as sport coats and dress trousers rather than nested suits, he said, and Saks bought in. The core classic brands such as Ermenegildo Zegna, Armani, Isaia and others are also offering “more color and pattern and new fits,” he said, as they prepare to pounce on the opportunity.
With the fashion trend solidified, it’s now up to Saks to get the message out in its marketing. DiGiacomo said for fall, Saks will “update the visuals in our stores” and “educate associates on how to put things together.”
It’s been a long time since the sales staff had an opportunity to coordinate shirts, ties and pocket squares with suits, he said, “and they’re going to embrace it because it represents a huge volume opportunity for them.”
And they’ll be able to help customers find a way to pair this more dressed-up look with sneakers, a category that continues to grow for the company. “It’s not at the same trajectory, but there’s still a lot of potential,” he said. But sneakers are being joined by more boots, dress shoes and loafers, he said, “another volume add for the guy’s wardrobe.”
Justin Berkowitz, men’s fashion director of Bloomingdale’s, said the store “never saw our tailored clothing business go away,” even during the height of the streetwear explosion. “It’s always been a big part of what we do and will continue to have an impact for us.”
But it’s a different tailored clothing offering than in the past, interspersed with comfortable items such as T-shirts and hoodies. “It’s OK to put a hoodie with a suit, if it’s done in the right way,” he said. “And puffers are still OK, but maybe with a tailored topcoat on top.”
The clothing is more technical as well, he said, pointing to Helmut Lang’s nylon blazer for fall “that feels very futuristic.”
Paige Thomas, executive vice president and gmm of men’s for Nordstrom, also said the retailer’s tailored clothing business has been good through the streetwear craze. “It’s a core competency for Nordstrom,” she said. “But it looks different. There are real-life changes for men and how they dress today. It’s OK not to wear a tie and still accessorize. And it’s OK to wear sneakers with a suit.”
In fact, Nordstrom sees a “big opportunity to capitalize on the whole conversation around street influence and the casualization of men’s wear.” The company is in the process of changing its brand matrix and buying structure in order to better serve this market, adding more “emerging and modern lifestyle brands that do tailored clothing well” to its mix.
When the company’s New York City men’s store opened last year, she said, Boglioli was added to the assortment and has performed well. Other brands that fit the bill include Z Zegna, Eidos and Eleventy. “They have heritage in tailored clothing, but more lifestyle offerings, and we’re presenting it in store as ‘The World of’ that brand,” she explained.
With the mix set, Thomas said it’s now up to the store to enhance its marketing to embrace this trend. “We need to push things further,” she said. “We do a good job cross-merchandising in stores and layering items. Historically, we had only showed a suit with a shirt and tie, but now we’re showing it with sweaters. We need to have this come to life much more in our marketing and online.”
Eleventy has also been a strong performer at Barneys New York. Tom Kalenderian, executive vice president and gmm of men’s, said a recent event with the brand was a huge success. The Italian brand is known for its “soft separates done in a masculine way,” he said. This includes stretch jersey blazers, joggers and soft merino sweaters.
Kalenderian said men still find wearing a suit “a comfortable place to be. There’s a change in complexion in how men dress, but they still like suits and blazers.”
He said Barneys’ sport coat business is stronger than suits right now in terms of penetration and volume, and this allows the company to merchandise them with cross-body or “belt” bags and a Common Projects or Lanvin cap-toe sneaker.
“I can sell a 50-year-old businessman who feels a need to wear tailoring a jogger in a cashmere blend with a merino sweater and a travel blazer,” he said. “They’ve discovered comfort and they don’t mind looking younger.”
But while tailored is making a resurgence, streetwear is not going away, he said. “It’s here to stay, but new silhouettes and colors will spur orders. Streetwear is not a dirty word, it’s found its place in the language of how we discover ourselves in our clothes.”
He said during the most recent round of European fashion shows, brands such as Dior Men and Givenchy may have reduced the quantity of streetwear-inspired pieces on the runways, but in the showrooms, “the street-y vibe was still there. You can’t change the thinking in men’s wear so quickly.”
Kalenderian believes Louis Vuitton chose Virgil Abloh to design its men’s collection “because he has that dexterity. There was still street style, but it looked beautiful.”
He said Barneys still counts luxury streetwear brands such as Fear of God, Amiri and Off-White as among its best sellers, and he doesn’t see that changing. “That’s not to say we don’t also have big businesses with Kiton, Ermenegildo Zegna and Isaia but we’re not trying to push the needle too fast.”
Mark Stocker, general business manager of men’s for Macy’s, said the department store’s reputation as “a destination for tailored clothing” positions it in a strong place as the pendulum swings back to more dress-up. The Goldman Sachs announcement that it was shifting to more casual work attire is opening up a world of opportunity. “We can help the consumer make a choice that suits his own personality,” Stocker said. “We’re giving him color and pattern — and we’re also showing him how to wear it.” That includes pairing a sport coat with a T-shirt or finishing the outfit with sneakers. “I wear a suit with cool sneakers every day,” Stocker said.
In its stores, Macy’s is adding what Stocker called “runways” showing a guy how to wear suits in five ways. This also helps liven the selling floors and make them more experiential, he said.
He said Macy’s is pushing its vendors to offer more fashion options to complement the replenishment part of the business. “Five years ago, everything was solid colors and gray, blue and black,” he said. “Now it’s pin-striped and exploded or tight plaids.” And colorful. “He has a propensity for bolder colors,” Stocker said, especially in the summer with fabrics such as chambray and seersucker. “It’s really fun to see the consumer develop the courage to dress with his own personality,” he said.
Eric Jennings, the former men’s fashion director of Saks who is now the vice president and creative director of Peerless Clothing, said the world of tailored clothing is changing. Peerless is the country’s largest tailored clothing manufacturer with licenses for brands ranging from Calvin Klein, DKNY, Michael Kors, Lauren Ralph Lauren and Todd Snyder to Tommy Hilfiger.
Jennings said there are two major trends in the market: the first is the casualization of the suit, making it softer and more relaxed and “blurring the line between formal and casual.”
He said the residual effect of the popularity of ath-leisure and the comfort of streetwear is leading many brands to offer technical fabrics that wick and cool and stretch. “When a guy transitions to tailored clothing, he wants that,” Jennings said.
He also wants color. “Pinks, burgundies, blues and greens are really resonating right now,” he said.
On the other end of the spectrum, Jennings is seeing the return of power dressing with bold, exaggerated patterns such as pinstripes and double-breasted silhouettes. “It’s the opposite of streetwear,” he said.
Lou Amendola, executive vice president of merchandising for Brooks Brothers, said for the past one to two years “the rules are fading away at an accelerated rate. And the uniform to go to work is no longer a suit, tie and dress shirt. It’s now sport coats, casual pants and sneakers. The dressier side is performing well, but they’re not just picking that over streetwear. It’s more of a blending of the businesses coming together.”
So Brooks Brothers is selling more floral shirts to be worn without ties, showing suits with suede sneakers and a lot more patterned sport coats. Novelty suits are also selling, replacing the solid navy or gray of the past. Exploded plaids, bright colors, linings with special details are all popular today. And all the suits have natural stretch or other performance elements. “It’s not the bankers’ uniform,” he said.
Made-to-measure is also experiencing an uptick as men seek to express their individuality through their wardrobe choices. “This is not their grandfather’s made-to-measure,” he said. Instead, guys are making bolder choices in terms of fabric, details and fit. Store windows and mailers are focused on the number of options that can be customized through the made-to-measure program and the company’s promotional materials are all showing less-traditional takes on suits and sport coats.
“When I look at it,” Amendola said, “men’s wear is moving to what women’s wear is: wear a dress one day, trousers the next and a twin set the day after that.”
Other tailored clothing specialists are taking a similar tact.
Carrie Ask, president of Men’s Wearhouse and Moores, said the retailer is definitely benefiting from the return to a more-tailored aesthetic. But it’s now what the company is calling “polished casual,” or blending sportswear and tailored clothing elements.
Because navigating this trend is more difficult, the company is offering guidance in its marketing materials, as well as from its sales associates. And it’s updating several stores to better get this message across.
Ask revealed that some eight to 10 stores are expected to be redesigned this year to capitalize on this casual trend as well as the continued growth of its custom suit offering.
In store, the sales associates are acting more like wardrobe consultants than salespeople and helping instill confidence in customers that their new fashion choices are appropriate.
Men’s Wearhouse is showing a lot more sport shirts, different pant models, colorful blazers and a whole performance suit offering. This trend carries through to footwear choices as well. Ask said the stores do well with Cole Haan models that look like a dress shoe but feel like a sneaker, along with other similar models.
At its sister division, Jos. A. Bank, the company recently showed a revamped store format to showcase a more modern aesthetic.
“Tailored clothing has always comprised a core part of a man’s wardrobe,” said president Mary Beth Blake, “but guys are more style-aware today even when it comes to their casualwear.” And the stores are responding by showing men more options.
She said a recent marketing campaign, “Get Ready for Greatness,” is focused on “showing various ways to wear clothing to work.” So in addition to suits, there are tailored jeans, cotton and linen sweaters, canvas and leather backpacks and suede derby shoes.
At Suitsupply, the upstart 120-unit Amsterdam-based men’s tailored-clothing-skewed retailer, Fokke de Jong, founder and chief executive officer, said despite the popularity of streetwear, his company has been “focused on tailoring all the time. It’s very important for a brand to stay reliable. If guys start wearing leggings and cropped shirts, we’re not going to venture into it.”
That’s not to say that the Suitsupply offering hasn’t gotten more relaxed. It introduced sportswear in 2015 and the category continues to “pick up more steam,” he said. That means tailored joggers and drawstring-waist trousers in wool, selvedge jeans, lightweight knit shirts, merino wool T-shirts, linen and cotton polos and dressy shorts.
Jeffrey Kalinsky, founder of Jeffrey USA, the high-end specialty retailer with a strong streetwear following, said even his floors will see a “more sartorial” offering for this coming fall. “We bought more suits and coats than last year,” he said, “so you will see more of a tailored offering.”
He doesn’t expect to get any pushback from customers, but anticipates they will embrace the new twist. “But we don’t believe streetwear is going away or dead,” he stressed. “You’re always going to need a new hoodie that you love, but now you might just be wearing it under a beautiful tailored coat for fall rather than a bomber.”