Men’s wear continues to make strides as guys from all walks of life prove that it’s not only women that care how they look.
From the red-hot streetwear market to suits with a slim modern fit — and technical attributes in everything — men continue to upgrade their wardrobes to keep up with the latest trends.
And it’s showing in the numbers.
Men’s wear is now estimated to represent 40 percent of the global apparel market and continues to grow. According to Euromonitor International, global sales of men’s wear increased 3.7 percent to $419 billion in 2017, outpacing women’s, which rose 3.4 percent to $643 billion.
In the U.S., sales hit $85 billion last year and are on track to rise 1.1 percent to over $86 billion this year, Euromonitor projected.
Other firms’ figures bear that out as well. According to Statista, retail sales of the men’s market in the U.S. were $62.1 billion in 2013 and are projected to hit nearly $75 billion this year.
And NPD Group said for the six months ended June 2018, total men’s apparel sales rose 3 percent to $29 billion with active bottoms and knit shirts gaining in popularity while dress shirts and woven shirts declined. For the second half, NPD projected that sweats and active bottoms will continue to be popular.
While the numbers may vary depending upon the source, the uptick is undeniable. And retailers and manufacturers are reaping the rewards.
At the recently ended trade shows in Las Vegas, the most popular categories were activewear-inspired pieces that offered performance and technology attributes, retro-inspired heritage product, workwear-skewed denim and streetwear in its many iterations.
Men today think nothing of mixing high and low, dressy and casual, designer and vintage as they continue to find ways to express their individuality.
Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst for NPD Group, said: “Men’s wear is poised to have another healthy year.”
He pointed to areas of strength in several different categories, including suits.
“While the traditional look of tailored clothing is fading as we know it, it is being re-engineered by men to combine casual and tailored clothing in a new way,” Cohen said. “Think cuffed jeans and a vest with a shirt and bow tie — maybe even suspenders.”
He pointed, too, to athletic apparel as “a key influence, but it’s also more about retroactive fashion: old-style warm-ups and sweat pants.”
Cohen said that while “most men don’t get influenced by politics, young, conservative men may be the exception. The solid tie and suit look popularized by Donald Trump could make a comeback. But don’t hold your breath: It may take a year, or even two.”
Other trends he sees for the second half are colored pants, textured shirts and knitwear over wovens.
Greg Petro, president and chief executive officer of First Insight, said that men’s wear sales continue to accelerate but they’re being driven by brands that are creating unique product. Whether that’s luxury, digitally native or store-based brands, these are all “taking a cut of the business, and men are being better served.” He singled out brands such as Superdry, Proper Cloth, My.Suit and others as standouts.
He said department stores, in particular, have to change in order to properly service today’s male shopper. “Department stores are experiencing death by a thousand cuts,” he said. “And they don’t even know where they’re bleeding out.
“If you have a distinct product, the consumer will come to you,” he continued, “but if the product is not unique or it’s available everywhere,” then sales are bound to suffer. “Seventy percent of the inventory at Macy’s is available on Amazon,” he said.
Instead, men are “self-curating” in order to make a statement and the brands and retailers that can provide alternatives will be the winners, he believes.
Even so, some of the large retailers are still managing to carve out their piece of the pie.
In the second quarter, several retailers cited men’s as a category that is spurring sales. And while the strong showing is not exclusively related to men’s, it prompted many to raise their outlook for the remainder of the year.
At the mass market end, Wal-Mart said apparel sales were up in the mid-single digits in the second quarter with Sam’s Club apparel also up in the low double digits thanks to favorable weather and strong early back-to-school sales.
Target also enjoyed “unusually strong second quarter growth” in apparel, according to chief executive officer Brian Cornell, who pointed to the newly launched Original Use young men’s line as a standout. He described the brand as “a street-meets-vintage-modern brand focused on enabling guests to explore fashion, culture and individuality.”
He added: “We feel like we’re very well-positioned for the back half of the year. We’re seeing a very strong start to back-to-school and back-to-college. We continue to see very strong traffic trends and we expect to monetize that in the back half of the year.”
And at TJX, the company raised its guidance for the rest of the year with ceo Ernie Herrman, noting the corporation was “especially pleased with the robust performance of our apparel business. Apparel can be an up-and-down type of business, but certainly right now we seem to be in the sweet spot.”
Among the department stores, Macy’s, too, raised guidance for the year.
Chief executive officer Jeff Gennette said the Bloomingdale’s division, in particular, saw strength in men’s wear with “good regular-price sell-through on all our fall trends.”
For the corporation as a whole, back-to-school receipts resulted in “great traction,” he said. “Our kids’ business is one of the strongest in the entire store and that’s across boys and girls, that’s not just active, but that’s uniforms, that’s sportswear.”
He said a repositioning of the denim department to target Millennials is also paying dividends and “triggering back-to-school business.”
But it’s not just young men who are responding to the updated men’s fashion offering. Gennette said that in the formerly staid men’s tailored clothing area, “it’s amazing when you look at the amount of younger customers that are entering our store through a men’s clothing purchase.”
And while the jury is still out on its initial performance, Nordstrom in April opened its first full-line men’s-only store in Manhattan. During the company’s second-quarter earnings call, James Nordstrom, president of stores, said he has high hopes for the store in the future.
“Mostly, I think what we’re really encouraged by is a lot of the qualitative response we’ve had from customers, from people in our industry who visited that store, the team we put together there, and we’re encouraged by our long-term prospects,” he said.
Nordstrom also raised its full-year earnings projections after posting strong second-quarter results.
J.C. Penney, in September, will introduce its latest men’s wear initiative, a new big & tall brand with Shaquille O’Neal. The retailer brought the former NBA star on board earlier this year as an ambassador for the men’s extended sizes area, and James Starke, senior vice president and head of merchandising for Penney’s, said business in that category “dramatically accelerated in the second quarter” as a result, and he’s expecting more gains in the back half of the year.
And while big & tall is only one piece of the puzzle, Starke said overall, the men’s business at Penney’s has been a bright spot. “We’re pleased with what we saw in the first half, and for the past few years, it’s been one of the best-performing businesses in the building,” he said.
Men’s wear vendors were similarly upbeat about the prospects for the second half — especially those with product offerings that men find desirable.
At Ralph Lauren, for example, ceo Patrice Jean Louis Louvet, cited double-digit growth in men’s polo shirt sales globally, along with strength in limited-edition launches and heritage products such as CP-93 America’s Cup line.
Michael Kors is also upbeat on the prospects for its men’s business. John Idol, ceo, said, “Our men’s business continues to grow both in our own retail and wholesale channels.” And “while it’s still small to the total company,” it’s still an area of focus for the corporation.
For Father’s Day, “logo was a popular choice for gifting, particularly the Greenwich polo and our knit logo baseball jacket. Refined pieces such as washed leather jackets and lightweight sweaters in fine yarns were also top sellers in the quarter,” he said.
To maintain the momentum, Idol said that for fall, the brand will build on the strength of its new capsule collection initiative. The first was MK Graffiti that launched last month and celebrated New York street art.
“In October, we’re coming back with MK Bold, a capsule focused on athletic wear inspired by the current street-style fashion trend, and showcases our new Kors logo products across all categories, men’s and women’s wear,” Idol said. “Both of these collections are expected to help drive our fashion-active accessories, footwear, and ready-to-wear businesses. We will be amplifying these collections with engaging marketing campaigns throughout the fall season. These capsule collections should add further sales momentum in the fall and holiday season.”
At Tapestry, Inc., ceo Victor Luis, said he was “excited about the opportunities for men’s across all categories.”
He said the corporation has managed to grow its men’s business to $850 million in sales over the past few years “and we have a clear path to over $1 billion within our three-year planning horizon.”
He said Coach is already the “number-one domestic men’s resource for bags and small leather goods, and we will fuel this business through our focus on the modern man, building out our active casual offering, including backpacks, belt bags, and more casual silhouettes; and updating our business assortment in leather goods to reflect our customers who are increasingly working in more casual, tech-friendly, and modern workplaces.” To help it hit its goals, the company recently tapped Cristiano Quieti, head of its Jack Spade division, to lead Coach’s men’s business across all channels.
Tom Chubb, ceo of Oxford Industries, which will release its second-quarter results on Sept. 12, said he’s pleased with results so far. “We had a good strong first quarter and are projecting a good Q2,” he said. “The economy is in great shape, consumers are spending money and we see that continuing in the second half.”
The owner of the Tommy Bahama, Southern Tide and Lilly Pulitzer labels, added that current inventory levels are good at retail, which also bodes well for the future. “If they come in fat, then things get out of hand, there’s an excessive reaction and promotions kick in. But business is healthy so it sets us up for a strong second half.”
He pointed to a couple of new retail/restaurant locations that have recently opened or will be added soon. “It’s the way we differentiate our brands in an omnichannel world,” he said, “by opening in iconic or vacation markets.”
He pointed to a Lilly Pulitzer store that opened in Maui this summer as well as another on tap for Worth Avenue in Palm Beach, Fla., in November. In addition, a Tommy Bahama Marlin Bar that opened in Palm Springs, Calif., in May has done well so far and Chubb is expecting even stronger results as the season picks up there in the fall.
Turning to the company’s Lanier Apparel brand, Chubb said there were two key areas of strength within the tailored clothing-skewed division: the Kenneth Cole-licensed business “which has been an outstanding performer,” as well the newly launched Cole Haan collection.
In the latter, he said, there is “a level of innovation” that has set the brand apart and it answers the call from today’s man for comfort and wearability.
Since neither Lanier nor Tommy Bahama could ever be a streetwear brand — “That would be ridiculous,” Chubb said. — the company instead is injecting performance attributes into its existing lines to answer the call for performance. That includes the Island Zone collection from Tommy Bahama that offers wicking and cooling properties, Southern Tide’s Intercoastal performance line, and Cole Haan’s high-twist yarns infused with spandex for stretch, technology pockets and Coolmax linings.
John Tighe, president of Peerless Clothing, was also optimistic about the second half. “The tailored business is strong and our stable of brands — Lauren, Calvin, Tommy — are all doing great.”
Like Chubb, he said that since Peerless is in the clothing business, it isn’t chasing the streetwear trend but rather providing “strong innovations” to boost sales. “Technical fabrics, new fits, new brands, that’s what we’re doing,” Tighe said. “We keep hearing about the demise of dress apparel, but the tailored clothing business is very strong and has become more occasion-driven. And guys want comfort and stretch, which we’re giving them. It provides a reason to buy.”
Andrew Berg, president of Robert Graham, said, “There’s a little bit of a good patch happening right now. We finished the first half up in the double-digits in comps, in direct channels, and at every store we’re in, we’re also above plan.”
He said sport coats have been a particular bright spot and knitwear has “come back in a big way. “In the second half, we’re expecting more of the same.”
He expects “certain key items” to spur interest including the Downhill hybrid sport coat/outerwear piece that will retail for $795.
The brand, which is owned by the publicly held Differential Brands Group, has been expanding its product offerings and categories to capture a larger share of its customers’ wallets. In early September, the brand will launch its home collection and will embark on an aggressive marketing campaign for fall centered around wearable art that is intended to appeal to a younger man.
Overall, Berg sees a bright future for the men’s market so long as companies adapt to meet the changing customer needs.
“The business is evolving,” he said. “It’s now streetwear and sneakers and high-end designers instead of suits and neckwear, but the idea that the spigot had been shut off at retail is not correct. People are just shopping in different channels. Retailers who have gotten better at how they present product by offering a better in-store experience and customer service are winning.”