“Business is very strong in men’s — the strongest I’ve seen in my career.”
That’s the way Bob Mitchell, co-chief executive officer of Mitchells Stores, characterized current menswear sales.
He’s not alone.
From the U.S. to the U.K., France and Italy, retailers are experiencing an explosion of business as men head back to the office and out to events and weddings. That’s given a massive boost to the tailored clothing business, which struggled through the early days of the pandemic when everyone was working from home in sweatpants. But it’s not just dressy looks that are performing. Retailers report that sport coats, luxury sportswear and footwear are all tracking ahead of pre-pandemic levels.
Here, how U.S. and European retailers are seeing their men’s businesses.
“Our spring performance has been excellent,” said Russ Patrick, senior vice president and general merchandise manager of menswear for Neiman Marcus. “We’re thrilled with the overall performance.”
Patrick said men’s is a focus for the company at both the stores and online and it’s paying off with strong results from a cross-section of brands, or what he said was “from A to Z, with A being Amiri and Z being Zegna.” Other brands of note include Brunello Cucinelli, Christian Louboutin, Dior and Tom Ford.
“Last year, our volume levels in men’s were above our historic peak and that’s accelerating this year,” he said. “Men’s remained strong throughout last year and the dressier categories came a little later, but we’re now seeing strong demand in the more formal classifications in addition to the casual categories that came back first and continue to remain strong. Return to the office plays a part, but so does our clients’ return to special occasions, whether that’s multiple weddings, vacation travel or just going out with friends.”
He said early spring sales show strength across a wide range of categories and lifestyles — from ready-to-wear to shoes and accessories — with “every division performing above pre-pandemic levels.” Although ties have been the slowest business to recover, he said even that category is experiencing a pickup, prompting the store to reorder.
Among the top performers, he said, are luxury overshirts, “a third piece that is elevated but not too structured,” along with graphic silk prints in designer shirts and shorts. And “dark, dressy go-out suits” in all shades of navy, both solids and patterns and tuxedos have also been standouts, along with designer sneakers.
“We feel very good about the overall opportunity for men’s,” Patrick said.
Louis DiGiacomo, senior vice president of men’s for Saks Fifth Avenue, also said sales continue to be strong at both the brick-and-mortar stores and online. The uptick started in the early part of the fourth quarter of last year, he said, quieted a bit as the Omicron variant surged around the holidays, but picked up in February and has been building momentum since then.
“We’re having a really good start to the season,” he said, pointing to designer rtw and tailored clothing from Alexander McQueen, Amiri and Dior, and luxury sportswear from Cucinelli, Zegna and Isaia as top performers. Footwear has continued to hold its own, especially “more elevated” shoe brands, along with sport coats and sport shirts and fine-gauge knits that have replaced the traditional dress shirt. “We call it easy tailoring — it feels easy and is very transitional. It’s nice to see this balance.”
DiGiacomo attributed the surge to a return to office and more-frequent events that are leading men to go out for both personal and professional reasons. “When they look in their closets, everything seems dated and the look has evolved,” he said.
Looking ahead, Saks is updating its marketing to draw the male shopper into the store and is also returning to its own events, including made-to-measure trunk shows, which have been “very strong,” he said. And the flagship is putting the finishing touches on its seventh floor renovation, which should help boost awareness and interest in the near future.
“Men’s has performed well over the past few years and we believe the momentum will continue,” DiGiacomo concluded.
Sam Archibald, general business manager of apparel for Macy’s, also said the department store chain is pleased with the performance of its men’s business and attributed it to men “balancing” their wardrobes.
“We had been in a casual trend for a while, but now men are updating their wardrobes with refined sportswear, collections and tailored clothing, which are the hallmarks of our business,” he said. “We can see the consumer updating for potentially a return-to-work, but also for more family events and weddings. And that’s bringing a lot of energy to the business.”
Archibald said he expects the casual categories to continue to perform since the pandemic has resulted in a much more hybrid-style world, “but it’s about what’s not in his closet” or what may no longer fit. “Lives have changed,” he said. “We’re still living in a hybrid environment but we’re not just sitting at home anymore, we’re going out to dinner, to the office a couple of days a week and getting ready to celebrate a full-fledged Easter or Passover with our families. And that has driven the consumer to look for newness.”
So whether that’s a new suit, updated bottoms or more woven shirts to complement the “heavy knit cycle we’ve been in for a while,” the demand is hitting all categories. “We span everything from active fleece to tailored clothing” in well-known private and national brands, he said. “In prior market shifts, it was usually one way or the other, but now there’s a rebalancing and they’re looking for newness in both casual and tailored, and that bodes well for the men’s business.”
He singled out Polo and Lauren as among the top-performing brands for Macy’s in tailored clothing, citing their “breadth of casual and refined offerings” that play well into the classic style trend that has emerged. “So we’re very proud to be one of their more important partners in North America,” he said.
With the men’s business on such a positive trajectory, does Archibald think it will last? “I don’t have a crystal ball and the consumer will tell us, but I feel good now with return-to-work, Easter and Passover. Then it’s wedding season in the second quarter, and hopefully in the fall, their outerwear assortment will need a refresh and that will lead us into the fourth quarter, when, God willing, we’ll have a normalized holiday season. So I see a lot of runway here.”
Dan Leppo, executive vice president of menswear, childrenswear and the home store of Bloomingdale’s, said parts of the men’s business have been “very good” since the back half of last year, particularly athletic and logo apparel from brands as varied as Hugo Boss and Helmut Lang. And moving into 2022, there has been “a broader-based apparel recovery,” he said.
“Where the gentleman is right now is, maybe he’s not back in the office full-time, but he’s going to in-person meetings and social lunches and needs to dress with more polish.” In addition, “people are going out to restaurants, events and weddings and it’s having a very powerful impact on apparel.”
Specifically, he has seen an “acceleration” in sales of foundational pieces from some of the store’s biggest brands such as polo shirts from Polo by Ralph Lauren, dressier core sportswear pieces from Theory, as well as “third pieces” such as cardigans along with leather, twill and utility jackets from Polo, Reiss and Hugo Boss. Nondenim pants and “cleaner” denim bottoms are also finding fans.
Footwear is seeing a shift. Loafers and dress shoes are coming back — both moderately priced options and luxury brands with Gucci, Ferragamo, Tod’s and To Boot all doing well. This is happening “without sacrificing the strength of designer sneakers and shoes” from brands including Louis Vuitton, Gucci and McQueen.
Turning to tailored clothing, Leppo said the category has had “fits and starts for the last six months” but despite some supply chain issues, business has picked up since last May. Suit separates have been strong, but now encompass more than the traditional jacket and tailored pant. The store is seeing strength with more fashion-forward options such as drawstring pants, ponti knitwear, Harrington jackets and bombers. More recently, nested suits, which have been the last to rebound, have improved, from brands such as Canali, Zegna and Armani.
And in all tailored categories, color, including olives and electric blues, have been “really good,” he said, as men are more willing to take chances with their fashion choices.
Looking ahead, Leppo said there are some “headwinds” with the macro environment — both geopolitically and economically — “but we have runway. Our customers haven’t spent a lot for a while and sometimes there are size changes to address, too, and it’s up to us to make it interesting and innovative enough” to draw the shopper in.
Shea Jensen, executive vice president and gmm of women’s and men’s rtw at Nordstrom, was also upbeat. “We are so excited about the men’s space,” she said. “We have such positive momentum.”
She attributed it to “return to both work and wedding,” and cited a “high demand for dresswear.”
Jensen said she saw sales start to rebound at the end of last year as “the world began to open up.” And now, with the “unprecedented number of weddings and more offices returning to work, people are realizing they haven’t bought anything in two years. There’s a real enthusiasm and excitement about getting dressed up and feeling good and celebrating a return to life.”
Men are also feeling more comfortable embracing color, as evidenced by the rainbow of hues men wore to the Academy Awards last month.
“We feel great about dresswear,” she said, adding that the “waisted pant is back.” Top performers include Hugo Boss and Canali in that category, but also Fear of Good Essentials for the younger customer.
“Men are shopping again and there’s a real enthusiasm for looking good and feeling good. This is an interesting moment for men’s fashion. They realize they can stand out, too — they have permission to do that.”
As a result, Jensen expects sales to continue to be strong in the future. “I think we’ve got some time,” she said. “We’re just returning to a new normal post-COVID[-19], and while it’s hard to predict, as travel resumes we’re going to continue to serve our customers and help them look and feel their best.”
Yumi Shin, chief merchant of Bergdorf Goodman, cited the company’s “strong trajectory” in menswear, with all categories — especially tailored clothing, separates and occasion dressing — benefiting the most.
But much of that tailored clothing is more relaxed and casual than pre-pandemic, a look that “feels current and modern,” such as wearing knitwear under a sport coat.” In the designer world, she said customers are embracing the new proportions, such as exaggerated shoulders, which is adding fuel to sales.
“We’re selling unique pieces in all categories,” she said, “from Chrome Hearts to Prada and Tom Ford.”
Thanks to in-store initiatives such as the rotating installation space inside the main entrance of the men’s store on Fifth Avenue, the Goodman men’s store is benefiting. “We launched that in September and it’s curated by Bruce Pask [men’s fashion director]. The team is coming up with some great collaborations and experiences,” which should continue to drive interest in the coming months.
Bob Mitchell said sales at his company’s stores on the East and West Coasts have been running double-digits over 2019 in the past 90 days and even higher in the past 30 days.
He said occasion suits, sport coats and tuxedos are all “booming” as weddings and events return in full force. But he said the stores are also experiencing “huge increases in sportswear.”
“People are out and feeling good, and they’re shopping,” he said. “After not wearing a suit or tuxedo for two years, they’re going into their closets and want something new.”
He said top sellers include the traditional tailored clothing brands — Zegna, Canali, Kiton, Brioni, Isaia — as well as the luxury sportswear players — Cucinelli, Corneliani and Zegna. But other brands are also performing, including Fedelli, a knitwear label, along with opening price-point vendors such as Peter Millar and Faherty in sportswear and Munro suits.
Mitchell said the company took a chance that business would begin picking up and was aggressive in its buying. “We took a bet and it worked,” he said.
Customers are responding to everything from “uber-luxury” brands and made-to-measure suits to sport coats, wool dress shirts, sneakers and dress shoes.
The only challenging areas, he said, are neckwear and dress shirts. “We don’t see a lot of recovery there,” he said.
Having goods to fill the demand has proven not to be a problem, despite the supply chain issues. “Our buying teams have done a good job working with our vendors, and while there are some holes in sizing, we have the merchandise,” Mitchell said.
“My only question is how long is it going to last. Is this a one-shot wonder?” he asked. “But we’re hopeful that it will continue rolling through spring.”
In Paris, the gradual reopening of restaurants, offices and borders made foot traffic swell, with locals and other European travelers leading the march back to stores.
“2022 is starting very well. Customers are very happy to shop again in our stores,” remarked Laurent Coulier, Galeries Lafayette’s head of menswear and men’s accessories, noting that men’s had performed well since stores reopened in 2021, with the last two months of the year showing an increase in turnover against November and December 2019.
As restrictions were further lifted in the early months of 2022, Eric Pech, men’s designer, luxury and contemporary buyer at BHV Marais, noted that “the joy of being able to socialize again without health restrictions has had a positive impact” across the board, with brands from the contemporary, casual and accessories market benefiting from consumers’ desire for “comfortable products with a touch of fashion” that could be worn for multiple occasions.
While loungewear and underwear were obvious good performers, Coulier noted that male consumers gravitated toward “quality products and more timeless styles” in their quest for more dressed-up wardrobe options.
It helped that after months at home, the definition of “going out” had grown to include any opportunity to leave home. One of the first categories to perk up was outerwear, especially from brands offering outdoor garments and technical materials.
“We observed the same pattern for women’s fashion as well. Following the end of lockdowns, men want to get dressed for every occasion, lifting up their style and outfits for work [as well as] personal events,” said Franck Nauerz, director of menswear at Left Bank cornerstone Le Bon Marché.
But even when looking at dressier options, consumers went for comfortable, more relaxed and versatile pieces, Coulier and Nauerz both said, citing chinos, knitwear and soft-shouldered jackets as key items.
“Men’s fashion is all about hybrid pieces and contrasts. For example, men like to wear some high-end cashmere sweatpants with Birkenstock [footwear] or suits with sneakers. Sometimes a simple crewneck T-shirt replaces the white poplin shirt,” Nauerz said, citing “one-of-a-kind product and brands” as key to achieving the “chic-but-casual” aesthetic their clientele is now seeking. Brands that found the most traction were technical outdoor items along with what he called “graphic brands” like Jacquemus and Casablanca.
But more elegance didn’t translate into a return to full formalwear, although the rescheduling of weddings and other occasions made the segment “less in decline,” as Pech put it. “It will be interesting to observe if this is long-lasting, [especially since] the men’s [fall 2022] fashion week in January was rich in proposals for formal jackets to be worn casually.”
Come wedding season, Nauerz expects tuxedos and neo-tailoring in navy and tones of off-white to be popular.
Bosse Myhr, director of menswear and womenswear at Selfridges, said the men’s business is “performing very well overall” across all channels. “The business is being driven by a more diverse category mix compared to lockdown where we saw casual and outerwear as the dominant categories. We are now seeing a strong uplift in more sophisticated dressing, runway looks as well as tailoring and tuxedos.”
He said despite the interest in dressier looks, casualwear will always be a part of a man’s wardrobe and Selfridges is seeing “positive sales in tees and sweats. This being said, we are seeing very strong growth in our tailoring, fashion and classic categories overall. We can certainly see appetite amongst our customers for something a little more elevated.” Tuxedos in particular have been popular as men stock up for all those rescheduled weddings and events.
Stavros Karelis, founder and buying director of Machine-A, also said the men’s business — a traditional strength of the store — continues to do well, approaching pre-pandemic levels. But the buyer may be a little different these days.
“This is happening due to women buying into menswear brands,” Karelis said. “The silhouettes between men and women are more blended than ever with the Y2K and sensual dressing trends dominating the menswear and womenswear equally, hence allowing customers buying from both regardless of gender. Further, shoes and accessories as well as knitwear are extremely popular and these tend to be very genderless too so again this supports a high demand in menswear brands from women, too.”
Whether it’s men or women who are buying, it’s “hybrid pieces that can be worn in a number of places” that are the most popular right now, he said.
But for stepping out to all those rescheduled events, it’s “statement pieces” or “formalwear worn in a very cool way” that are tops for the Machine-A customer. “I see that the customers keep searching and buying formalwear that can be worn in a number of occasions,” Karelis said. “As the social event calendar is quickly filling up, this category becomes very high in demand.”
Thom Scherdel, menswear category manager for Browns, characterized business as “encouraging — we’re seeing healthy growth in the menswear category. Looking to the future and to ensure this trajectory is sustained, we’re nurturing new categories in the hopes of them becoming an even bigger part of the business. The menswear landscape is definitely changing, and we’re noticing that brands are focusing more than ever on what they’re offering as a point of difference. Having such a strong multichannel proposition at Browns, we’re working hand-in-hand with our partners to realize our ambitions in creating more off-line retail experiences that are truly enriching to our customer.”
Scherdel said despite expectations, for Browns “the shift back to a more formal look certainly wasn’t as swift as many imagined it would be — people’s approach to dressing changed so much during lockdown. Loungewear is still key, with tracksuits and leisure pieces being one of our biggest categories. I do think the ideology of a formal working wardrobe has transitioned to a more hybrid approach permanently. Although traditional tailoring and smart shoes still have their place, we’re seeing men look to more versatile pieces — classic denim, casual shirts and hybrid knit-outerwear — as they reevaluate their working wardrobes.”
He continued: “Overall, people are enjoying the benefit of hybrid working and are interested in those luxury pieces that hit the sweet spot between being comfortable and casual enough to flex on a Zoom call, but also offer versatility and the opportunity to make a style statement.”
Because men are wearing fewer suits now, he continued, when they finally put one on, “they really want to have some fun. We’re seeing a real eagerness for those more directional pieces; runway looks that might have been too adventurous for some pre-pandemic are flying at the moment. Silk flamboyance is trouncing cotton oxfords in the sales stakes, with brands like Versace, Casablanca and Edward Crutchley all proving immensely popular.”
Andrea Selvi, senior buyer at Italy’s LuisaViaRoma, said the men’s department continues to perform very well with “enthusiasm to buy new collections” proving very strong at retail. Although he has seen a spike in demand for more formal pieces — including tuxedos for events and celebrations resuming in the aftermath of the pandemic — Selvi said the retailer typically attracts a younger audience buying sneakers and sweatshirts, which are still very strong categories. However, “it’s true that even Gen Zers are more interested in the evolution of streetwear going more formal,” he said.
At Italian department store Rinascente, menswear was thriving since before the pandemic and continued to do so even “during the more difficult times, when menswear was consistently outperforming other of our categories,” said the retailer’s head of fashion Federica Montelli, citing “a renewed focus on our local customer, since not all tourists are back yet.”
“Men are not only buying office clothes, which they didn’t need for a long time, but are also experimenting with outdoor looks, which is gradually replacing streetwear, even though the more urban and younger look is now at even higher levels compared to the pre-pandemic,” continued Montelli, adding that when it comes to pure fashion brands, customers still have a preference for established luxury players and their iconic items.
“Traditional sartorial pieces are not a relevant business for us anymore. We are moving forward to create a menswear wardrobe that looks at tradition yet is cool, comfortable and that can accompany our client from casual to more formal occasions,” noted Montelli. She underscored that the quality of materials and craftsmanship remain two relevant assets for the more sophisticated clientele, who are increasingly looking for relaxed options to go beyond the office.
“We are seeing a more general ‘revenge shopping’ that eyes all types of events and more partywear than pure formal pieces,” concluded Montelli.