Editor’s letter: Where’s the new?

Slim fit is wonderful; what’s next?

Karen Alberg GrossmanIn mid-May, I attended the college graduation of my niece Martha; the guest speaker was Barack Obama. Interestingly, while media coverage the next day focused on the politics and campaign messages woven into Obama’s commencement address at Barnard College, my favorite part of his speech went virtually ignored by the press. “It’s okay to look stylish while you’re changing the world,” he proclaimed to a graduating class of about 600 high-achieving women. He attributed that sentiment to his wife Michelle, but it was a message any fashion editor would be delighted to pass along, so I am. (Would a U.S. President, even one who has publicly endorsed gay marriage, have dared to communicate a fashion message to a graduating class of young men? Probably not, but I can dream, can’t I?)

In any case, looking stylish (and dressing up) is very much on the minds of young people these days, whether they’re changing the world or otherwise. According to recent stats from NPD, men’s dress-up for the 12 months ending March 2012 showed impressive gains: men’s nested suits up 0.8 percent, suit separates up 29 percent, sportcoats up 16.2 percent, dress shirts up 16 percent and neckwear up 23 percent. That’s more men wearing more suits and ties than we’ve seen in quite some time!

Questioning retailers about their clothing/furnishings business, Sid Shapiro at Syd Jerome Chicago is having the best year in his history, selling suits from $695 to $6,000 (mostly off-the-rack, only 10 to 15 percent is custom)! He attributes his success to taking an aggressive stance when everyone else retrenched. At Mitchells Stores, Dan Farrington confides that clothing business (still about half of store volume) has been “surprisingly strong, better than expected, especially sportcoats and MTM.” What’s more, dress shirt business is up double digits, at an average ticket of $250.

At a more moderate level, Richard Arnstein of Macy’s is pleased with his clothing/furnishings business, driven largely by an evolution in fit. (According to Arnstein, the penetration of slim fit varies widely by door.) “Suit separates are very strong, as are sportcoats. Our ‘Jackets Required’ campaign (emphasizing a less constructed model with a shorter body and softer shoulder) has been very successful.” At Lord & Taylor, clothing business ($400 to $900 retails on nested suits) is beating both last year and plan. At Men’s Wearhouse, Doug Ewert says that slim-fit styles are 25 percent and growing (they’ll be 30 percent by year end), with the more modern fit clearly bringing in more younger customers.

So the question for the clothing industry is this: with slimmer fit suits, shirts and ties driving sales for the past three years, where do we go from here? Yes, replenishment is what’s profitable, but new is what brings them in.

In this June dress-up issue of MR, we ask clothing industry experts to weigh in on this critical question. (And fortunately, most have some very creative ideas for 2013!) We also present results of our recent retail dress shirt survey, uncovering broad differences among the various tiers of business. Finally, our Tailored Clothing Handbook details everything you need to know about suits. We hope it proves a valuable tool for your clothing team; contact us for additional copies.

Finally, as we approach Father’s Day 2012, we take a look at some of the talented father/daughter teams in our industry. How lucky we are to have this new generation of bright, committed young women coming into the business! And how lucky they are to be able to work with, learn from, and challenge their wise and ever-evolving dads. (How I miss mine!)

Share / Print

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • del.icio.us
  • Yahoo! Buzz
  • Print

Speak Your Mind