Men in suits

Suits are enjoying a moment, but can the momentum continue?

When The New York Times runs a suit story on the front page of the business section (The Rise of Men in Suits. Slim Ones. November 24, 2012), one can assume something important’s going on. According to the article, men’s suit sales were projected up 10 percent for the holiday season, and sportcoats up 11 percent.

Still, if you look around, the uptick in tailored is happening mostly in major cities.”Young men in cities are clearly buying suits but they’re shopping J. Crew, Zara and H&M,” asserts Fred Derring of DLS Outfitters, who consults for about 200 independent stores across the country. Shawn Howell at Saks agrees. “Young guys are shopping the vertical retailers: for them, it’s not about quality; if it fits and they can afford it, they buy it.”

Yet according to the DMM of a national moderate-price department store, men’s is still the strongest business, and tailored clothing the strongest within men’s. Even so, this merchant confides, “There’s really nothing earth-shattering going on. It’s largely a separates business, which is mostly EDI replenishment. But remember the customer views separates as a suit: it’s only ‘separates’ to the industry.”

Within separates, “Some of the poly/viscose swatches are very fashion-forward and the customer is loving them!” This merchant also notes that three-piece vested suits have taken off and should remain strong for the next few seasons.

Although EDI is clearly the salvation for moderate retailers, Ron Wurtzburger at Peerless believes that even replenishment goods need some excitement! “Those of us in the clothing industry need to find the fashion or go out of business,” he maintains. To do so, Peerless recently hired a full time designer whose sole job it is to create new concepts. “He’ll do things like an orange and yellow sportcoat, inspired by cool sneakers. If only a few of his ideas stick, we could be onto something.”

At the better end of the business, Howell is pleased about a resurgence of suits this fall (’12) especially since spring had been all about sportcoats. “Our core clothing business is good,” he maintains, “brands like Canali, Zegna, Isaia and Corneliani. However with a sweet spot at $1,600 to $2,200 retail (and going up to $3,500 according to fabric), this customer is 45 to 50 and older. And while young guys are dressing up, they’re not necessarily shopping suit departments. At Saks, the young denim guy is buying suit separates in sportswear departments from lines like DSquared and Theory where they can get a suit for $500 and a sportcoat for $395. This obviously cuts into my modern clothing brands.”

Dan Farrington at Mitchells Stores has different problems. “Although clothing business has been pretty solid for the past year, our suit business is just okay; we’re doing better with soft sportcoats in beautiful luxury fabrics. We were very hurt by Hurricane Sandy but we’re holding price and competing with service. We’ll never win the price game: our vendors don’t pay for our markdowns, plus we want to maintain our integrity. But of course we’re vulnerable to competitors who start earlier and go deeper. So we have to offer the right mix for our market and find special product which isn’t so easy in tailored.”

At Korry’s in Toronto, Saul Korman says he “almost made November figures but there’s nothing great going on.” Maintaining that private label is still king, Korman insists that “we need the brands to sell the store label and we still do really well with Boss, Canali and Coppley. Young guys want to buy suits in a suit store, not a sportswear chain. They want a selection of styles, brands and sizes, not a lone size 36.”

Clothing crystal ball

Ron Wurtzburger, Peerless: “Next year will be an exciting time for fashion: flannels, donegals, vested looks, elbow patches. They laughed at our fur collared sportcoats last fall, but they’re selling…”

Dan Farrington, Mitchells Stores: “We need special items with ‘talking points’ like the travel separates from Samuelsohn. Slimmer fits will certainly move forward, but that’s going to run out of steam eventually too. But I’m optimistic: Based on the guys I see on Metro North, at least half of males are wearing outdated clothing. We just need to let them know.”

Brett Schenck, Hart Schaffner Marx: “Fall 2013 begins with the fabrics: vintage, supersoft fabrics in great colors. We also believe in merchandising tailored and sportswear together. Dillards’ shop-in-shops have done amazingly well. We see much opportunity between moderately priced suits ($695 to $795) and opening price luxury (north of $1,000).”

Mark Brashear, Hugo Boss: “Slim three-piece suits have been volume drivers; DBs are just a small percent to total. For fall ’13, it’s not necessarily going slimmer (because how much slimmer can it get?), but certain parts of the suit will be slimmer (e.g. narrower lapels). There’s more interest in color, pattern and texture, a big departure for us since we’re known for a sleek, modern, neutral aesthetic.

Steve Pruitt, Blacks Retail: “Suits should continue to uptrend for a few more years, driven by slim fits and fancier seasonal fabrics.”

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