Sales of professional clothing, workleisure and dress shoes are skyrocketing as men replenish their wardrobes. Here are the hottest trends in “new normal” wardrobes, according to executives from direct-to-consumer men’s clothing and shoe companies.
Call it the renaissance of the professional wardrobe.
While we may not spend 5 days a week in the office with a suit and tie anytime soon, evidence is mounting to suggest there is pent-up demand for dressing up.
Deferred weddings and versatile blazers
New York-based online custom tailor Black Lapel finally saw sales pick up in March.
“The pick-up is a welcome relief and shows the resilience of certain wardrobe pieces that play an integral part in our lives, whether it be the clothes we wear to work or the ones we get married in,” said Co-Founder, Head of Product and CMO Derek Tian.
“In particular, our wedding book is seeing the effect of a whole year’s worth of pent up demand as many of the deferred weddings from 2020 are now on deck for 2021,” he added.
This is good news for one of my favorite online tailors for custom suits and blazers, which faced significant headwinds as the pandemic broke and worried about worst case scenarios for their business.
Derek observed that, as we head toward a new normal that might look like some hybrid combination of office and home settings, Black Lapel is betting on men “investing in a few versatile blazers [that] will get you great [Return on Investment] from office meetings to Zoom happy hours and from evening dinners to summer soirees.”
If you’re ready to dress up again, you can take $50 off your first Black Lapel suit purchase with code FTOMODERN.
Workleisure sales picking up across the board
Ministry of Supply, which pioneered the workleisure category of office attire made from technical fabrics, has “seen sales pick up across the board and, surprisingly, across all categories,” Co-Founder and CEO Aman Advani told me.
“Most notably, we’ve seen the conversion rate of our 55+ customer skyrocket,” which more than doubled, Advani added.
“We attribute this to more people leaving their front door,” he observed, who are heading to small gatherings and getting on airplanes again. “They need a new wardrobe.”
Advani predicts demand will stay strong for items like Ministry of Supply’s Kinetic Pants, which can be dressed up or down as part of a “singular closet” comprised of fewer, high-quality items.
This rise in demand is bolstering Ministry of Supply, which faced dramatic effects from the pandemic. The company was forced to shelve its aggressive growth strategy and refocus its product lines to be responsive to work-from-home needs as demand for office apparel dried up.
An uptick in unique dress shoes and casual footwear
Ace Marks has started to see “an uptick in sales” in March for its handcrafted Italian shoes and sneakers.
Julian Gonzalez, Marketing Director for Ace Marks, points to a 25% increase in conversion rate for the brand in March.
Ace Marks has also seen positive uptake from splurges on their limited edition runs.
Every Wednesday at 10AM Eastern, Ace Marks has been offering a “Weekly Drop,” releasing a new pair of extremely limited edition shoes.
“We have seen customers respond well to these unique offerings,” said Gonzalez. (You can see Ace Marks’ latest weekly drop online.)
Looking forward, “we are planning for the second half of the year to really start to see a significant improvement in the sale of traditional work attire,” observed Gonzalez.
At the same time, “we are bulking up our collection of sneakers as well as more casual shoes, and we are expanding our offerings in our moccasin and loafer collections to address the growing number of people who will continue to work from home even after things return to ‘normal’.”
Gonzalez previewed an upcoming Ace Marks Factory Access campaign, where the company releases exclusive styles and for the first time.
They are readying a “very casual collection of shoes that are very easy to wear with everything from sweatpants to jeans,” including slip on linen loafers, low-top sneakers and a hybrid shoe. These elevated casual pieces are intended to be comfortable and versatile for men splitting time between homes, coffeeshops and offices.
Get 10% off Ace Mark’s unique shoes and sneakers with coupon code MODERN10, and see my review detailing why I think their affordable luxury shoes are worth the splurge.
Strong demand for versatile bags and briefcases
He saw sales pick up dramatically in the fourth quarter of 2020 for his heirloom-quality leather bags, doubling year-on-year.
His biggest issue right now is with their supply chain. “It’s been challenging keeping our products in stock,” he said.
Like Advani, he predicts the new normal will see men flock to “a few very high quality items.” He predicts continued strong demand for classic, slim briefcases that can transition from an office to the local coffee shop.
“We’ve seen the Founder briefcase become very popular for its versatility.” (I personally like Satchel & Page’s attaché case, pictured above.)
A “palpable improvement” in smart casual
The upturn in professional clothing is also being felt across the Atlantic.
Ben Farren, Founder and CEO of London-based Spoke clothing, told me that “there has been a palpable improvement for the market in smart casual in the past 4-6 weeks.”
“There is a definite sense now that people are looking forward to a future where getting dressed from the waist down makes more sense!” he added.
Spoke reports that their sales have increased approximately 50% from the same period last year over the past six weeks. “Most of that,” Farren says, “is a pre-pandemic benchmark.”
While Farren expects that we’ll return to the office in some form soon (“and many of us will be happy to do so”), he foresees “a permanent, structural shift in men’s wardrobes.” He thinks “the centre of gravity of the male wardrobe [will] shift a little more casual.”
Interested in trying Spoke yourself? You can take $50 off your first Spoke clothing order.
Even more evidence that sales of professional clothing are skyrocketing
Other stories of a retail renaissance for professional clothing abound:
Retailers including Anthropologie, Bonobos and Madewell. are seeing an uptick in sales of everything from dresses to suits, “signaling growing optimism as life begins inching toward normal,” Abha Bhattarai details in the Washington Post.
Evidence from G-III Apparel Group, whose brands include Jessica Howard and Marc New York, and Destination XL, which sells big and tall apparel for men, indicate that “consumers are starting to ditch the uber-casualwear that became their uniforms over the last year and opt for dressier fashion,” write Kellie Ell and Jean E. Palmieri in WWD.
Others, spurred by “some combination of optimism, sweatshirt fatigue and longing for a pre-pandemic world,” are simply “elevating their Zoom wardrobes,” reports Katharine Zarrella in the Wall Street Journal.
Photo credit: Featured photo courtesy of Samantha Gades via Unsplash.
About JakeJake is passionate about exploring entrepreneurs' global journeys. He founded Modern Fellows in 2012 to get to know the entrepreneurs behind the innovative brands helping men dress sharp in the digital age. Jake has written about entrepreneurship, international business and/or fashion for outlets including Business Week, Forbes, Inc., Details Style Syndicate and Primer Magazine, and has provided analysis on international business for BBC Radio, NBC News, CNN and Time Magazine.
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