Category Archives: “Are you really wearing that?”

Suits by the Numbers

My most favorite number that I use to shock people about the men’s apparel business is this: 50% of the menswear business is done by Walmart…that’s in $”s. The menswear business is a $55 billion dollar business and Walmart’s men’s business is $27 billion. I promise you if one bore into that number you would find that about 65% of the shoppers of menswear at Walmart are women…maybe more. I know the dollars largely come from purchases of socks, underwear, jeans and t-shirts….but that’s what most men are wearing. As I state this to whomever I’m talking to (male) they usually act surprise and then look down at what they are wearing and say “yeah that makes sense”. They are so oblivious to what they are wearing that they don’t even know what they have on!

So Men’s Retail Magazine just came out with some numbers about suits that I find so interesting. The numbers are from a nationwide survey of 500 U.S. males ages 18 to 35 conducted in July. 67% of the responders ages 18 to 22 said they have bought a suit…that’s promising…73% ages 22 to 33 said they have bought a suit….again looking good. 63% of the responders ages 31 to 35 said they have bought a suit and even more troubling 55% of the responders 35 years old  have bought a suit (I think recently). REALLY so the interpretation is you buy one suit in your twenties and you use it until you absolutely positively have to buy another one. Wait the numbers get better.

42% of the responders shop at Men’s Wearhouse, 15% at Macy’s, 9% at JCPenny’s, 8%Kohl’s and 7% at Jos A. Bank (which was really surprising considering how many suits the say they give away FREE). The last 19% shop at Walmart, Burlington Coat factory, Dillard’s, H&M, Sears, Express, J Crew, Target and TJ Maxx. I guess the line “we guarantee you are going to like the way you look” works. But here’s the kicker of the 42% who shop at Men’s Wearhouse  69% buy on line….really without even trying it on??? Do they even know how a suit is supposed to fit? The real question is do they care? Why not? Why don’t men care?….oh how I wish they would, again.

I do have some experience in this matter. I know how many different areas on a man’s body that a suit needs to fit right so that it will lay properly and not look ….well….wrong. How about the fabric. When you buy a suit on line you can’t feel the fabric. Does it feel like sandpaper? Would you pay more for the suit if you knew it felt better? Would you buy a more interesting fabric if you could look at the detail of the fabric more closely?  Would you care more if you got involved in the process instead of running away from it?

It’s not like the fashion has moved on and the suit has been replaced by….let’s say… a spacesuit? The last portion of the survey really gives away the ambivalence towards the suit. 44% responders say they bought the suit for “special occasions” as opposed to 28% say they buy suits for work. 15% say they buy suit to look good (there’s a ray of hope), 7% to look professional (as opposed to work?) 5% for church and 3% for funerals (lovely thought). Since the mid 90’s suits have not been required at work, forced by a new generation that didn’t want to be like their fathers, and that generation thought they were ushering a new looser revolution in the work place. But they never figured out the new uniform….their leaders were Steve Jobs and Bill Gates (both not well known for their attire). The new uniform ends up being mundane and nondescript with features like “no iron and stain-resistant”

There is a small underground movement of young men discovering the suit. They come into our store asking lots of questions. For me it’s a beautiful thing to watch. The suit has progressed so much in the the last 20 years and no one ever talks about the advancements. The industry did answer the problem of the suit being too uncomfortable by developing light, soft fabrics; and the tailoring has come so far to make the suit fit close to the body but allow the user to move freely. Of course I am talking about suits that DON’T have stain resistant and no iron fabrics (which are made up of mostly petroleum …who wants to wear THAT next to their body?)

So with these numbers there is nowhere to go but up. Perhaps with this next generation of employees, employers will demand a more professional workplace. After all “dress down friday” was started  to capture generation X workers when unemployment was at an all time low. Now we are at the opposite end of the spectrum, unemployment is at an all time high. Being competitive is a necessity and looking the part should be one as well.

Sorry I Haven’t Written But I Was Busy!

Sorry My Blog Has Been Like This Empty Room Waiting To Be Filled

So I know it’s been awhile since I posted, but this was women’s (category) buying season and I was traveling non-stop for eight weeks. It was such an interesting season … the clothes were varied at best but the mood and the turmoil in the industry were evident in every city.

Usually the fashion industry is one of the first industries to embrace change, but in this economic downturn it seems like the whole fashion food chain has been stuck in the mud and spinning its wheels. The mantra was more extreme fashion, more seasons, more discounts, and more big fashion shows to get the penny pinching consumer to spend money. And everyone claimed that these tools were working….but it seems that they (these tools) only stressed these luxury brands to a point where their seams started to split.

Let’s start with New York. We had several designers with similar, “commercial” shows that made us think all we had to do next season was to buy a flowy printed silk chiffon dress and add a hooded fur trimmed anorak on top and you’ll be set for Autumn/Winter 2011. How is that possible that this looked appeared three or four times in different shows? Thank God for Proenza Schouler and Jason Wu or New York would have been a complete miss. I’m not saying that other designers didn’t show innovative stuff (sometimes it was OK) but most of it was “innovative for the sake of being innovative”. Did they really think women were going to wear it?

I love when WWD  at the end of each city fashion week has a feature story of what the store buyers think are the strongest looks of the season. They usually rave about the designers in their roster and never talk about designers that they don’t carry (hence Proenza and Jason). Hey, some designers have good seasons and some have bad ones. My rule of thumb usually is that if the pre-collection is good then the collection will be weak and visa versa. Which gets to my point,  I believe a designer can have only one vision per season and pushing them to make two collections for one season is like saying “more is more”.  Usually the only reason to have two collections in a season is so that department stores can put one on sale when the other one comes in….and what is the point of that?  So that the merchandise is depreciating by the minute?  Why not just price it lower to begin with….Hence you have stressed out designers, wholesale sellers, factories, and buyers!…..the customer will probably spend the same amount no matter what. For me, traveling to a showroom once per season is enough thank you, just spread out the deliveries.

OK point two…then comes Italy. Over the last several years Italy had been scrambling to design women’s clothing that will stand out. And they have succeeded. These shows are sooooo outrageous that I am in awe of how much time and money is spent to exaggerate every detail….why don’t they just bonk us on the head and scream “COLOR” is the point of the season like the Gucci show. We get it! and there is no subtlety in any of it. Do women want to walk around looking like advertisements for the latest trends….I don’t think so or maybe that is not my experience. Wake up.

And then there was Paris……. Galiano’s “unfortunate accident” ? Someone used that same term when describing what the minister called the death of a 20 year old  at a funeral last month. Really? Alcohol and prescription drugs causing bad behavior and suicide is not new news…..and not an excuse !!!! but a cry for help to treat people who are burdened with life’s’ problems. Paris shows were a push towards…..I don’t know…. but I felt that the designers were pushing all over the place and the results were unwearable. It was like you could see the stress all over the clothes.

So where does that leave the buyer (and the consumer)….well for me, I found great work in smaller more personal lines that had designers plugging along like the rest of us, pushing ourselves to be the best we can be, but realistically beautiful at the same time. I was really tired at the end of this trip, but I was really satisfied with my buy. I will get into that in future blogs but I felt it was important to talk about the obvious, since no one else will.