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.