The pandemic blurred the line between work and home for many, and now that some offices have returned in-person full-time, retailers must accommodate new consumer demands.
While tailored trousers and blazers may have played a key role in men’s workwear before the pandemic, a year that saw workers taking calls from their kitchen tables and dressing from the waist up for video meetings has changed the standard. Retail analytics firm Edited published a report urging retailers to stock their stores with men’s workwear items that appeal to a range of employees, including hybrid workers, active commuters and those seeking traditional looks.
Edited noted that demand for traditional office attire has been in a continuous state of decline for the past 12 months, with hybrid and comfort dressing taking center stage, even as workers return to the office. For men, this translates to relaxed and oversized styles and shapes, both in terms of trousers and tops. Edited documented a 49 percent drop in arrivals of slim-fit and a 40 percent decline in skinny-fit chinos, suits, shirts and polo shirts compared to 2019.
As a result of the universal “loosening up,” retailers should opt for overshirts and shackets in place of blazers. And instead of stocking up on chinos and suit pants, they should choose bottoms with elasticated details and loungewear-inspired elements such as cinched ankles and drawstring waists, as seen in jogger trousers offered by brands like Mango and Banana Republic.
But while comfort is clearly a key consideration in men’s post-pandemic workwear, men have far from given up on fashion. Edited found that premium yarns such as cashmere are playing a vital role in the men’s workwear category, with H&M and Uniqlo featuring the luxurious material in their offerings.
Functional fabrics such as those with high-stretch, wrinkle-free and machine washable qualities, are also in high demand, and even getting the attention of formalwear designers like Hugo Boss. The brand’s new five-year plan homes in on its Hugo Orange and Green lines, which spotlight casual and athleisure products, and offers “smart suiting” with wrinkle-free and machine washable elements. Dockers and tailoring specialist Paul Smith each follow suit, offering pants with those same qualities and targeting the professional going back to work.
It’s a concept that trend forecasters noticed even prior to the pandemic—including Edited itself, which in January 2020 reported that men would “see a different kind of suit in 2020, as workplaces continue to become more casual.” Even then, it suggested swapping blazers for bomber jackers, slacks for smart joggers and loafers for sneakers. Workwear’s casualization was highlighted on the Spring/Summer 2020 runway, which featured Fendi’s and Dior’s loose fit-tailoring and unstructured looks. And according to Edited, luxury labels often lead the way for mass market trends, so retailers should “turn [their] attention to the runway for design direction into next season.”
Still, it urges retailers to “be sure not to neglect the employee who is back in an office environment full time,” and continue to provide more formal pieces for those who may need them. In fact, that number may be higher than expected. According to product intelligence company Trendalytics, searches for “3-piece suits” were up 50 percent in June 2021 compared to the year prior. WGSN also found that tailored apparel and casual suiting, which have seen 86 percent and 71 percent increases in searches since last year, respectively, were some of the top trends projected for Fall/Winter 20-21 before the pandemic derailed the fashion calendar.
To accommodate a range of men’s workwear needs, Edited recommends getting creative with outfit pairings to move through inventory while avoiding hefty markdowns, positioning comfort pieces with more tailored garments.