There’s more to men’s fashion than the memes that poke fun at the autumnal return of “business bros” and their puffer or fleece vests.
From British Vogue’s October cover star Timothée Chalamet walking the red carpet in backless and shirtless looks to Lil Nas X’s starring in Coach’s new campaign about having “courage to be real,” a new generation of style icons are bringing their fresh perspectives to men’s fashion. Simultaneously, consumers are revisiting (and reinventing) their own wardrobes as they settle into new hybrid work scenarios.
Citing Euromonitor data, Elizbeth Shobert, StyleSage’s VP of marketing and digital strategy, said global men’s wear sales are projected to reach $547.9 billion by 2026, outpacing growth in the women’s segment. “Adding to all of this, there’s also been just a lot of buzz recently about revamping traditional men’s wear brands, women’s wear brands entering the men’s wear space and just the general blurring of lines between men’s wear and women’s wear,” she added.
A closer look at men’s fashion, however, reveals bigger pockets of opportunity. In a webinar, the AI-powered analytics solution company shared its findings based on online search data and key metrics from global e-commerce sites including assortment mix, pricing and discounting. “Because we’re actually capturing this data daily, we can go back and see how these metrics stack up over time giving us this really nice historical picture,” Shobert said about StyleSage’s analysis.
Most concentrate their men’s wear assortments in a few categories, namely tops. Shirts account for 51 percent of the total assortment mix in men’s wear, with T-shirts owning 59 percent of that share, followed by button-down shirts (15 percent) and polos and activewear tops (11 percent each). A distant second, at 16 percent of the mix, is sweaters, cardigans and sweatshirts.
Subtle shifts reflect changes in people’s lifestyles, Shobert said. Sweaters and sweatshirts, for example, gained 2 percentage points during the pandemic, as consumers turned to comfort and casual items. Button-down shirts lost 1 percent, underscoring how people pulled back on formal dressing during lockdowns.
“Only 10 percent of total men’s wear assortment consists of bottoms and this includes chinos, dress pants and jeans combined,” Shobert said.
Just 3 percent of the bottoms assortment belongs to jeans, which is somewhat of an anomaly in the current men’s wear market.
On average, discount penetration across men’s wear assortments is down. Across the board, Shobert said a smaller share of assortments is having to go on sale. The jeans category, however, has seen a year-over-year increase from 42 percent in 2021 to 44 percent in 2022. “This is actually also the category with the highest proportion of items marked down,” she added.
Jeans also have the highest price increase. While pants and T-shirts saw 11 percent year-over-year price increases, the average price of men’s jeans before discounts climbed 21 percent from $123.54 in 2021 to $150.02 in 2022.
Jeans aside, Shobert said lower discounts in men’s wear indicate “a nice strength in the business, even as inflation of course does push those prices upwards.”
What’s trending in men’s
“Chinos” is the top-searched word in the pants category with over 841,000 queries last month. Viktoria Herrmann, Style Sage marketing analyst, noted that this marks a 47 percent increase from a year ago. “Chino shorts,” however, haven’t amassed the same search volume but are “trending to a higher extent and are looking at a bigger search, which is an indication that they are on the rise in the trend cycle,” she said.
Up 241 percent, the term with the highest search increases is “Vuori shorts,” with interest up in the California performance apparel brand. Other athletic brands are up in searches as well, including Under Armour shorts (up 35 percent) and Lululemon shorts (up 39 percent).
In general, branded searches for athletic apparel are rising while general searches for casual and athleisure searches are down trending. For example, Herrmann said sweatshirt searches are down 21 percent; bike shorts slumped 14 percent. “This indicates that men’s shopping behaviors are undergoing a change and men are now searching for specific brands rather than general terms,” she said.
Style Sage is seeing rising searches for words in the formal wear category. Blazers is the most-searched word in the shirts and outerwear segment, with 9 million monthly searches. Searches for collared shirts, men’s dress shirts, checkered shirts and linen shirts are rising as well.
“They reflect the shifts in society but also in consumers’ mindsets. It indicates that they’re ready to dress up again [and] bump up their wardrobes with more dressy styles,” Herrmann said.
What’s next in men’s fashion
“It’s long overdue for brands to think outside the traditional khaki pants, buttoned-down shirt and quilted vest box that they’ve traditionally been in,” Shobert said. “They need to look to new fashion icons for fresh ideas. Infuse fashionable accents in ways that makes sense in those traditional categories. And just generally test out new ideas.”
Women’s brands can be part of this shift. From Peter Do to Madewell to NY&Co., brands that have traditionally focused on women are now launching collections for men. In today’s social media-first world, Shobert said this idea that couples can “share a style code” is a smart approach for brands to unlock an adjacent market.
“It’ s not just about copying the same styles for women’s wear for men,” she added. “It’s really about having a clear brand story and understanding kind of who you’re competing with in the space… you want to be consistent and well researched before you do this and make your first efforts to this space be really driven and refined by your customers’ feedback.”
With fewer discounts and new arrivals each season, the men’s wear category can serve as a sustainable blueprint for the women’s category. By being less trend driven, brands in the men’s space take fewer risks when it comes to print, materials, colors and styles, Shobert said.
“The way in which the [men’s] category is designed has historically been items that last, [can be worn] season after season and have a strong sense of a vision and a clear brand heritage and story,” she said. “We think more women’s wear brands in the consumer market really ought to look to the consumption patterns and cycle of men’s wear. It’s a better and more sustainable way to source, market and shop fashion.”