Male consumers have certainly diversified their work wardrobes since Casual Fridays were introduced a generation ago, and in some places, anything goes.
But the classic dress shirt, often paired with a suit, remains a staple and has even taken on the customization trend so popular in many apparel categories, from jeans and T-shirts to shoes and suits.
Edited retail analyst Tara Drury said, “The most recent men’s runway seasons has seen suits take on more casual forms with unstructured tailoring, oversized fits and unconventional designs. That being said, the classic dress shirt still remains a staple pairing. Celine’s recent venture into men’s wear is the perfect example of this.”
The mass marketers in the U.S. are following suit, recording a 5 percent increase in dress shirt arrivals in 2018 compared to 2017, according to Drury.
In 2018, there was a 12 percent sellout of styles, more than double the year before. Of those that sold out, Drury said a majority was split between two brackets: the $40 to $60 range and the $60 to $80 range.
“This suggests that more consumers are buying into the trend and also willing to pay more for it,” she said. “We even noted more retailers pushing the black tuxedo and white dress shirt combo over the 2018 party/festive period.”
J.C. Penney, Express and Kohl’s have had the most sellouts in the last three months, Drury noted. “They’re all established retailers who are well associated with quality at a good price.”
Nordstrom currently has the most dress shirts in stock, but is seeing minimal sellouts, she noted.
“With a bulk of products sitting at an average of $95.48, this price point is clearly too high for the majority of consumers, which implies consumers are seeking out products at more affordable prices at other brands,” Drury said.
Meanwhile, the customization movement is boosting the sector.
Dinesh Lathi, executive chairman of Tailored Brands, said on a conference call with analysts that a top strategic initiative for the company is to “grow the custom business to meet our customers desire for a personalized look.”
“Consumers are increasingly seeking a more personalized look and fit, and we believe they see a custom suit as a great way to achieve that,” Lathi said. “Our goal is to make buying a custom suit accessible for anyone who is in the market for a suit. We believe we have a sustainable competitive advantage in meeting our customers’ needs with custom, given our expansive store footprint, highly trained wardrobe consultants and our at scale supply chain. For the third quarter of 2018, custom sales averaged over $5 million per week, an increase of a 150 percent compared to $2 million per week for the same period a year ago.”
Year-to-date, custom continues to penetrate at over 20 percent of all suits sold across our Men’s Wearhouse, Jos. A. Bank and Moores brands, he noted.
“Based on the lift we saw in the business in Q1 when we first introduced faster delivery times, we know that speed of delivery matters to our customers,” Lathi said. “Earlier this year we shortened standard delivery on our premium made in America Abboud and Reserve custom clothing to two weeks, down from three to four weeks.”
In September, Tailored Brands launched standard three to four week delivery for its entry price Joe and 1905 custom suits, down from four to six weeks. It also expanded the rollout of Custom Express, which is available in just seven days to all Jos. A. Bank, Men’s Wearhouse and Moores stores.
“Custom Express offers a great value proposition for our customers,” Lathi said, noting that it retails for $395. “Customers can choose from three of our most popular fabrics and select upgrade options, such as working buttonholes and monogramming.”
In addition to speed, selection is also important to the customer, Lathi noted. Each of the three brands offers more than 250 custom suit fabrics, over 100 linings and roughly 200 shirt fabrics from which to choose in making a custom garment.
In the third quarter, performance fabric options in custom were introduced in Kenneth Cole at Men’s Wearhouse, and at Moores featuring stretch fabrics and construction that allow for greater range of motion and comfort. At Jos. A. Bank, traveler custom in both suiting and shirts was launched, as was travel tech custom, featuring moisture-wicking technology.
Edited’s Drury said there’s room in men’s wear for dress up and dress down.
“Athleisure is booming and casual clothing dominates, but a suit and tie still remains the uniform for a high proportion of men in the U.S.,” she said. “This is an opportunity for more focus to be put on fit and variety of dress shirts. Take into consideration the big and tall markets, which remains a very untapped market for men’s wear.”
In the same way sportswear is becoming more high tech, the same methodology should be applied to formal wear, she noted.
“Brooks Brother’s, J.Crew, Banana Republic and Express have all invested in performance suiting that includes moisture wicking technology, water repellent properties and, most importantly, stretch fabrics,” Drury added. “This update is a must for dress shirting.”