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Ill Suited: Marks & Spencer Substantially Trims Men’s Offer

Men’s suit sales have been on the decline for years and that trend has only accelerated as people spend more time working from home.

Marks & Spencer has responded to shifts caused by the pandemic and elected to stop stocking suits in most of its stores. The plan is to stock informal suiting in just 110 locations, representing 43 percent of total doors. The retailer operates 254 doors across the U.K.

The British retailer has been making other changes in hopes of drumming up more foot traffic. Some more recent moves include a new streamlined digital click-and-collect program that’s essentially a self-service initiative at 78 stores to make it easier for customers to manage order pickup or process a return using a digital screen.

According to the latest information from U.K. data research firm Springboard, foot traffic in U.K. retail destinations rose by 4.9 percent last week from the week before. Footfall rose by 6.9 percent in high streets and were up 4.8 percent in shopping centers.

While retail foot traffic saw some gains, the uptick doesn’t help all categories.

According to U.K.’s Express, British consumers bought two million men’s suits in the last year, versus over four million five years ago.

Fashion sales for both men and women saw substantial declines as people stayed home during the pandemic. Working from home also accelerated the push toward more casual apparel preferences. In women’s, that has meant continued growth in athleisure, while men’s casual attire began seeing fabrications with more stretch and comfort characteristics—components that were first seen in the women’s market.

With the change in consumer preferences has been a corresponding shift in fashion retail.

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In the U.K., last year saw menswear retailers such as Moss Bros seek a company voluntary arrangement, or CVA, to work out deals with landlords and other creditors. Moss Bros. was hard hit by the pandemic, which forced the cancellation of special occasion events, as well as the reduction in work wear for the office. Moss Bros has shifted gears to include a monthly rental subscription box.

Another casualty in men’s last year was shirtmaker TM Lewin, which shut down all 66 stores. The firm, which shifted operations to an online model, fell into administration—the U.K. equivalent of a U.S. bankruptcy—in August 2020.

Across the pond, U.S. men’s retailer Tailored Brands ended up filing a Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition last year. It exited court proceedings in December after restructuring it balance sheet. Brooks Brothers, which also sells women’s apparel but is best known for its roots in the men’s market, also completed a tour of bankruptcy court proceedings last year. Brooks was later sold to a joint venture called Sparc, which is owned by brand management firm Authentic Brands Group and mall operator Simon Property Group.