Big Spenders and Millennial Hipsters Rekindle Dapper Dress Codes in Menswear

Tailoring is Trending

The popularity of formal attire has been on the rise, fuelled by a growing number of brands catering for style-savvy males, the influence of pop culture, including hit television shows like Mad Men, and a nostalgic return to fashions of yesteryear.

This has been evident in key markets like the US, the UK and Germany, where menswear outperformed womenswear in 2013. While mature male consumers higher up the career ladder have been longstanding champions of dapper dressing, millennial consumers have also been driving growth.

Suiting Up for Success

One of the biggest burdens on men’s formal attire over the past few years has been the relaxation of office dress codes. The casualisation trend has promoted jeans as an office-appropriate staple, with the premiumisation of denim lending the off-duty favourite a luxury allure almost on a par with a well-cut suit.

While the casualisation trend is far from disappearing, there has been a marked return to formal attire. Value sales of men’s suits in the US grew by 1.3% in 2013 to reach US$2.3 billion, while super-premium men’s jeans declined by 7.4%. A great deal of pent-up demand for suits was released as more men returned to work, with the US male unemployment rate posting an ongoing decline since 2010. The trend was echoed in the UK, where sales of men’s suits rose by 2.6% in 2013 after a period of decline.

Breaking Down Dress Codes

The men’s formalwear revival has taken a marked body-conscious approach – think tapered/slim trousers, smaller lapels, skinnier ties and higher armholes on tops. According to Mitchell Lechner, President of PVH Corp’s dress furnishings division, slim fit items comprise 50% of the business, as told to WWD in May 2014.

For neckwear, novelty items like pocket squares and bow ties have found a niche as male consumers look to accessories to emphasise their personal style. Ties grew by 3.7% in 2013 in the US, outperforming overall menswear’s 2.7%.

Head-to-toe uniforms have paved the way for a mix-and-match mentality. Men prefer to wear their ties and blazers with T-shirts and jeans. Shirts themselves have become more versatile as consumers look for products with crossover appeal, which can be worn from work to play.

Premium Potential

It makes sense that purveyors of men’s tailoring, especially suits, have clustered at the premium end of the market. The replenishment cycle is low so consumers are more likely to invest in high-priced, durable products. Additionally, the new wave of suit consumers fuelling the formalwear renaissance is paying increasing attention to aspects like brand, cut and quality.

Luxury department stores have been enhancing their menswear offerings to service this demand. Lord & Taylor refurbished its men’s department in its New York flagship and Saks Fifth Avenue has revamped its private label menswear line. Bespoke tailoring has also been gaining momentum. Luxury brands from Alexander McQueen to Tom Ford have launched both bespoke and made-to-measure services in their dedicated menswear stores.

Online Appeal

This is not to say that all male consumers are able or willing to fork out on Savile Row tailoring. A roster of affordable luxury brands has been filling this niche, offering the best of both worlds – wallet-friendly, high-quality products, fortified with style credentials. This has been particularly evident online, as highlighted in previous analysis. Many start-ups have been focused on dressy items – Indochino’s customised suits, Bonobos’ khakis, Trumaker’s dress shirts and Jack Erwin’s dress shoes.

The internet has actually played an integral role in the revival of fashionable menswear. It serves both as an attractive transactional platform as well as an educational tool. A roster of blogs, magazine sites and menswear e-tailers provide a wealth of information about style trends and brands, informing men what to wear and how to wear it, and giving them the confidence to experiment with their personal style.

Trend du jour?

Despite the somewhat faddish nature of novelty items like bow ties and Mad Men tailoring, the overall zeitgeist of dapper dressing is far from running its course. As male consumer attitudes towards personal appearance become more sophisticated, demand for tailored clothing is likely to follow a similar trajectory to men’s grooming. Unlike a simple T-shirt, the complexity of suit construction gives the growing number of style aficionados a number of elements over which to fixate.