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Yes — and you can credit the recession.
Behavioral experts say shopping doesn’t come naturally to most men, yet men’s wear was among the star performers this past holiday and retailers are expecting (or at least hoping) the growth will continue in 2011. They’re helped by the fact that clothes do wear out — and men feel that it’s time at last to replace their threadbare suits and holey socks and underwear.
According to behavioral finance expert Meir Statman, author and business professor at Santa Clara University, the recession has stirred men’s competitive juices and they see dressing better as a competitive edge. “It’s not just a matter of impressing women anymore,” he said. “It’s also about impressing potential employers. There is a sense that the competition out there is more fierce.”
In his book, “What Investors Really Want,” Statman devotes a chapter to buying clothes. “Clothing are visible status goods. You can have very chic furniture in your own home, but only friends and family see your home. Many more people see your car, your watch, your clothes. People compete with clothes,” though Statman himself isn’t inclined to.
“I am a professor and I’m tenured,” he said. “I buy my clothes at Lands’ End. I have three suits with stitching on the lapels. They look as if they’re bespoke and when I wear the suits, I suck in my tummy and stick out my chest.”
His point: “You can feel good when you buy something new, but I think for men, at least in my case and many others, it’s really not natural to go out looking for clothes. The last thing we want to do is accompany the wife on a shopping trip. However, in an economy where the competition is fierce, men do feel they have to pay more attention to how they present themselves.”
Marc Gobé, president of Emotional Branding LLC, an experimental think tank, cited innovation in men’s wear by both brands and retailers, and a pent-up demand to replenish wardrobes after abstaining for so long, as contributing to the pickup at retail. “It’s also not impossible that men are discovering what women have known all along — that buying new clothes is psychologically rewarding and not a vast expense,” he added.
“From a psychological perspective, fashion is pleasurable. It’s a way to express a sense of hope. A new shirt can change your mood. A new suit can give you confidence. A new pair of shoes makes you look at life differently,” said Gobé. “Fashion is not an expensive way to feel good about yourself. At a time when the economy is tough and people have lots of anxieties on their shoulders, there’s been a big change in how men are looking at fashion.
“I’ve been looking at a few fashion stores. It’s really interesting how retailers have become much better with fashion and style. There’s a lot more innovation offered. Under the pressure of the economy, retailers have been forced to innovate. It’s very possible this innovation has attracted new shoppers. I was looking at the Gap yesterday. I was passing by one on my way to the theater. The pants, shirts and sweaters I thought were very cool. It was good design with innovative textures. Things worked well together. It didn’t look like the boring, commodity offering that you would find there season after season.”
However, Gobé isn’t completely convinced there is a huge rebound in men’s attitude toward fashion — although they are more comfortable now shopping for clothes online. “Don’t underestimate men shopping online, even if they don’t make the buy online. It’s where they can feel more comfortable exploring,” he said. “Traditional shopping is not that comfortable for men. Research shows it’s not regarded as a priority.” With women, however, “Shopping is totally pleasurable. It’s a social happening, for joyful moments of discovery. I don’t think guys take their friends to buy suits.
“For most American men, fashion is not part of their vocabulary,” Gobé said. “If you are with a bunch of guys, no one says, ‘Yeah, I really love that tie’ or, ‘Hey. That jacket fits really well.’ Men don’t talk like that. In Europe, men are a lot more open with fashion. They can have a fashion conversation. There is a real interest in fashion. In America, the whole of men’s fashion at large is not part of the conversation.”
— David Moin