The old ways just don’t work anymore.
The days of hanging reams of suits on racks against a wall are over — at least for savvy retailers seeking to attract the dapper young customer who has been the catalyst behind a sea change in the tailored clothing business over the past several years. As young guys embrace dressing up, suits and sport coats have slimmed down, making old wardrobes obsolete. These men are also surfing the Web for ways to customize their wardrobes, seamlessly mixing sportswear and traditional tailored clothing pieces to create their own individual style.
As a result, retailers — led by specialty stores and a few trend-setting larger merchants — are increasingly blending brands and categories to appeal to this customer. The new merchandising strategy is also having a trickle-down effect on the more established — read “older” — customer who is being spurred to update his wardrobe.
One of the leaders has been J. Crew, which introduced its slim-fit Ludlow suit model in 2008 when it opened its first stand-alone men’s store in New York City. From the beginning, the suit was merchandised next to complementary merchandise such as Macintosh coats, Levi’s jeans and Alden shoes.
“When a guy comes in and wants a suit, particularly his first suit, we don’t want him to be intimidated,” said Frank Muytjens, vice president of men’s design. So the Ludlow offers a consistent fit — slim — in a variety of fabrics in a “tantalizing environment, so it’s very relatable. We try to make his life as easy as possible.”
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It worked and, today, the suit has spawned its own two Ludlow stores in New York and Boston as well as shops within all of the company’s men’s stores. “We tested it and it just created a ripple effect,” Muytjens said. In terms of merchandising, “it’s still a suit shop, but we mix high and low. He can wear it with a white shirt and a tie or experiment by wearing it with an army belt, a denim shirt and sneakers. It doesn’t have to be completely serious.”
This type of merchandising is also being seen in more traditional stores.
“The lines have blurred between sportswear and tailored clothing,” said Dan Farrington, general merchandise manager of men’s wear for the Mitchells Family of Stores. “We’re merchandising tailored more as collections than ever before. And even where we don’t have shops, we’re buying it as a total look.”
He pointed to the “beautiful jackets” that are being produced by Brunello Cucinelli, Loro Piana and others that can’t be classified as strictly tailored clothing. “Even our Cucinelli suits will go in with collections,” he said. “We’re merchandising them more casually; they’re not just being hung in the tailored clothing area.”
Even so, “for practicality, we still have a tailored clothing area. We still do a lot of volume in tailored and if a customer comes in looking for a suit, he can just go there. Guys still have to wear the uniform and for those who have to, it’s easier to shop in a tailored area.” But for those men who opt to wear a suit as a personal choice, they’re more apt to mix casual and dressy pieces and gravitate toward suits and sport coats in a collections presentation, he said.
Overall, Farrington said the tailored business has been “better over the last two years than we had expected. The growth in jackets and suits has been strong.” He’s expecting that to continue. “We’re still not as far along in the fit cycle as some think we are,” he said. “There’s still updating to be done. Men evolve very slowly.”
Eric Jennings, men’s fashion director for Saks Fifth Avenue, said over the past six months, the store has merged clothing and sportswear from its key vendors into single shops instead of separating the two as classifications. “We now have lifestyle shops,” he said, noting that the classic vendors are on the sixth floor of the flagship while contemporary brands are housed on the seventh floor. “We have no suit department.”
He said the Saks customer is “brand conscious. He knows what he likes and what fits him so he’ll go to that brand.”
He’ll also mix and match. “The younger customer is more comfortable hopping brand to brand and will wear a Z Zegna topcoat with a great piece of denim,” he said.
Saks’ clothing business is still doing well, led by a double-digit increase in made-to-measure sales. “There’s been such a dramatic shift in the length of the jacket and fit of the trousers over the past three or four years. And men’s eyes have now adjusted to the slimmer silhouette,” he said. “For those who haven’t done it yet, it means it’s time to upgrade their wardrobe.”
Wally Naymon, owner of Kilgore Trout in Cleveland, has also updated the merchandising in his store. “It’s not about putting sleeves on the wall,” he said. “We’re showing not only the young guy, but also our core customer a different way to wear clothing.” In addition to using faceouts and T-stands, the sales staff will lay out suits with denim, knits and updated neckwear in order to spur sales. “There’s a whole revolution in his closet,” Naymon said. “The young guy has spurred this on, but it’s working on his dad, too. The dad today wants to look like his son.”
Naymon said tailored clothing sales haven’t been this good in a long time, and the business is coming from both new and more-traditional brands. “We’re a core Zegna/Canali store, but we’re also gotten traction with Z Zegna, Paul Smith and Etro. And we’re buying our classic brands differently and more aggressively to encourage growth in the closet. When he puts on the shorter, trimmer lengths, it’s new and fresh and he gets excited.”
Naymon expects the strength to continue into next year. “Many men don’t buy every season or every year, so there are still a lot of guys who haven’t gotten into the new stuff,” he said.
The old ways just don’t work anymore.
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