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Men's appetite for fashion shores up apparel sales

Merchants of men's wear are racing to add more fashion lines, a wider palette of colours, and slimmer styling to their offerings while posting videos and advice columns on their websites.

Jennifer Roberts for The Globe and Mail/jennifer roberts The Globe and Mail

The rise of the well-dressed man is giving Canada's fashion industry a much-needed boost.

Men are increasingly spending money on pricier items such as custom blazers and dress shirts, a habit analysts say men picked up in the recession when many felt the pressure to look good in a bid to hang on to their jobs or find new ones.

Chains ranging from men's specialist Moores to the Bay, Harry Rosen and Coach are enjoying a bounce in men's fashion sales, shoring up otherwise lacklustre growth in the Canadian fashion field over all as women remain cautious shoppers.

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New data this week confirm the men's fashion pickup in a sagging apparel market. While total clothing sales dropped 2 per cent to $22.9-billion in 2011, sales in the men's wear market rose 3 per cent. By contrast, women's apparel sales dropped 4 per cent while children's wear sales slipped 2 per cent, according to NPD figures.

"Men have a pent-up need to update their wardrobes," said Kathy Perrotta, director of fashion sales in Canada for market researcher NPD Group. "They're buying what they need and they're not looking as much for [low] pricing or value consciousness as are women."

Retailers are starting to cater to the once-hesitant male shopper, who has moved beyond the classics, mixing and matching sports jackets and dress shirts with jeans and casual tops. They're helped by technology and online blogs that give them easy access to style tips in an unthreatening environment.

Merchants are racing to add more fashion lines, a wider palette of colours, and slimmer styling to their offerings while posting videos and advice columns on their websites. In a fickle, fast-paced sector, retailers are all fighting to stand out, and to ensure the well-dressed male phenomenon has staying power.

"It's really become culturally acceptable to look good as a guy," said Kyle Vucko, chief executive officer of online men's custom-wear seller "It has moved from the negative connotation of being a metrosexual … to it really being okay: George Clooney is now cool to guys. Mad Men, although not the newest of trends, is becoming more and more mainstream."

The shift is most pronounced among 35- to 54-year-old men, who have gravitated away from the traditional comfort of sweaters to tailored pieces, including slimmer sports jackets and dress shirts, Ms. Perrotta said.

Doug Ewert, chief executive officer at the U.S.-based Men's Wearhouse, which owns Moores in Canada, said the slim-fitting silhouette in men's dress apparel has been a transformational shift in the sector – one that occurs once every decade and helps spur sales growth.

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The slim silhouette makes up 19 per cent of the retailer's apparel sales today, compared with a negligible amount five years ago – and those sales are quickly rising, the company said.

Indeed, the slim look with narrow jacket lapels has morphed from tight-fitting garments aimed at young shoppers a few years ago to roomier – but still trim – clothing for the mainstream man now, said Wayne Drummond, senior vice-president of men's wear at Hudson's Bay Co. "Slim isn't a threat any more. Slim is just a cleaner way of dressing."

Sales of popular items such as Ralph Lauren polo shirts are picking up as they shift to slimmer fits, he said. A new line of Ted Baker suits, starting at about $600, have the clean, modern trim look.

The initiatives have helped men's wear sales at the Bay jump in by double digits in the past 12 to 18 months, growing faster than those of women's apparel, although they also are rising in the double digits, he said. The growth is spurred by more men buying their own wardrobes, rather than leaning on the women in their lives to buy it for them, he said.

Even upscale accessories specialist Coach Inc. is enjoying the moment, having started to run separate men's stores. Men's sales are expected to represent about 8 per cent of total sales, or $400-million, this year – up from 2.5 per cent, or $100-million in 2010. The company expects the proportion to grow to 15 per cent, or $1-billion, in next three to five years.

As a bonus, men aren't as price sensitive as women, ready to shell out on higher-end leather bags, said Greg Unis, vice-president of global men's merchandising. And North American men are just catching up to their counterparts overseas, where men in China make up 45 per cent of overall sales of bags and accessories and, in Japan, 21 per cent.

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About the Author
Retailing Reporter

Marina Strauss covers retailing for The Globe and Mail's Report on Business. She follows a wide range of topics in the sector, from the fallout of foreign retailers invading Canada to how a merchant such as the Swedish Ikea gets its mojo. She has probed the rise and fall (and revival efforts) of Loblaw Cos., Hudson's Bay and others. More

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