Market Analytics Nov 12, 2019 5 min read

The EDITED Verdict: Do retailers need to make men’s workwear casual?

The formal suit is proving less relevant to the working man as relaxed silhouettes dominate mens workwear and casual dress codes reign supreme.

Teaser (1)

As more offices implement a casual dress code, the formal suit is proving less relevant to the working man. The Spring 2020 runway saw the abandonment of strict tailoring, instead opting for a more relaxed silhouette.

In our new op-ed series, we take a look at the shifts within the workwear market, including communications to customers and the most prominent trends to surface. Find out if it’s time to boot the suit.

Our analyst team creates in-depth reports covering industry happenings and trend analysis backed by EDITED data. Learn how you can get access to our reports to support your decision making. 

Declining investments for tailoring

In the UK, Marks & Spencer recently announced that it will be reducing its tailoring offerings due to a 7% decline YoY in tailoring sales. EDITED data suggests this shift is already underway in the US and UK.

SS19 suit jackets occupied 2.7% of the whole assortment compared to FW18's 4.1%. Blazers followed closely and despite a peak in suit bottoms in SS18, where they held 13% of the overall assortment, they dropped again for the last two seasons sitting at just 6% in SS19. 

Bonobos in the US is making similar changes, highlighting a decline in proportion from SS18 for traditional suit jackets. Even tailoring focused brands such as Reiss and Ted Baker are slowing and/or decreasing investments.

For Mango, more importance was placed on the blazer in the last few seasons, with more unstructured options paired with more casual looks in visual merchandising and social platforms. The brand's heavily promoted travel suit currently dominates suiting arrivals over more formal options.

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Promotional product shifts

A decline in formal workwear investment has also affected the way retailers promote the category through emails and social media. The direction toward a more casual dress code provides the perfect vehicle to highlight versatility within your assortment.

Items like denim jackets and classic leather sneakers allow a look to transition from the office to an evening out. Transition your workwear into the Fall season by either layering with sweaters or as a standalone option. We’ve rounded up how key retailers are promoting more casual workwear below: 

  • Push the polo: adding a preppy flare, the polo shirt is becoming widely accepted as a button-down alternative.
  • Spotlight smart joggers:  comfort is key with this rising silhouette, which includes features like elastic waistbands and flexible fabrics.
  • Go untucked: Banana Republic is the latest retailer to feature a dress shirt to be worn untucked for a more casual aesthetic.
  • Athleisure influences: added details like side stripes and cargo pockets dress down tailored looks.
  • Trade blazers for knits: moving into Fall, style suit trousers with cable knits or cardigans. For a more elevated look, layer with a collared shirt.
  • Color & fabrication: play with pops of color or technical fabrics layered under classic silhouettes.
  • Do denim: push staple pieces already in your assortment like denim truckers or dark wash jeans to highlight versatility.
  • Feature sneakers: pair smarter looks with clean, classic sneakers that are perfect for on-the-go workwear ensembles.

Smart co-ords & joggers are transforming workwear

A smarter iteration emerged after SS19's obsession with matching sweats, shirts and shorts combinations. Bomber, coach and Harrington styles replaced the suit jacket, then are paired with matching trousers or smart joggers for extra comfort.

River Island, Topman and Zara made the biggest effort to promote this trend. While Mango and boohooMAN are also investing. River Island are of particular note with its gilet co-ord, ideal for transitional weather. Similarly, Zara's smart wool overshirt is a great alternative to warmer jacket styles. With both the jackets and coordinating trousers priced much lower than traditional suiting, there is huge scope to push multiple purchases. River Island's gilet and trousers combo also offers a matching bomber. Utility touches were added with cargo pockets to further entice buyers who are already fans of this theme.

While not a new trend, the presence of smart joggers on the runway has notably increased. In turn, the mass market is heavily promoting it this Fall, which is often dominated by denim. Grey remains the most successful color for this trend. Subtle checks are fail proof to shift product, though pinstripes are starting to bubble up too.

Interestingly, H&M's versions are still named as suit trousers despite their elasticated waistband and cropped lengths. One of its most successful options even features a sporty side-stripe - a great detail to further dress down your offerings. Cropped lengths are a common theme across top performing options, often paired with white trainers in online communications.

The EDITED Verdict 

The shift from formal to relaxed tailoring continued this Spring 2020 runway season, confirming its future longevity in retail. Utility suits, unstructured blazers and loose-fit trousers were all at play, offering retailers alternative ways to spin workwear outside of the classic suit and tie. For consumers that still require tailoring, many retailers are looking to performance fabrics to create more comfortable options. 

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We’ve pulled together the key themes from the Menswear Spring 2020 show to help you plan your upcoming workwear assortment, including shapes, details and prints. Log in to read how.

Research contributions by Krista Corrigan, Retail Analyst