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Featured Aug 11, 2020 6 min read

Has COVID erased the demand for workwear? No, but it does look different.

A market analysis on what's happening around men's and women's workwear assortments.

workwear

Where and how we work looks comparably different this year than it did last, but our work attire is still important and a prevalent theme across retailers’ homepages.

In this report, we analyze men’s and women’s workwear assortments and discounting, provide storytelling opportunities and round up inspiration for future direction.

Looking to rework your assortment as COVID remains prevalent? Reach out to see a demo of EDITED today.

A shift in assortments

Womenswear

Overall the workwear offering was down 40% YoY. However, the sellout rate was only down 20% – meaning even though retailers decreased inventory, sales have not dipped as drastically.

Blazers made up a larger portion of the workwear assortment this year compared to last, up 5%. Mainly due to retailers like Ann Taylor, Aritzia and Wallis significantly increasing collections. This product category also had the largest increase in sellouts, up 6% YoY.

Trousers and skirts experienced a slight dip in investment from retailers, each down 3% YoY. Even though trouser sales remained relatively flat versus 2019, the sellout rate for skirts plunged 8% YoY. This is likely due to the ‘dress up from the waist up’ mentality during lockdown.

The tops proportion remained steady while there was a stronger interest in all-in-ones, most notably from Lane Bryant.

The proportion of dresses that arrived decreased by 2% with the majority of retailers holding back on arrivals. Despite this, sales did increase slightly YoY.

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Menswear

Traditional workwear styles saw a 38% decrease in investment YoY with the largest drop coming from dress shirts. New arrivals were cut nearly in half driven by Brooks Brothers and Banana Republic.

An influx of polo shirts arrived in the market as the trend continues to climb. The golf-favorite silhouette increased to 25% of workwear arrivals compared to 22% last year.

Looking at what actually sold, dress shirts accounted for the majority but still dropped 6% YoY. Categories on the rise included chinos and blazers, specifically slim fit and linen, which is indicative of more casual purchases. In contrast, suits were significantly less bought into by shoppers.

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Impact on discounts & promotions

Womenswear

Each product category analyzed had 70% or more of the assortment on discount this year with the average proportion of workwear discounted up 9% YoY. However, the amount discounted per category ranged from 42%-55%, relatively flat to last year. Several online promotional events targeted womenswear specifically. Banana Republic pushed discounts on shirts and blouses, while ASOS offered an additional price cut on all smart sale styles.

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Menswear

The proportion of men’s workwear on discount is significantly higher vs. 2019 – just 35% of products were marked down last year. However, the average percent off was higher in 2019 at an average of 51%. This season, blazers noted the most price cuts at 61% while polo shirts had the least at 51% thanks to the trend’s year-round appeal. As we mentioned in our recession-proof discounting strategy, retailers need to keep discounting narrowly focused as we move into fall and refrain marking down styles that can be repurposed for future seasons.

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Key markets & storytelling opportunities

Special sizes

This market is often forgotten but arguably holds the highest potential for success. A wide range of size offerings on ecommerce is essential and mitigates the risk of a slow sell through in brick & mortar. Brands including Madewell, ASOS and Mango have made inclusive sizing a priority across men’s and women’s apparel.

Desk to dinner

With a wide variation of customers remaining at home or returning to the office, transitional stories are key. Favor toward smart casual ensembles are growing and mixing casual with traditional workwear is on the rise. Think relaxed denim with sophisticated blouses for women and hoodies beneath blazers for men.

Capsule closet

A priority of quality over quantity has become evident as consumers trade in fast fashion for more evergreen items. Neutral shades and minimalistic designs are the foundation of this story to take your customer through lockdown and beyond.

The commuter

The reality of returning to an office is unavoidable for some and the ongoing pandemic may drastically affect their typical commute. For markets in densely populated cities where walking or biking to work is an option, promote styles with technology including stretch and breathability, along with face masks to emphasize safety.

WFH uniform

With several companies postponing office returns well into 2021, working from home is on the cards for the foreseeable future. It’s not too late to adjust your assortment accordingly – emphasize smarter tops while maintaining comfort on the bottom. Smart joggers, basic tees and cardigans are all safe investments for fall.

Employee features

Who better to give your customer advice on WFH edits than your own employees? Several retailers have featured their very own staff sharing advice on working remotely and style tips for virtual meetings. During a time when socializing is at a minimum, this strategy offers a more personal touch to your promotions.

Painting a post-COVID picture

Hybrid clothing

Returning to the office will look different for everyone making a product’s versatility even more essential. Consumers will be in search of pieces to take them from the couch to the conference room. Smart joggers, relaxed blazers and sleek sneakers are perfect examples of multifunctional wardrobe offerings.

Longevity first

With potentially less disposable income to play with, the consumer will be keen to invest in pieces with longevity. This will fuel a return to minimalism and an emphasis on quality. Neutral palettes and basic tees offer optimal starting points and should be included in every standard workwear assortment.

Fabric innovation

Find a fabric that can do it all. Moisture-wicking to accommodate high temperatures, stretch properties for the commuter and easy-to-clean materials will become essential. This will result in a dwindling interest in dry-clean only purchases. Antibacterial fabrics will also grow out of lingering concern of a second wave.

Contributions by Retail Analysts, Avery Faigen and Krista Corrigan.