Furnishings: Change is good

by Harry Sheff

Shirts and ties have been evolving fast to meet the needs of a younger market.

Large retailers and some of the biggest furnishings vendors agree: shirts and ties have been doing quite well at retail this year, up high single digits on average.

“Honestly, as a blanket statement, everybody’s doing well,” observes PVH Neckwear’s David Sirkin. “Business is good right now. It’s not just the better stores, it’s mass and specialty as well. Dress up continues to be important.”

Not to be outdone by his colleague, PVH Dress Shirts’ Mitchell Lechner added, “Men’s in general is trending better than most of the store, and within men’s, most of the time, dress shirts lead the pack.”

OTD on dress shirts is up on average about three dollars, department store retailers told us, to around $27—a big improvement.

Randa Accessories is starting to put QR codes on hang tags to direct younger customers to online videos that show how to tie a tie.

At Bloomingdale’s, Scott Polworth says, “Our private label has been doing really well, as has designer. The last nine weeks have been very good. I’m encouraged and I’m really looking forward to fourth quarter. It’s not just one sensibility that’s growing. It’s not just contemporary; it’s classic—everything is doing well.”

Eric Jennings at Saks Fifth Avenue said, “Slim shirts and seasonal ties are going hand-in-hand with what’s happening in the tailored clothing department. Wool and cashmere ties are selling right now.”

Have furnishings—and neckwear in particular—turned a corner? The change didn’t come from the industry, says Randa’s David Katz. “I think American men have turned a corner, and neckwear is there to serve that need.”

Katz may be exactly right; how else can we explain the proliferation of new widths, seasonal fabrics and bow ties? “This is stuff we’ve been talking about for years, and now there’s volume behind it,” says PVH’s Sirkin. “It’s an exciting time.”

Keeping Things Interesting

1) While everything in neckwear has narrowed, we’re now seeing multiple widths within single brands, like Ben Sherman and Calvin Klein. “We thought at first that it looked too jumbled on the table, but the customers love it,” says Randa’s David Katz. And they’re getting as narrow as one inch in some rare cases.

2) Bow ties are booming. At 4 percent of PVH’s total and 10 percent of Randa’s, bow ties, while still a fairly regional business, are growing fast. Randa made fewer than 50,000 bow ties in 2009. This year, it’s more than 500,000. And they’re not just one shape anymore; Randa does well with eight different shapes.

3) In dress shirts, patterns and fashion color solids are performing well. “We are in the midst of a fashion cycle and shirts that offer fashion and detail are performing best at retail,” says PVH’s Lechner. Interestingly, PVH Neckwear has noticed a spike in solid color ties to go with those patterned shirts. In some cases, patterned shirts have become part of core replenishment business.

4) If you build a display, sales will come. Randa noticed a big jump in pocket square sales when it started putting dedicated vertical displays in Macy’s doors. Compare this to the traditional jumble of squares in a basket, and it’s no wonder sales improved. Randa has made more than 5 million pocket squares and handkerchiefs this year, double last year.

5) While costs are up, so are average unit retails. In dress shirts, rising costs have provoked more design details to give consumers a sense of added value. So far, it seems to be working. It’s true with ties, too.

6) Neckwear is changing fast. Slim ties, which for PVH are under 3 inches, make up 10 percent of total business. PVH Neckwear’s Sirkin: “All brands have changed and updated recently, and as a result, everyone is going into their closets saying, ‘Wow, I am really out of touch.’ They need new ties.” This more rapid change in neckwear design has led mature men to replace their ties and it’s gotten younger men excited about ties for the first time.

7) Color is more important. As PVH’s Lechner mentioned above, fashion color solids are doing well in dress shirts, with shades of purple standing out in particular. That’s also true in neckwear. And in many cases, tie bars have driven up sales in solid color ties.

8 ) Young men care about ties. They don’t have the same associations with neckwear that their fathers and grandfathers do. To them, ties are fashion accessories. As a result, neckwear is getting more interesting, and is changing faster.

9) Ties and dress shirts aren’t just for suits anymore. Dress shirts offer better fits than sport shirts, and slim styles mean more versatility. Ties are being worn with jeans and sport jackets, especially among younger men. To fill that need, ties are coming in seasonal fabrics like cotton, wool and linen—even leather, in the case of the Andrew Marc brand. This could not only detach furnishings sales from clothing sales, but also set up a new generation of furnishings customers for the future.

10) Young men are seeking out information on how to dress. And taking cues from the explosion of style bloggers, retailers and brands that are starting to create their own content. Men want to know how to tie bow ties and four-in-hand ties, and they’re looking for instructions online. Smart retailers and brands are putting up their own videos with how-to’s and fashion advice.