Guest editorial: fighting back, together

by Greg Shugar
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I know this magazine is typically a source of optimism but I’m afraid you need to hear the truth.

Tailored clothing is dying.

I’ve been in the menswear industry since 2004. And while I’ve never actually sold a single piece of tailored clothing in that time, I’ve been tangentially a part of it as an accessories brand owner (twice). So I’d like to think I have a good sense of what’s going on in tailored clothing – and it’s not good.

Not good is a professional way of saying “totally f*cked”.

This isn’t the 2008 Great Recession. It’s so much worse. It’s so bad that it almost feels like the men’s tailored clothing industry itself being targeted by Covid.

Tailored clothing will be the last of all retail categories to come back. Like literally the very last one. Why?

Because as we all know, when given an option on whether to get dressed up, men historically choose not to get dressed up. We are the ones who are consistently outdressed by our female counterparts. We’re the ones who invented the look of a suit, tie…and underwear for Zoom calls. Men are why sweatpants and joggers are even a thing.

Yes, the trends were already moving in the casual direction well before the pandemic. The shift had begun and we were in the fight for our lives. Then COVID-19 hit. And now, tailored clothing, as we know it, has almost completely disappeared.

The last time we ran into such a serious step back was during the 2008 Great Recession. And we were able to bounce back, although through no credit of our own.

Without our prying or influence, men unilaterally chose to start getting dressed up again as a means of survival. Many were interviewing for jobs. Others got dressed up to impress their bosses as jobs were in peril. And many professionals dressed up to show their clients that they meant business. Throw in aspirational sartorial TV shows like Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire, and Suits and it made for a nice little resurgence that we all benefitted from.

That’s why by the early 2010s, all categories in tailored clothing were up. Suits, dress shirts, neckwear, and accessories all experienced a boost. But we, as an industry, had little to do with it. We were just the benefactors of change rather than the cause of it.

Which is why I write this editorial.

This time, we won’t have that luxury. Tailored clothing will not make a comeback on its own. Which means we have to get to work.

And unfortunately, none of us is individually capable of fighting this fight alone. The only way to really bring tailored clothing back now (rather than waiting for an inevitable cycle to kick in which could take years) is to work together as an industry. And now – right now – is the perfect time to start planning.

In some ways, we are lucky. Rarely have we found ourselves in such a perfect position to time a strong marketing message. With the vaccine here and knowing that the country should expect to open up again by mid to late summer, fall 2021 will be the likely time when many men are going back to the office. This also coincides with the busier shopping time for tailored clothing.

So it is why I call our largest industry leaders like PVH, Brooks Brothers, and Tailored Brands to take the lead and help lift us all. Along with smaller brands, we need to come together to create our own version of NATO to take on the casual world, rather than just succumb to it. Pool our resources, both human and financial, and create a messaging campaign to get men back into wearing (and buying!) tailored clothing again.

The messaging is easy. With the country will be opening up again, men will be going back to the office. There will be a certain renewed energy in the air from everyone. There will be excitement getting back to regular life and there will be a new appreciation for all the things we always took for granted. Including getting dressed up.

We need to feed off that energy. Jump on its back. Ride the wave and create a universal marketing message about coming back to the office and looking better than ever. We, the menswear industry, help determine what men look like. We create the style. We drive the story. We are the influence.

Some of the marketing will have to be through paid media. And while there is a cost for that, we will get an abundance of help from the free media as well. Menswear media, influencers, and bloggers who have all faced collateral damage will stand to benefit from a resurgence in tailored clothing. So there’s no doubt they will help us spread our message.

This is not just a ‘big idea’ I have. It’s a real call to action. I’m not writing this as an exercise or a bitch session. I’m here because I’d like to get something done. And I’m happy to put my money where my mouth is.

But I can’t do it alone. I need the help of the big guys who can help lift all boats in this low tide which we are all living in. Indeed, I need help from all of you. *We* need to do this together.

So who’s going to step forward first and save this industry with me?

Greg Shugar is currently the CEO and Creative Director at Beau Ties of Vermont Ltd. He is also the original founder of The Tie Bar and the co-founder of Thread Experiment.

9 Replies to “GUEST EDITORIAL: FIGHTING BACK, TOGETHER”

  1. Sure I’m in. I’m no big guy but have been in business for 36 years. The clothing business has suffered greatly but not just because of Covid. The on line guys where there before covid and have taken there fair share. But for us little guys the answer could be as easy as taking your phone out and walking around the store and posting it on face book. I did and got over 5,000 views. I wished i got that many customers but that didn’t happen. But i got my store out there to be seen. Now its time to take video’s of the suit, shirt and tie department. We will see what will happen. I’m not that very optimistic but we have no choice. Its either fight or die. I’m not ready to retire. YET

  2. A peer said to me yesterday, clothiers are going to soon as relevant as typewriter repairmen. Scary prospect indeed!!!
    One might think the MTM business would be on fire right now as a result of store not having to inventory anything, but people don’t want to be measured, nor do they really have anywhere to go, that and the the fact that the shirts/clothes they bought last January are still not worn from delivery in last March, so there’s not much need to restock!
    In short Greg, if you have a plan, as a U.S. based manufacturer, I’m all ears..

  3. GREG ,we are with you and wish to be involved in that endeavor, we work together with some of the best men’s and women’s stores in the country !!! We also work with the best clothing makers in the US,—Canada —and Italy !!!!!!! I Am not sure how and where to began , but will discuss with our clients and clothing partners and see how everyone might like to proceed . THANK YOU

  4. Hoping this is a spark in a new conversation, and some new reinvigorating energy into and through menswear. Kudos to Greg in bringing this up. Cheers -JL

  5. I couldn’t agree more. We need to get together NOW as an industry and get men excited to dress again. How important those face to face meetings will be and how important that first impression is. Just look at all the news anchors and sports commentators, as soon as they were back in the studios it was back to wearing suits many in 3 piece.

  6. Greg,
    It’s certainly an interesting idea. However, having been through a few tailored clothing recessions, my experience is that it’s usually outside forces that spark a revival. Whether it was the Armani suit that Richard Gere wore in Pretty Woman, the skinny fit, “not like your dad” suits emerging from Europe 10 years ago, or what I expect to be the “I’m sick of my PJs” revolt after Covid in late ‘21 into 2022, suits and jackets are the antidote to boring and casual. The industry can certainly assist the revival by enlisting celebrities and influencers to promote new looks, but the active word there is New. Creative thinking makes money, especially when there is an receptive audience in boxer shorts seeking motivation to buy. Just like New York City, dress up will be back, and all those old suits in your closet will take a trip to Goodwill to make room for it.

  7. I don’t believe the suit will ever be a commodity as in by gone days. The number of units sold in America has been shrinking since the mid 1950’s with upticks in certain periods but never reacting it’s previous high point. The suit has become an special occasion item except in the top levels of business and with clothes aficionados. I agree with Stu that there will be some pent up demand in the top levels of business once men return to the work place and that creativity will be the key to sustaining what remains. The industry has kept the separate jacket evolving by changing the construction, styling, fabrication, and over all usefulness. The suit needs to be recreated, as the jacket has, as a useful fashion item that is something more than office or wedding attire. It will never be a department in future stores, but a piece of clothes integrated with sportswear as a lifestyle item. MTM will be the source of suits for anything other than that. COVID-19 didn’t create this situation, it merely sped up the demise. While the suit won’t be the backbone of the menswear industry in the future, it can still be a part in an integrated presentation. You are correct-the men’s fashion industry has to get behind it as something more than a boring relic of by gone days. Create a new pathway.

    1. Glenn and Stu are spot on….The Tailored Suit as we knew it is done…..its been slowing for decades and the recent pandemic has just hastened its demise. The phraseology used to be : “Sacrifice fit for fashion” but now it has changed to “Comfort at all costs ” . The tech guys have proven that you do NOT need to be dressed tailored to the hilt to be successful in business. In fact, that look has become almost completely reversed if you are meeting or zooming with anyone younger than 45 or so. They do not trust anyone dressed in tailored suits which is why outerwear and unconstructed looks have replaced the “Tailored Suit”. The only thing anyone in fashion should be doing these days is figuring out a way to replace the big ticket item tailored suit with what comes next. At this point one has to sell jeans, a shirt and an outerwear piece to recreate that big ticket sale for the most part. There are other options but nothing is going to revive the “old suit” quickly enough or even soon enough to replace those dollars so : ” C’mon Man’…..get moving and get creative. It’s time for all of us in this business to figure out the road ahead. If you are stuck trying to sell a product that the market has abandoned a while ago you’re not going to last for long. The guys that loved to buy and wear suits have either retired or passed on so you need to sell the younger guys now and they want something new and comfortable. Our industry is not different than any other when it comes to having to sell products that the consumer wants to buy. Get past the old look and sell what your new younger customer is shopping for. Its called progress and its how life works !

  8. Stu, your so right, but in the meantime, the relaxed clothing and dressing in a more casual and sporty way, has adapted to our needs. Clothes will have to be more comfortable and functional going forward.

    The pandemic has had a big influence but casual was already accelerating in recent years. I recently saw an image of 3 guys on ESPN.

    Anyone that would like to DM me feel free I will forward the image. It’s of three anchors standing 1 guy in a suit another in a lavender jacket and dress pants and the third guy in a layered hook-up that is spot on. The other two looked out of place, the hooked up guy looked great and appropriate.

    I think it’s about pivoting to relaxed coolness in quality fibers and sporty looks. That cool jacket is still needed but now can be balled up and thrown into an overhead.

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