This past year has given those of us in the menswear industry time to reassess. As a retailer, I’ve experienced more than my share of disappointing buys over the years, each a reflection of the culture of that time, or perhaps of good intention but poor execution. Either way, each sartorial faux pas provides an opportunity to learn.
As style leaders, we bring our own life experience into our consultations; by providing our customers with context and relevance, loyalty, and friendship, retailers add value to the shopping experience, value rarely available on-line. These shared experiences play out every day at specialty stores across the country where customers and style professionals converge.
But are we as independent merchants doing enough to help men create their own personal style, thereby ensuring confidence and success? I would argue that it’s precisely in times of societal shifts that our role in the communities we serve should be strengthened. Change demands leaders who supply not only goods but also a fresh point-of-view. Are we playing it too safe? Are we underestimating the importance of our mission?
Our customers are human beings with flaws, dreams, and aspirations; they’re currently facing a whirlwind of reasons to feel insecure, worried, lonely. Clearly, they seek guidance in creating a new version of themselves to make a difference in the world in its currently grim state. This might not require formal suits, but they’re unlikely to pull it off in sneakers and sweatpants.
For years, our fashion system has been wildly disconnected from reality, both in its proposals and its supply chain. The challenges faced by 30- to 50-year old’s who will soon represent a major share of spending power do not currently align with the ultra-casual athleisure clothes that dominate most selling floors.
Why not use our creativity and contacts to promote a new, more aspirational dress code? We did not become leaders by giving people more of what they already own: joggers, running shoes, and sweatshirts. I’m not advocating Power Suits necessarily but rather creative combinations that are professional, stylish, and comfortable, anchored by softly constructed tailored clothing, accessories, and an appreciation of fine fabrics. The true leaders among us will shepherd our customers toward a more contemporary, more personalized version of Dress for Success. Let’s teach young men to reflect the professionalism and creativity that they will surely need in the months and years to come.
Mario Alberghini owns La Tigre Uomo, a menswear store in San Juan, Puerto Rico; he also has wholesale experience at Zanella and Canali. He can be reached at email@example.com.