OUTERWEAR WEEK: Tailored outerwear at retail

by Harry Sheff

Weather is the first thing retailers bring up when we ask them about tailored outerwear business: it’s good, and that’s bad. From California to the Midwest and the East Coast, temperatures have often been 20 and 30 degrees warmer than normal and that means guys aren’t thinking about outerwear. But that hasn’t stopped most of the retailers we spoke to from being optimistic about the business. Men are still restocking their wardrobes with slimmer top coats to go over slimmer suits. And the occasional must-have fashion item brings a little excitement to the floor.

Fred Derring of DLS Outfitters notes that because so many companies went out of the tailored outerwear business when the market turned casual, we’re left with fewer vendors now that it’s swinging the other direction. Derring adds that slimmer, shorter coats—between 38 and 40 inches as opposed to the old 44 to 52—with slash and ticket pockets are the trend now. However, the rain coat has not returned, with the exception of the short double-breasted trench with epaulets; it’s become a fashion item. In general, Derring says, younger men are driving the trends.

Dana Katz, Miltons

Braintree, Mass.

Anything novelty has been selling well in top coats, raincoats and outerwear. Our worst sellers are anything that is the same as what we sold last season or the season before. We expect fall 2012 to be a return to a normal season for outerwear. Fall 2011 was hopefully just an aberration due to the warm weather. Many customers put off buying last year and are in the market this year, and we expect that will continue into next fall.

We have to continue to give our customers a strong reason for buying something new: novel fabrics, trim details at all price points, functionality and modeling that our younger customers have not worn before like double-breasted coats, etc.

What do I need from vendors? Don’t show the same as last year. Even if an item was a great performer, the vendors owe it to themselves and us retailers to update and answer the question in the retailer’s and consumer’s mind, ‘Why should I buy this?’ I have a very successful friend who said, ‘If it’s not broken, break it!’

Tim Sitzmann, Mr. B Clothing

Clive, Iowa

We carry a brand called Schneiders Salzburg out of Austria and that’s really our best-selling outerwear top coat. It’s cashmere and cashmere blends. The car coat length has been good. We try to get a coat on somebody’s back when they have a suit or a sport coat on to show them that a top coat is still required for proper dress. We stimulate quite a bit of sales because of that.

Schneiders Salzburg

We’d like to have some colder weather! It’s almost 70 degrees out here in Des Moines. Last year we had a cool start in the beginning of the season and outerwear was good, but then it warmed up. We cleaned up pretty well anyway. This fall it’s been pretty warm and when you consider sales are flat against last year, I feel good about that. We’ve had a good leather business and top coats have sold well. I think we’ll sell some for Christmas—it’s a great gift item for men. We’re still optimistic.

I think the trend we see is toward the shorter coat—that’s been going on for the last couple years. We’re seeing a little double breasted. There’s some interest in fashion pieces and some subtle patterns on top coats. We are a specialty store and we try to show some specialty items, and I think that drives our business.

By the time we get through February we’ll look at our numbers and find out where we need it and where we don’t. When we get to the shows we’ll start to see what the fashion trends really are, and we’ll address them, even if we end up a little heavier in outerwear than we want to. We have to stay aggressive to show new product.

I think the direction of the market has been really good. There have been more contemporary fits and there’s certainly a need for more guys to take a look at their wardrobes to get that newer fit. Everything was so oversized for so long. We’ve addressed that for a few years with everything from suits and shirts to top coats.

Pat Mon Pere, Patrick James

Fresno, Calif.

Our best-selling jacket this far has been a wool/cashmere blouson that has a little microsuede trim on the placket and pockets. Its $495 price point seems to be the right spot to do some volume in. It looks and feels special and the customer views it as a value. Another great item has been a goat suede blazer with detachable placket from Italy. At $1,695 it’s not for all of our customers, but they all reach for it and we could have used more. We haven’t had a lot of cold weather yet on the West Coast, so lighter weight blousons and softcoat/outerwear hybrids have made up the majority of sales.

Reserve Goat Suede Blazer

We’re still selling vests, but not with the momentum of the past two fall seasons. One exception is a quilted piece from Peter Millar that is moving out quickly. Leathers and shearlings have slowed for us as a category, but again I think the weather is playing a role.

Cloth-based outerwear is performing better for us than leather and suede to this point. That could all change in the next five weeks. For fall 2013, we’ll look to build on our successes while still looking for special items that will make the customer want to buy on the spot. I think we need to be more willing to experiment with more technical pieces and be open to adding some new vendors.

The biggest thing I need from vendors is for them to stop dumping all their goods in-season on all the flash sale sites. We haven’t even had our cooler weather yet, and a lot of these guys have been dumping this season’s goods for weeks. If you don’t think that doesn’t impact your business you’re crazy. There are vendors we don’t even look at anymore because of their frequency on these sites.

I think there is room for a new leather resource that can execute fashion and quality, but at price points the customer will respond to. Other than that, it’s looking for great items that we can get excited about. Whether that be a cool model, fabric story etc.

Larry Ginsburg, Parsow’s

Omaha, Nebraska

It’s going to be almost 60 degrees every day this week! Last year was horrid—we had guys golfing into the third week of December! With better [cold] weather this year, we should have an increase.

You find much less brand shopping in outerwear than in other categories. We have done surprisingly well with the classic black cashmere top coat, the most basic of all. I’ll bet we’ve already sold at least half of our stock, and that’s pretty good. Three-quarter lengths, whether in nylon microfiber or some nice wools, still seem to be our best items. In other outerwear we had a great black quilted zip jacket from Rainforest that had a nice fashion sense to it, and that sold right out of the window. Other more basic items haven’t sold yet. Vests always sell well.

We bought a few pieces from Paul & Shark. One was a gorgeous wool and leather combination, almost like a sweater jacket, for $1,000 retail. We only bought three pieces but they all went out the door at regular price. Would I go back next year and buy six? Probably not, but I might buy four. Fashion seems to be doing better than function right now.

We bought a classic short microfiber jacket with a zip-out liner that to me was a no-brainer, but I don’t think we sold a single piece of it. We bought Allegri for this season, and it’s beautiful, but we haven’t sold it yet. We need more cold weather!

Unfortunately, if it’s warm out, guys don’t buy outerwear unless it’s a gift item. We usually don’t carry much over because by mid- to late-January we’re probably going to go half off on anything that’s left. I’d rather clean house than carry anything for six months. If we go through another mild, warm winter, we’ll probably cut back more for next fall because as we all know, there are always goods you can buy in-season. They may not be your A choice, but there are plenty of B+ choices out there.

The product is always there. It’s all a matter of getting customers in the store. If we get them in, we’re going to sell them something. They come in because we’re Parsow’s and they know they’re going to get quality merchandise.