by Karen Alberg Grossman
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From all reports these past few weeks, menswear business is picking up. Retailers are reporting several consecutive strong weekends, and while sportswear and activewear are driving sales, suits, dress trousers, and even ties are selling. The problem: many retailers, still in pandemic mindset, are playing it safe, assuming goods will magically appear when they’re finally ready to buy. Unfortunately, few vendors have been producing beyond confirmed orders so hot items are unlikely to suddenly materialize. And bottom line: if you don’t have it, you can’t sell it.

According to Fred Derring at DLS, the pick-up in business is real: New York showrooms are booking appointments and retailers are planning to attend summer trade shows. Retail consultant Steve Pruitt confirms reports on increased traffic and improved sales, with this caveat: “Merchants tell us there are goods to buy now but selections are starting to break down. If you have current OTB and your register is ringing, commit 80 percent of your spring/summer dollars.” Pruitt expects another positive sales trend for fall ‘21 and suggests that retailers commit fall OTB now to preclude shortages.

Retail consultant Danny Paul also reports improved sales among his member stores. “It was like a magic wand was waved and business improved from mid-March forward. Several stores are beating spring 2019 numbers, which is impressive. These increases have lifted spirits, which is as valuable as the sales themselves.”

As seen at Peter Elliot in Manhattan

According to Paul, most sportswear classes have been doing well over the last 13 months and continue strong, especially five-pocket casual pants, sport and knit shirts, and shorts. “Activewear came on strong last fall and exploded this spring (from the right vendors, who are now having trouble keeping up deliveries). But the biggest surprise is the rebound in tailored clothing in March and April. We didn’t expect those areas to recover as fast. Weddings are behind the surge, driving suit sales big time. Sportcoat sales have picked up in a big way in April and as a result, dress pants, dress shirts, and (believe it or not) neckwear have all improved after a three- or four-year slide.”

Paul is bullish on an even stronger fall business. “When more men return to the office, start traveling again, attend concerts and other social events, business should continue to improve.”

Eliot Rabin from Peter Elliot in Manhattan has been selling out of a spring/summer fashion trend that he calls Funky Elegance. It includes soft sportcoats (both SB and DB) in denim, linen sportcoats in bold pastels, and beautifully colored raw silk ties, sometimes shown with knit shirts rather than wovens. “Based on what we’re selling now, I’m certain there will be a tailored clothing explosion in the fall,” Rabin predicts. “If you’re not ready, you’ll miss out!”

Economist David Rosenberg, in a recent article in The Globe and Mail, conveyed a similar message. “As we go back out and engage socially or professionally, we’re going to need new clothes. While we cut back dramatically on services this past year (mostly because they weren’t available), we did buy more cars (up 10 percent), sporting goods (up 15 percent), pharma products (up 6 percent), furniture (up 3 percent), groceries (up 9 percent) and building materials (up 17 percent). The one merchandise item that declined was clothing – sales slumped 16 percent over the past year to a level that is lower today than it was in June 2011.

“So, we need new apparel for two reasons. The first is that this is an area of spending that’s been totally neglected. The second is that we can’t fit into our existing wardrobes (see that 9 percent growth in the grocery bill). We ate too much during lockdown and exercised less. While we spent much money sprucing up our homes, we gave short shrift to our own appearance. So, there’s no way many of us are going to fit into our old clothes post-pandemic… I can easily see a situation, once we attain the holy grail of herd immunity, where clothing sales soar between 20 and 30 percent.”


  1. “We ate too much during lockdown and exercised less.”
    Groceries bills increased a good bit not because people were eating more but probably because people were not going to the office but working from home, hence they were eating at home for lunch not somewhere close to the office. The increase in sporting goods sales would also suggest that people were working out more, not less. But I certainly hope they continue feel a need to update their wardrobe.

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