The new neckwear market

by Harry Sheff

The mainstream tie business is much more than wide silk ties, with continued growth in unexpected places.

Back in 2008, when the Men’s Dress Furnishings Association officially disbanded, things didn’t look good for neckwear. One vendor compared it to the ailing U.S. auto industry. Well, like Detroit, neckwear has reinvented itself, perhaps a little leaner, and definitely a bit more stylish and responsive to public tastes.

In fact, according to figures from NPD Group and our own research, after years of dropping, neckwear sales volume has actually increased from about $677 million in 2008 to nearly $800 million this year.

“I think the neckwear industry has kind of reset itself,” said Jeff Sencer, a consultant for LND Neckwear. “We’ve hit a point where we can say, ‘This is who we are today.'”
Neckwear business was good in 2012, with retailers and vendors reporting better (or at least more consistent) performance than dress shirts—flat to up single digits, depending on the retailer and retail type.

“Men under 25 are making purchases for themselves,” said PVH Dress Furnishings president Mitchell Lechner. “They are not afraid of fashion and are embracing changes in the shape of ties (slimmer). We are also seeing increases in our bow tie business around college towns with younger consumers.”

In terms of style and design, four elements are driving the new neckwear market today: skinny ties, color, seasonal fabrics and bow ties.

Every season, traditional ties get a little narrower in response to the younger, more contemporary end of the neckwear market. What those widths are varies by brand. For PVH’s Insignia brands, widths have narrowed from three and three-eighths to three and a quarter. Randa Accessories’ John Kammeier is hesitant to even consider three inches skinny.

Certain brands, for which neutral grays and blacks were mainstays, have introduced real colors. “Royal blue has crossed into modern,” observed PVH Neckwear’s Michael Mombello. “It’s just as important in Kenneth Cole and DKNY as it is in the traditional lines like Tommy Hilfiger.”

Mombello suggests this new comfort with brighter colors may come from the sock and underwear market, where guys could experiment with wild color and pattern without showing it.

Once a rare novelty in the market, cottons, wools, linens and various knits are increasingly important. “Seasonal fabric continues to move toward the mainstream,” said Greg Shugar of the online single-branded retailer “We used to only do skinny widths in seasonal fabrics—we associated it with younger, trendier guys—but we got some e-mails from irate customers asking why we didn’t do 3.5-inch ties in seasonals.”

But the star of the neckwear business this year has been the bow tie. “We thought it would level off in 2012 but if anything, it’s penetrating more,” said Randa’s Kammeier. “Where some retailers just dabbled in it before, they took a bigger stance in it and it’s proven itself.”

Before we get too excited about bow ties and skinny ties, it’s important to consider that the traditional customer still controls the majority of neckwear sales. “I look at the news and sports anchors and the guys on the street here in New York—they’re not wearing skinny ties,” said Sencer. “These are just guys wearing suits and ties. Three-quarters of American guys will not wear two-inch ties.”

For next fall, retailers can expect to see more color, wools and even some knits. “Everything is going to get dark and romantic for fall ’13,” predicts Mombello. That means deep, rich colors with pops of other brighter ones. Look for lots of navy blue, textured solids, more tartans and some foulards.

Tie the Knot

Justin Mikita and Jesse Tyler Ferguson model their Tie the Knot bow ties launched a 21-piece collection of bow ties in November with Modern Family star Jesse Tyler Ferguson and his fiancé Justin Mikita. The sale of the bow ties, priced at $25 retail, support Tie the Knot, an organization Ferguson and Mikita started to advocate for marriage equality. TheTieBar.comʼs Greg Shugar says the 4,200-unit run sold out in less than four weeks. The next collection will debut in February.