The Delta variant has several companies like Ford and Apple announcing delays on previous plans to return to the office. However, plenty of businesses are forging ahead with their back-to-work strategies and retailers are accommodating accordingly.
With the end of the year inching closer and our situation with covid still unpredictable, we analyze the current state of the men's workwear market from new arrivals to email strategies to understand where it's headed in the future.
If workwear is one of your least confident spaces, reach out to see how retail data can help you navigate this gray space.
The current retail landscape
With the demand for traditional office attire continuing to decline over the past 12 months, hybrid and comfort dressing is at the forefront of shoppers' minds as workers return to the office. According to a survey conducted by Phoebe English and Stitch Fix, "72% of professionals have prioritized comfort over the past year" and "44% believe that loungewear will continue to inform their future professional wardrobes", with emphasis on elasticated waists and jersey products.
Even formalwear designers like Hugo Boss are adjusting to stay relevant. The brand's new five-year plan focuses on its latest Hugo Orange and Green lines, which spotlight casual and athleisure products. Its smarter suiting lines have been updated to be wrinkle-free and machine washable. Tailoring specialist Paul Smith follows suit with its "A Suit To Travel" range, featuring crease-free and washable options.
Looking at arrivals for chinos, suits, shirts and polo shirts, we record a drop in slim fits of 49% and skinny options fall 40% versus 2019. In its place, relaxed and oversized shapes infiltrate the smart market, fits previously favored within more casual product lines. Retailers' investment into these looser silhouettes across all product categories shows commitment to the trend and backs its longevity heading into next season.
It's apparent that smarter product categories are not recovering back to their 2019 levels. Shirts see the biggest decline as more hybrid options like polo shirts grow YoY. The drop in chinos and suit bottoms are responsible for the overall decline for the trouser category. Elasticated details, softer fabrics and relaxed fits replace more traditional men's workwear styles and the blazer is ousted by overshirts and shackets.
Trends arriving online now
There has been a huge influx of relaxed styles across product categories as traditional silhouettes are updated with comfort in mind. This is particularly significant for occasionwear, where suits and shirts have taken on this new fit with product pages seeing looser suiting styled with T-shirts and sandals for a more versatile end use.
Images via COS, Mango, Arket
With the hybrid worker in focus, trouser shapes take on a more relaxed approach. Fabrications traditionally used on sweatpants offer a casual alternative to the trouser silhouette. Drawstring waists, stretch and call-outs of softer fabrications like lyocell at Mango and french terry at Banana Republic offer consumers versatile styles, which can be used at home or heading into the office.
Images via Banana Republic, M&S Collection, Mango
Fall newness sees an influx in premium higher priced products, as brands back the better basics trend. Mass retailers like H&M are able to opt into the trend by offering blends to keep pricing low. Its cashmere blend jumper retails for £34.99 vs Uniqlo 100% cashmere at £89.90.
Images via Reiss, H&M, M&S Collection
As consumers transition from home to office, smarter product areas take on a more comfortable approach. Both Zara and Uniqlo have used 'comfort' in product descriptions on blazers, suits and chinos. We also note the increase in the use of 'soft' across several retailers, marketing workwear focused product areas with a more casual feel. These call-outs on cotton-based products are an easy way to merchandise more traditional silhouettes into hybrid workwear stories.
Images via Zara, Reiss, Zara
Interested in seeing what the womenswear market looks like? Read our 5 workwear trends to know.
Re-thinking your marketing approach
If the pandemic has taught the retail industry anything, it's the importance of flexibility and that includes customer communications. As summer winds down and vacations come to an end, retailers are gearing up for a return to the office. We analyze different tactics employed to tempt shoppers into workwear purchases and where the focus is being placed for this season.
Back to business
While many retailers continue catering to the many ways consumers are working from home, others are embracing the office return. Crew Clothing featured outfit inspiration "for the days when you say goodbye to video calls", which highlights button-down shirts, blazers and Oxford dress shoes. J.Crew put cashmere knits, straight-fit chinos and loafers front and center for smarter ensembles. Be sure not to neglect the employee who is back in an office environment full time.
Images via Crew Clothing Email UK - Aug 19, 2021; J.Crew Email US - Aug 13, 2021
As a result of the pandemic, top-half dressing became the priority to look professional on video calls from the waist up. However, this workwear season has noted a renewed focus on trousers as shoppers look to invest once again. Dockers is calling out properties like four-way stretch and wrinkle-free technology as an added incentive to buy. Todd Snyder proposed its durable wool Sutton trouser for a smarter alternative and displayed an array of patterns and colors. Even as dress codes relax, comfortable trousers are vital to a successful back-to-work assortment.
Images via Dockers Email US - Aug 11, 2021; Todd Snyder Email US - Aug 20, 2021
Swap this for that
A handful of brands have re-strategized back-to-work communications and abandoned traditional men's workwear features altogether. Lacoste boasted "a new way to work" with a fresh perspective on the expected pieces. Instead, the retailer paired checked overshirts, dark wash jeans and smart leather backpacks as office attire. Meanwhile, Reiss encouraged customers to trade in their blazers for the latest iteration of its luxury cotton overshirt. Promoting versatility is a great way to move through existing comfort-driven inventory without hefty markdowns.
Images via Lacoste Email US - Aug 25, 2021; Reiss Email UK - Aug 6, 2021
The reality is not all consumers have intentions to return to an office, and several companies have made remote-first working the new normal. To accommodate this, retailers like Uniqlo and Charles Tyrwhitt continue to push the work-from-home wardrobe. Airy cotton shirts and jersey polos live at the center of this story for comfort, yet remaining put together on Zoom calls. As seen at Uniqlo, basic sweats should be pushed as layering options and will also highlight your loungewear assortment.
Images via Charles Tyrwhitt Email US - Aug 17, 2021; Uniqlo Email US - Aug 2, 2021
More angles of note
Hybrid footwear: Cole Haan Email UK - Aug 6, 2021
Let's make a deal: Burton Email UK - Aug 4, 2021
Relaxed tailoring: J.Crew Email US - Aug 18, 2021
A slow transition: Moss Bros Email UK - Aug 19, 2021
Keep tabs on luxury designers
In terms of timing, back-to-work assortments are often pushed in January following holiday breaks. Hybrid workers, active commuters and traditional looks should all be considered in your approach next year.
Luxury labels often dictate trickle-down mass market trends, so turn your attention to the runway for design direction into next season. Hybrid pieces and transitional silhouettes stood out as overarching similarities across collections. We've identified the most commercial trends to adopt for a successful assortment.
Images via Imaxtree - Missoni Spring 2022; Canali Spring 2022; Ermenegildo Zegna Spring 2022; Officine Generale Spring 2022
Images via Imaxtree - Andrea Pompilio x Harmont & Blaine Spring 2022; Louis Vuitton Spring 2022; Fendi Spring 2022; Hermés Spring 2022
Contributions by Retail Analysts, Krista Corrigan and Karis Munday
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