Menswear sales are booming. But is Gen Z spending hiding deeper problems?

Menswear is news lately as sales have begun to soar linked to some key business and style trends. 

Casualization, increased product drops, and online communities have all encouraged a surge in men’s fashion spending. 

But while Gen Z brands and consumers are setting the tempo, less trendy stores and sites are feeling the pinch. So what can they do about it?

More Choices More Voices

Menswear sales have been on the rise since lockdown. Casualization has been a major driver in line with work-at-home norms. Men are now more emboldened to buy what they actually want for personal and semi-formal use, rather than the smart suits and shirts they have (or had) to purchase for the office. 

Social media has also played a major role in perpetuating ‘fashion-think’ amongst guys, who now regularly share style ideas online with tools like Canva to create Instagram mood boards, or via Reddit forums.    

As cultural and fashion commentator Chris Black noted in a recent BoF discussion, in an economy where Gen Zs can’t readily afford expensive items like cars or property, pricey hoodies fit the bill.

Speedy Supply

So, online communities and the desire to spend less-than-optimal finances on fun, informal clothes are fuelling a massive change in how (and how much) men shop. 

Added to this is a change in the way clothes are manufactured, promoted, and sold. With the concept of traditional (winter and summer) drops disappearing, social media creates an environment where style trends come and go overnight. And stores and e-commerce sites must respond with much faster manufacturing and delivery. 

Deeper Problems

This is fantastic news both ways. More clothes equal more choices for modern men plus increased sales for brands and stockists. 

But does it counter what’s really happening economically across the sector, with clothes retail sales down by approximately 3.3%?

Of course, the focus of men’s retail growth is predominantly in the trendier Gen Z and luxury sectors – demographics with higher disposable incomes and greater motivation for looking cool.

The $800 dollar hoodie that Black alludes to (or a gorpcore jacket from a brand like Arc’teryx or Salomon) is mainly a Gen Z investment. And increased sales to this customer type, while great, mask a malaise across menswear as a whole. 

The stasis is down to a lack of agility on the part of mainstay men’s retailers, aligned with the fact that most post-twenties men can’t keep up with the changes, stylistically or financially. 

Fundamental Fixes

So should menswear retailers outside the Gen Z market be worried about what’s on the horizon? 

No. Because not all of retail’s problems are cost or style-related. 

Youth-focused brands like Primark and H&M do have more stock. But they also size effectively, have a clear brand identity, and well a defined target market. 

Other successful brands have adapted similarly by tweaking their stock offers (M&S menswear now features the likes of Jaeger and Dune), whilst sizing well north and south of baggy M fits. 

Moving from highstreet to exclusively online trading (as is the case with Burton menswear) has also helped some brands to realign with changing customer needs (and exorbitant rental charges). 

Who do you know?

Positive change is also about consolidating brand identity around customers’ values. 

This could mean a continued focus on sustainability and equality for Gen Z brands, whilst high street mainstays could emphasize quality, with shifts that include better value and choice.

As Nelly Roddy highlighted in the BoF podcast, “The most important thing is to work on your brand identity, who you are, how you differentiate from your competitors.”

How brands navigate changing customer needs and the shifting commercial landscape, whilst also being consistent with their identity, is central to survival in the coming months 

Times are tough. But for startups and smaller companies, agility should already be ingrained into their DNA. For others – identity, experience, and market know-how should be leveraged against the kind of micro changes that are key to keeping up with the kids.


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