Aug 30, 2021
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M&S men's suit scale-back reflects growing casualisation in menswear

Aug 30, 2021

Last week, UK department stores went on the endangered list. This week, it’s the turn of the mid-priced men’s suit market.


Marks & Spencer has revealed it no longer sells men's suits at more than half of its 254 bigger stores as the pandemic has accelerated the trend towards casualwear. 

The retailer, which now only sells men's suits at 110 large stores, said trends were already shifting to "smart separates" such as chinos and shirts before Covid shook up the clothing sector.

Wes Taylor, director of menswear at M&S, told The Sunday Times: "Covid hit fast forward on the trend to more casual dressing that was already in train”.

M&S said that in the year to April, sales of formalwear dropped 15% online and 72% in-store year-on-year as casualwear sales jumped 61% online.

Even pre-pandemic, M&S said suit sales fell by 7% in 2019. And in the first two months of the Covid pandemic, when millions worked from home, M&S sold just 7,500 suits, a fall of 80% on the year.

For at-home workers, M&S said sales of "shorts and joggers were up”, with Taylor noting that the retailer "worked hard to adapt our product offer to be more relevant to customers' rapidly changing needs” during the pandemic.

So will it change now life is almost back to normal? M&S said it has seen some increase in formalwear demand following the easing of restrictions and weddings now being allowed to take place. But Taylor added "our Smartwear is now more focused on smart separates - easy to wear, stylish smart clothing that can be worn in lots of different ways”.

The changes at M&S reflect wider changes in the menswear market. In the UK, for instance, suit and shirt chain TM Lewin shuttered all 66 of its UK stores last year.

And suit specialist Moss Bros struggled even before the pandemic hit. Even though its online sales were rising overall sales still fell in the pre-Covid period.

It reported pre-tax losses of £7.4 million for the year to January 2020 compared to a profit of £4.2 million in the previous year. And its sales fell 0.5% in the pre-Covid period, dropping to £128.3 million. Like-for-like sales also fell a wider 1.2%, even though the company managed to boost its online sales by 6.5%. Those online sales also accounted for almost 17% of total revenue in the period, that percentage having increased by 2.4%.

So it’s no surprise that during the pandemic Moss Bros said it “continued to provide outfits and looks rather than just suits”.

According to the market research firm Kantar Group suiting sales in the UK have fallen by 2.3 million units over five years. Just 2 million were purchased in the year to July compared to 4.3 million for the same period in 2017.

Spending on men's suits has also declined over the past decade, according to Kantar, from a high of £534 million in 2011. Some five years ago, spending on men's suits hit £469m but fell to just £159 million in the 12 months to July.

But it’s not just a UK trend. Men are turning away from formal suits globally. This is leading more and more companies to look towards casualwear for their future growth. Hugo Boss, for instance, has partially built its new strategy around a stronger focus on casual looks.

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