Suits only? Four retailers talk about what's hot in classic men's fashion
Sales statistics do not lie: men are wearing suits again. Admittedly, the home office era is still far from history and appearing in person at the office is not really everyday practice again. But apparently, men are slowly getting in the mood again to make themselves look presentable. Dressing more accurately, neatly, formally, for the office, for going out and yes, even for fun. So the suit is the order of the day. But what exactly should it look like, the post-pandemic business suit? And what about the party suit? How do you combine them in a contemporary way? Are sneakers worn with a formal suit now en vogue or rather out? And is there still hope for the tie? Four German menswear experts talk about their experiences during the current sales season and give insights into their orders for spring/summer 2023.
Claus Burchard, Policke, Hamburg
When it comes to suits, there is no way around Policke in Hamburg. Before the pandemic, the suit specialist had around 10,000 items permanently in stock, 6,000 of which were suits. Currently, there are around 5,000 suits in 80 sizes. Claus Burchard, owner for 22 years of the institution located in the St. Georg district since 1931, where even former chancellor Helmut Schmidt liked to shop, continues to uphold his recipe for success: “Good quality at attractive prices and many employees.” Although the pandemic and the resulting home office era presented a very special challenge for him as a suit specialist, he ultimately made it through the last two years well. The start of 2022, however, “was difficult once again,” but then things finally picked up in March, “by April we had reached around 80 percent of 2019 sales, and since May, we have been on par with that.”
Today, Burchard can report that “the suit is back in vogue; not only the festive suit, but also the classic suit”. The driver of the big comeback was initially the festive suit due to all the postponed weddings and family celebrations that have been made up for since March, as well as the high school graduation and confirmation ceremonies that are now taking place again. By now, many men want to dress smartly not only for occasions, but also in the office. So what does a suit currently sold at Policke looks like exactly? “Slim fit to normal width,” says Burchard. As a fashion alternative, other shapes are also coming, yet Slim Fit will also hold its own, he adds. “We will have a coexistence of slim and fashionable wider silhouettes,” says Burchard. In business suits, blue in various shades will remain dominant. In the festive area, however, it may sometimes get brighter or more colourful. “We have also sold festive suits in very nice shades of green," says Burchard, although green has been rather difficult in the past.
For the summer, he also sells pastel and beige tones, sometimes in linen looks or cotton blends. White dominates in shirt colours, which have suffered particularly from supply problems, followed by light blue. For weddings, men often choose shades of cream, all in stretch qualities. Sneakers are bought to go with suits, yes, but “the majority of men wear leather shoes,” says Burchard. And the tie? “It's not exactly a draw - but it will come back, I'm sure of it,” says the Policke head, “the tie is actually a man's only piece of jewellery.” Although tie sales have halved, “order numbers are still in a decent range”. What's more, many men are reaching for the bow tie in its place. Though Burchard has had to raise prices by ten to 15 percent, this has been “no problem at all” for his customers.
So what's next for spring/summer ‘23? “The occasion category will continue to do well,” Burchard is sure, because “so many parties and weddings have been postponed; we will still benefit from this next year.” For his wedding department, he has ordered suits in slim silhouettes, sometimes in green or shades of red and burgundy. For the business section, he will rely on tried-and-tested colour schemes of blue, grey and black, with a few bright shades thrown in. “We're not all that exuberant when it comes to fashion,” says Burchard who adopted the Hanseatic city of Hamburg as his home. In terms of pre-orders, he will act “very cautiously”. In any case, the menswear expert has been working for years with a NOS share of up to 90 percent for suits and 80 percent for the entire range. He will stick to this purchasing policy, which “has saved us in the last two years”. Because “the tense situation in which we currently find ourselves will not change for the time being”.
Manfred Müssig, M & W Mode, Bad Soden
”Men like to buy ready-to-wear again,” says Manfred Müssig. His store M & W Mode with its white-wood architecture reminds of an American East Coast villa and seems like a mirage on a Bad Sodener avenue about twelve kilometres as the crow flies from Frankfurt's banking district. It is one of the top addresses for high-quality men's fashion. Its customers include players from the legal and business circles or the banking scene in the Main metropolis. A clientele, therefore, for whom a top-quality suit is workwear, armour and must-have at the same time. Customers prefer discreet luxury to logos and labels, avoid loud fashion and, in view of the longer-than-average working days, prefer fabrics and cuts with a feel-good factor. “My customers don't want extreme fashion,” says Manfred Müssig. “The pants may be a little shorter sometimes, the foot width a little narrower, but it must not be at the expense of comfort.” What does a business outfit currently look like that he recommends to his customers? “I try to suggest to my customers alternatives to the usual dark blue, anthracite or black, and I like to offer them lighter shades, but also new fabrics, such as wool with silk or silk with linen.” It is usually the 30- to 50-year-olds among his customers who get excited, but about seven out of ten stick with darker shades. The silhouette “is still relatively narrow,” says Müssig, “but a desire for a little more comfort is noticeable.”
Do men working in top positions prefer to wear a plain white shirt with their business suit in spring ‘22? “Not necessarily, a shirt can also sometimes have an attractive check or a special stripe.” And what details matter for an exquisite business look? Basically, everything. “We have to convey to customers that the suit starts with high-quality underwear, such as an undershirt from Zimmerli,” says Müssig. Knee-high socks are also part of the package, from Gallo, for example, “preferably also with two- to three-colour stripes.” It is not easy, however, to convince men of the knee sock, “it's a real educational challenge,” says Müssig, “but dedicated salespeople have to introduce their customers to an elegant look for the leg.”
And the shoes? “Fifty percent of my customers currently buy sneakers, the other half wear conventional leather shoes.” That leaves the question of the tie. “I have a clear stance on this: if you wear a suit, then wear a tie,” says Müssig - and observes to his delight that men are increasingly in the mood for ties: “There are now men who buy three ties at once again.”
So much for the business outfit. But what does the M & W man wear who is in a celebratory mood? Definitely more fashion, more colour, more uniqueness. “One of my clients recently needed something tuxedo-like for an invitation in Monaco,” says Müssig. He then had a colourful jacket in pink tailormade by Italian tailoring brand Kiton with a matching bowtie. The solution was even more exclusive for another customer who had a suit in a very specific shade of light blue in mind for his wedding. Since Kiton didn't have exactly this shade, the fabric was made exclusively in the company's own weaving mill. This exclusivity, this individual service, but also extraordinary, very personal shopping experiences enriched with a certain sensation, so to speak - that is where this segment will increasingly go in the future. “Just recently, I spent two days in Naples at Kiton with a very good customer,” Manfred Müssig tells us. “That kind of thing is becoming more and more important.”
During the pre-order season for spring/summer ‘23, he wants to push this individuality even further, “act even more selectively, buy even more specifically”. What he will definitely avoid: “Placing extremely large orders where the respective target customers cannot yet be reliably assigned”. What role does price pay at M & W actually? “A very different one,” says Müssig. “Some customers don't even ask about it; what matters to them is exclusively first-class goods.” Others, on the other hand, inquire very carefully why fabrics at Kiton cost from 6,000 euros upwards. For Manfred Müssig and his store, the direction of travel for spring/summer 2023 is clear: “Quality comes first - then comes the price.”
Markus Brüning, Hasardeur, Münster
“After two years of Covid, our customers are currently commuting between the home office and in person meetings,” says Markus Brüning. That makes for a certain disjointedness, which is why “a great deal of uncertainty” can be felt. “You have to learn to read your customers all over again,” says the managing director of Hasardeur, the first address for sophisticated fashion in Münster, where men find fine Italian brands like Loro Piana, Zegna, Cucinelli, but also Jil Sander, Miyake or Lanvin. For Brüning, however, it is clear that “the importance of occasion-related fashion is currently massively overrated. It is true that there are currently occasions and events where “men can present themselves more formally again,” and seek “a sophisticated style”. However, the often-cited occasion trend mainly refers to younger people who have postponed their wedding for two years due to the pandemic and now want to catch up on the celebration, which, however, “rather affects the segment of modular suits”.
But what is indeed also noticeable at the premium level, “is an increased demand for suits and jackets”. And what is important in the current season for the classic suit for job and business? Basically, “you have to combine it differently,” says Brüning, because “shirt, tie and leather shoes with a suit - that's no longer up-to-date.” He names various options of how such new interpretations of the business look may be styled: As an alternative to the conventional dress shirt, “a sophisticated merino shirt, for example, works very well." A pocket square is a substitute for a tie. And sneakers take the place of leather shoes, because “of course you also wear well-groomed sneakers with a suit.” Does this also apply to professions such as lawyers or bankers? Absolutely, because if bankers “have to deal with customers such as young heirs, they naturally have to have a modern appearance.” Incidentally, the cardigan as a replacement for the jacket is also becoming more popular again, as is the leather jacket as an alternative to the blazer.
However, materials can also be decisive impulses for contemporary adaptations of the classic suit and a correspondingly modern appearance of its wearer. “We currently have a high-tech suit from Tombolini made of a very light, soft material - keyword ‘Zero Gravity’ - which is doing extremely well," says Brüning. He has already reordered it twice, “I haven't experienced such a run in the last two years”. The special thing about it: “The jacket, preferably dark blue or black, is as light as a shirt, and underneath, you just wear a white t-shirt - and there is your neat look in an intelligent, formal style”.
Two different pant styles, a body-hugging blazer and a matching hoody jacket allow for individual combinations tailored to different occasions, “which are super practical and look great, whether you're wearing them on the job or on vacation,” says Brüning. The decisive factor here is the fundamentally casual but top-notch look combined with the special tactile experience provided by super-soft materiasl. “In these suits, one experiences a very modern bodily feeling,” says Brüning. This shows how important it is to “pamper the skin with pleasant fabrics,” also because “touch has become much less frequent and hugging is no longer common.” Specialties and innovations like the Tombolini suits are what he wants to offer his customers in the next spring/summer season, too, in silhouettes that are relaxed on top, with the pants remaining slim. “You have to score with completely new things,” Brüning is convinced, “materiality is tremendously important here: as soon as something feels good, it's already sold.”
Thomas Bode, Stackmann, Buxtehude
At Stackmann in Buxtehude, one of Germany's leading fashion retailer with 15,000 square metres of women's, men's and children's fashion, sporting goods and apparel, the fate of the classic suit lies in the experienced hands of Thomas Bode, head of the menswear department and of the company's cooperation management.
”The signs are pointing to demand, especially for festive occasions,” says Bode when asked how suits are currently doing. The occasion suit is mainly bought in dark blue or natural tones in the store located outside Hamburg; its silhouette is narrow, personal accents are set via details, the bow tie or suspenders, for example, “preferably with fancy patterns.” Are there new impulses? They come from double-breasted instead of two-button blazers and here and there pleats, “but that's only a very small percentage,” says Bode. When it comes to professional needs, Stackmann's clientele, including many bank employees and sales representatives, prefers a casual, well-groomed business look instead of a suit: Gladly with a light check pattern and a functional jacket, plus dark blue jersey pants and sneakers. “You don't define yourself by the jacket, but by the sneakers,” says the menswear expert. “White sneakers are currently indispensable.” The classic customer, however, still wears leather shoes. If a customer decides to wear a suit, then “in dark blue, with a chic white shirt and, of course, sneakers.”
Is the tie dead as a doornail? “It's still twitching,” grins Bode. Could one revive it? “One certainly can: through lively patterns and fresh colours.” By the way, he adds, ties are also bought in the festive sector. Prices have been raised slightly, “but that's not an issue at all for our ready-to-wear customers at the moment.” For spring/summer ‘23, Bode will focus in particular on a higher feel-good factor. “The jacket has to become even more comfortable and also have a certain functionality through light, technical qualities.”
Occasion wear for men will be “significantly more colourful” at Stackmann next year. Bode is putting the brakes on classic black and white styling, giving priority to sage, red and natural tones. Such new impulses are likely to fall on fertile ground, because the demand will also be quite large in Buxtehude next spring; after all, there is a real backlog here as far as weddings and other occasions are concerned. “People can't keep up with the celebrations,” observes Bode, “the restaurants in the area are all booked up, and that's probably how it will continue in 2023.”
This article was originally published on FashionUnited.de. Edited and translated by Simone Preuss.