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Menswear’s New Staples

Well-dressed men have long built their wardrobes around a set of traditional menswear staples ranging from suits to brogues. Now, driven by cultural shifts and a booming menswear market, a new set of essential products has emerged.
Valentino sweatshirt | Source: Mr Porter
  • Isaac Hindin-Miller

NEW YORK, United States — The wardrobe of a well-dressed man has long contained a set of must-have staples, from a charcoal suit to a blue blazer to a pair of brown brogues. But in recent years, driven by shifting workplace culture, the rise of new style and entertainment icons and a booming menswear market whose growth has outpaced growth in womenswear, a new set of men's essentials has emerged alongside the traditional staples.

"Obviously, luxury sneakers," says Eugene Tong, style director of Details magazine. "Well, maybe I'm a bit biased, being a total sneaker guy, but for me, it's the sneaker. I remember, ten years ago, it would be frowned upon if I wore sneakers all the time." Luis Sans of Barcelona-based department store Santa Eulalia agrees. "There has been an explosion of the designer sneaker," he says. "The world of sneakers has evolved very much. It's now a completely different category and very important. We are talking about Christian Louboutin, Giuseppe Zanotti, Lanvin, Balenciaga, Valentino — they are doing whole collections of sneakers that sell very well."

Hi-top sneakers | Source: Public School

Fashionable sweatshirts have also joined sneakers on the list of new menswear staples. "The streetwear trend really starts with sneakers," says Eric Jennings, vice president and fashion director of men's, home and gifts at Saks Fifth Avenue, "and the growing category coming out of this trend is the designer sweatpant and sweatshirt, always with a sleek and polished vibe." Tong suggests that men's increasing willingness to spend significant sums of money on once humble garments stems from a sense of familiarity. "There's a certain level of comfort that men have [with sweatshirts]; they've been wearing them since school. As adults, you want to find better versions. I've seen every brand that comes across my table: the ones from Brunello Cucinelli, Rick Owens, Public School, Valentino — you know, pick your poison. Whatever your style is, you can likely find that crewneck sweatshirt in the line. Also, in terms of pricing, you can find [them] everywhere from J.Crew to Tom Ford."

‘Man bags’ have become another major menswear staple, says Stephen Ayres, head of fashion buying and merchandising at London department store Liberty. “When you look back ten to fifteen years ago, many men wouldn’t carry bags. But now, with the ‘man bag,’ [it’s] everything from a tote to a cross-body to the modern-day backpack — people are now spending upwards of £1,000 on a backpack. The bag would probably be the biggest category that has shifted over.”

Floral Givenchy backpack | Source: Mr Porter

Men’s jewellery has also seen significant growth and bracelets, in particular, have proven to be wildly popular, earning staple status. “Men's bracelets have exploded in popularity and variety over the past two years, thanks in large part to influential tastemakers at the menswear shows,” says Dan May, style director at men’s e-tailer Mr Porter. “We have all manner of wrist adornment, from pieces in metals to woven leather to braided cord and colourful beads — and these are now being worn by a wide range of customers.”

“All of a sudden, it is so critically important to have the right bag, to have the right watch, to have the right collection of bracelets — not just one bracelet — to have a new piece of small leather goods, to buy something a bit outside of your comfort level, to buy colour, to buy exotic materials. It’s very, very interesting and it’s extremely exciting and it’s allowing us to really build on these categories in a significant way,” says Tom Kalendarian, executive vice president and general merchandise manager men’s and Chelsea Passage of Barneys New York.

Luis Morais men's bracelet | Source: Mr Porter

Sneakers are huge business for Japanese retail group United Arrows — the nation's largest seller of New Balance trainers — but they've seen a significant uptick in sales of other men's accessories too. "We found that the way our customer is consuming is changing from the suit and jacket to more the accessories side: shoes, hats, bags or belts — and this is a very interesting phenomenon I think," says United Arrows co-founder and creative advisor Hirofumi Kurino.

But the rise of new menswear staples has by no means replaced sales of traditional men’s essentials. “The sneaker business is a juggernaut,” says Jennings, “however, the growth here has not distracted from the dress shoes business. Men are not switching from dress shoes to sneakers, they are just buying more of both.”

And, indeed, one long-standing men’s product category still rules them all. “Our biggest product category remains shirts, spanning casual and smart,” says Ayres. “Shirts are our largest growth area and our biggest uplift on year at the moment.”

“The woven shirt will always be the perennial favourite,” concurs Jennings. “We’ve been through solids, stripes, plaids, checks and now we are in a print phase. Although they come in varying sizes, woven shirts with micro geometric prints and dobby fabrics will be here for a while. Dress it up, dress it down, guys always need woven shirts.”

Visit the new BoF Menswear Hub to discover more menswear news and analysis from BoF correspondents and around the web, as well as a live index of the most influential people and retailers shaping the global menswear market.

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