Formal clothing was already declining in years prior to the pandemic. However, the rise of the internet has allowed for more casual attire.
Simon Cundey’s family and team have been making suits for men for seven generations. They took 37 measurements from each customer during the Great Depression, two world wars and then finished their work by tailoring men’s suits. From the time the company was established in 1806, the tailor’s tools of thread, scissors, and chalk were used every weekday until March 2020, when almost everyone was required to work remotely.
Cundey has been employed by Henry Poole & Co. since childhood. The pandemic is the most severe crisis that the business has ever experienced. It is worse than the Great Depression and the wars.
He says that in wartime the allied forces were present so “we made uniforms to Canadians and Americans, and could still see customers face to face. We chat on leather sofas before a roaring log fireplace in the shop. 48 framed warrants from other world leaders surround us.”
Cundey, his team of undercutters and cutters, as well as his team of waistcoat-, trouser-, and jacket-makers, are back at work at 15 Savile Row. This street is known worldwide for its bespoke menswear and customers keep coming back to the shop. There are fewer people than ever before the pandemic and less than before the 2008 financial crisis. This is a familiar story that’s repeated at “the row” and at other tailors in the country as well as high-street retailers like Marks &. Spencer to Reiss and online businesses from Mr Porter to Asos.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has declared that suits are no longer popular. It removed them from the basket of goods it uses for calculating the annual inflation rate. According to the government’s statistics agency, suits that had been included in the basket each year since 1947 were not purchased often enough to be included in the 733 representative goods and service selected to measure the UK’s cost of living. They were replaced by a “formal jacket” or blazer in the ONS basket.
Nick Paget is a senior editor in men’s wear at WGSN and “trends forecaster”. He says that “many men have fallen out of love” with suits, if ever they loved them.
Paget, who has been working in menswear for over 20 years, claims that suits have been on the decline long before the pandemic. Dress-down Fridays are slowly reducing office formality. He says that 18 months of wearing joggers and a jacket around the house has definitely sped up, but people no longer need suits.
“A suit was not just for work when a man used to have to wear it. He would wear a variety of suits at work and to the cleaners.”
Paget states that men are no longer afraid to tell their bosses what clothes they would like to wear to work. He says, “I expect that people will wear less formal suits as part of the agreement to return to work.” “Personallly, I don’t like wearing a collared shirts, and I know that I’m not the only one.”
Kantar Worldpanel, a market research firm, supports him. The Kantar Worldpanel market research firm found that men’s suit spending dropped from $460m in 2017 down to $157m by 2020. However, it recovered slightly to $279m lastyear. Paget states that the suit is being replaced with “chore jackets” and not with joggers or jeans for work.
When asked, he replied, “It’s really in the name.” These jackets were originally designed for tradesmen who would use them for plumbing, painting, and handiwork. The jackets are French and were first worn by farmers and laborers in the late 1800s. They were called “bleu de travail” (or “worker’s bleus”) because of their deep indigo color.
Paget states that “workwear staples that are practical and comfortable have been elevated to office attire,” especially in the creative industries. Although the fabrics and details have been improved, they still look like clothes an old-school plumber would wear.
M&S has reduced the number of suits sold in its 245 larger stores to 110. This is attributed to the workwear trend which helped it return to profit within half a year.
Wes Taylor, M&S’s director for menswear, said that the suit market has been in decline since at least 2019, when it dropped 7%. The company has decided to concentrate on “separates”, which are suit jackets and trousers sold separately, so that they can be mixed with more casual clothes.
Taylor states that the pandemic was triggered by a trend towards casual clothing – particularly for work where chinos and shirts are the new standard.
Gieves & Hawkes, the most well-known Savile Row tailor who dates back to 1771 could soon vanish completely. After failing to find a buyer, Trinity Group, the Chinese owner of the tailor, went into liquidation earlier in the year.
Gieves & Hawkes began selling military uniforms for army officers. The shop is located at No 1 Savile Row. It was the former home of the Royal Geographical Society. Experts believe that the company’s Chinese ownership has seen it expand to 58 shops in 25 different cities. This may explain why it has been difficult to sell. Paget states that “ubiquity has reduced the exclusivity somewhat.”
Gieves & Hawkes isn’t the only one in trouble. Hardy Amies, a 1946 firm founded by Sir Edwin Hardy Amies that specialized in suits for British Olympians collapsed in 2019. Thomas Pink, the City shirtmaker, was destroyed in 2020 by Nick Preston, a former executive at JD Sports.
Kantar’s strategic insight director for fashion, Andy Saxton, says that although the market for office suits is unlikely to recover, he believes people are more willing to spend on suits for weddings or parties. He said that “Casualization has been increasing for quite some time now” while wearing a navy jumper and dark jeans. “The suit market has dropped 40% in the past five years and I don’t believe that it will ever recover to that level.” However, I believe there are great opportunities to dress up for celebrations. I feel that everyone will go big on weddings.
Saxton claims that people want clothes to “work harder” for their benefit. He says that people don’t want clothes to be bought just for work. They want clothes that can be worn to multiple occasions.
According to WGSN Instock data, 54% of all tailoring was marked down on Black Friday in the UK.
Cundey, Henry Poole believes that society is going through a massive “smartening-up period” which will be felt in all walks of the life. It will allow us to return to pre-pandemic levels. He says, “It’s almost like the great beast awakening from its sleep.” People will be able to remember why they are smart when they return to work and get involved again in social life.
He says, “Soon there’ll be Ascot or Wimbledon, of course.” “But, for everyone, there is always a point when you must dress to a certain extent.”
“When your spouse or partner is dressed up, and you arrive in a hoodie, jogging pants and a sleeveless t-shirt, you need to ask yourself if they would be happy with you. “No, no.”
Cundey believes that many young men dislike suits because they are too small. He says that while many people hate wearing suits, it’s likely because they were forced into them at school. I would hate to wear them if they were too small. You shouldn’t feel like a suit. It should feel natural. There should be no tightness or looseness.
Cundey claims that wearing the wrong suit is worse than not wearing it at all. Cundey recalls “Remember when [Mark] Zuckerberg, Facebook was brought up before Congress?” Cundey says, “He looked like an unruly schoolboy because his three-size too small suit made him look naughty.” The New York Times called it the “I’m sorry suit”.
Cundey wears a suit almost every day and has an interesting view of the wardrobes of many famous men. He says that criticizing Boris Johnson is too easy, but he still gives it his best shot. Johnson’s suits are too large and Johnson could have a better look. It really comes down to your mentality and how you present yourself. Some people get it, some people don’t.”
Rishi Sunak (the chancellor) is known for looking slim and trim, but his suits can be a bit too small.
Cundey’s sons, Henry (nicknamed Henry VIII because he is the eighth generation after the original Henry Poole), and Jamie are expected to continue the family tailoring tradition. However, even though they don’t wear suits every single day, Cundey eventually concedes.
He said, “They are smart casual, but they don’t let you down.”