I am feeling a little vindicated today because it seems dress and casual pants, long the forgotten stepchild of designer jeans, are making a comeback. As retail sales for men’s jeans are finally starting to slip, corresponding numbers for dress and casual trousers are actually rising. This shift is being blamed on a combination of supply and demand – there is a glut of denim in the market and not enough buyers – and that men are showing more of an interest in dressing well.
While the market most certainly is saturated with too much denim, I personally think that the latter argument, that men are more interested in dressier looks, is the real culprit. As I have mentioned before, I think menswear is growing up and growing out of, “all casual all the time.” Guys want to dress well and look more put together. As a friend of mine recently said, to stand out as an individual these days, you need to dress up. The blue blazer as social rebellion – go figure.
Trousers are a key way you can give yourself a more polished look and the trend toward better dressing only helps. The hybrid versions of dress trousers that have been an industry focus – like five pocket khakis modeled after jeans – are giving way to sleeker and traditional dress trouser styles. Flat fronts with pockets that are either on seam (the pocket opening is literally on the pant leg seam) or besom (the pocket angles slightly forward off the pant seam) are the formats of choice.
Another issue centers on how the pant bottoms are finished. The best option in my opinion is open bottom pants, meaning the hems are unfinished and can be properly tailored to your body. Closed hems are the pre-fished pants that you grab, go, and hope will work. While convenient, if they do not fit you just right, the pants will look either too short or too baggy. In the casual category this is not an enormous issue, but when it comes to dressier trousers fit matters.
This leads to an obvious fork in the road: are most men – at least those who now want to dress better – ready for the tailor? It can take time, cost money, and delay the instant gratification we are so used to these days. But I think the payoff of well tailored clothes makes a huge difference in both your overall wardrobe and in how you feel and carry yourself. If men are ready to dress up a couple on notches then they are probably ready to invest some time and money in making sure those new clothes are worth the investment.
I am under no illusion that everyone is about to start sporting suits and trilbies every day of the week, nor would I want to see such a thing happen. I am confident however, that we are turning a sartorial corner.
As I mentioned in an earlier column, the Dot Com bubble which imploded many people’s retirement accounts also ended the “suit-as-anonymous-uniform” rule. The resulting casual work wardrobe movement has now reached its predictable nadir and guys are wondering why they all look shapeless and generic. The “return to dressing up” that DNR somewhat pans in a recent article on this very subject, is not a return to the past but rather a rich and varied exploration of the clothing, quality, and stylistic opportunities that we simply did not have before.
Just look around at the renewed attention to tailored clothing, fabrics, bench made footwear, fine leather goods, and luxury mechanical watches. To me, it’s not so much a return to dressing up or even an obsession with luxury as it is a shift toward new opportunities in personal expression and a celebration of quality and uniqueness in an increasingly homogenized world.