Mirror, Mirror: This holiday season retailers betting on the men

Patrick Henigan and Henry Stursberg (right), both of Philadelphia, look at the Zimmerli men's underwear at Coeur.
Patrick Henigan and Henry Stursberg (right), both of Philadelphia, look at the Zimmerli men's underwear at Coeur. (DAVID M WARREN / Staff Photographer)
Posted: December 19, 2013

During these final shopping days before Christmas, Mona Lisa Jackson will transform the front of Coeur - her upscale women's lingerie boutique - into a pop-up shop for men's undies.

The collection, Zimmerli, is an 80-piece line of briefs (in the $120 range) and Ts ($150) fashioned from Egyptian cotton and silk jersey. The variegated ribbed tanks are favorites of Jamie Foxx, Joaquin Phoenix, and Hugh Jackman.

"Men are placing more emphasis on fashion, even what people don't see," said Jackson, who has been in the women's underwear business for 17 years. Until recently, she said, men only came into Coeur to buy lacy treats for their girlfriends. But purchase something for themselves?

"Never," Jackson said with a laugh. "They are ready for nice things now."

This year was one of the busiest in men's fashion, so retailers are betting their holiday sales on dudes.

That makes jolly good business sense. According to the NPD Group, Inc., a Long Island-based consumer tracking group, men's apparel sales increased 3.5 percent, from $56.9 million in October 2012 to $58.9 million in October 2013. During the same period, women's clothing sales increased just 0.7 percent.

"Holiday isn't just a women's sport this year," said Marshal Cohen, an NPD analyst. For young men, Cohen said, clothing has replaced electronics as a way to define themselves. In other words, dapper is in.

Retailers "are creating events just for men this holiday season. Specialty stores that just cater to women are bringing in special product just for them. And all of this is removing the stigma out of men's shopping."

At Coeur, customer Matt Brookman checked out a pair of the Zimmerli unmentionables: "I really like the feel of it."

The burly 40-year-old music executive would eventually buy four pairs at $93 each.

Sales of men's clothing have been outpacing women's since 2010, but this year, it accounted for more than just a niche market of fitted suits and infinity scarves.

Retailers have found that more men are getting used to a tailored look, and they don't mind being fitted and fussed over if the look comes with an experience - as in leather couch, stogie, and whiskey.

"We did so well with men this year that we expanded our business," said Craig von Schroeder, CEO and creative director of Commonwealth Proper, a Center City-based bespoke suiting company. Von Schroeder moved into a 2,000-square-foot showroom in September, quadrupling his space.

"Men have already awakened to the possibilities of fashion," von Schroeder said. "Moving forward, they are exploring what works best for them. They are into shopping for themselves now, too, as they shop for others."

The week before Thanksgiving, Blue Claw Co. opened its made-in-America man-bag store on Chestnut Street.

Last week ToBox, a men's shoe store designed to look like a minimalist 1960s-era living room, held a mini-grand opening event with bourbon and the region's growing number of natty tastemakers, including blogger Sabir Peele and Justin Jeffers.

Thursday evening, Peele hosted the opening of Neiman Marcus' Tom Ford Men's Boutique in King of Prussia.

A couple of Saturdays ago, I attended an event for a fashion-based social media and marketing company, One Hunted - www.onehunted.com. All of the male guests arrived in suits.

The business, founded by four local educators and guys' guys - Isaac Ewell, Jason Green, Justin Grayson, and Sam Seigel - is all about helping men find stylish clothing and products that are ethically sourced, and preferably, manufactured Stateside. (Ladies, doesn't this sound familiar?)

The night's featured items included a line of fitted blazers fashioned from Africa-inspired prints by Ikire Jones, spicy-scented candles courtesy of Rewined, and gingham shirts from Mettlers American Mercantile.

Men are "just becoming much more comfortable with expressing ourselves through fashion," explained Ewell, who attended the event in a three-piece SuitSupply suit.

"We wanted men to be empowered with style during the holiday season."


ewellington@phillynews.com

215-854-2704 @ewellingtonphl

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