The invitation advised «business casual attire».«But the meeting roams at New York’s Palace Hotel last week were a sea of navy and black business suits, an both men and women, far a Bank of America Securities investor conference.
Maybe people are just sick o! all–casual-all-the-time. Far whatever reason, a lot of people suddenly are thinking again about suits.
While casual attire was slower to catch an in European business settings than in the U.S. — and as a result the switch back to suits may be less pronounced an this side a! the ocean — there’s definitely something going on.
«At the cutting edge of fashion you can say there is a return of formal wear in Europe,” says George Wallace at retail con-sultant Management Horizons Europe in London. “But it’s very much a fashion world thing. In the more widespread consumer market the, long-term trend is stilI very much towards casual wear».
In Milan, Hugo Boss is making changes to both formal and casual attire to respond to changing tastes. «Far the next autumn/win-ter collection the suit will be an important part of a woman’s wardrobe but the suit will be worn in a more easy way»says Grit Seymour, a designer far the company’s women’s collection. «At the same time casual wear becomes more chic and more sophisticated with sportive shapes in luxurious and precious materials and finishes».
Most U.S. companies say they are sticking to their «corporate casual» policies. In Europe, that’s the case, too. «The development of casual corporate, dress-down policies are still growing strong and moving out of the finan-cial community and into all businesses» says Management Horizon’s Mr. Wallace. «This trend started later than in the U.S. and so is not so far advanced — and so at the same time also too early to be subject to the decline occurring in the U.S».
Carlo Pambianco, CEO of international fashion consultant Pambianco in Milan, says that Europe isn’t subject to the extreme changes the U.S. is going through. «Here the informal style is still developing while in the U.S. they went to an excessive informalism and are now shifting back» Mr. Pambianco says.
But keep your shirt on. Available evidence indi-cates that sales of suits are just beginning and have a way to go before anyone can talk trend. While suit sales across Europe are difficult to quantify, last year, sales of men’s suits in the U.S. rose 8.5% to $3.82 bil-lion (billion), according to NPD Group Inc., market researchers. Unit sales are up, totai-ing22.7milìian last year, an increase o! 7.5% since 1998. But in dollar terms, men’s suits still haven’t gotten back to 1998’s level of $4.06 billion.
Women’s suits in the U.S. rose about 6% to $3.67 billion from 1999, but they were still down from $3.74 billion in 1998. Moreover, in volume terms, women’s suit sales fell 3% to 61 million or about even with 1998.
Bert Hand, chairman and chief execu-tive a! Hartmarx Corp. in Chicago, Amer-ica’s biggest producer of tailored cloth-ing, remains skeptical about any resur-gent popularity of suits. «1,11 believe it when I see it» says Mr. Hand. TaIk to suits coming back, he says, “hasn’t resulted in any buying yet. Most people can buy from their closet instead of going to the stare. They’ve got suits they haven’t warn” far a Iong time.
As suit makers evolve, so, taa, do their casual-wear counterparts, some of whom are gravitating toward a more tailored look. Gap Inc. ‘s Banana Republic chain, which rode the wave al casual business attire, this spring introduced a $350 suiit made of denim.
The fact is that sales of casual clothes have simply «maxed out, declares David Wolfe, creative director of retail cansultants Doneger Group. So it is natural that the fashion industry would race to fili a vacuum elsewhere and put a positive spin an what’s going on».