The retail environment looks bleak, but some are betting on an unlikely sector: menswear.
"For the first time in almost a decade we're actually seeing the men's market outpacing the women's market," said Marshal Cohen, NPD Group chief retail analyst.
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Men’s clothing sales beat women’s by four percent this summer, according to NPD Group’s most recent data. Despite a soft economy, men’s sales are expected to surpass women’s through 2009, said Cohen.
So what’s driving the male trend?
"Men are looking at shopping with a different perspective-- they're looking at it as almost a career enhancement or an investment," said Cohen. "Women are looking at it more from pent-up demand or a feel good standpoint."
As women spend across a wider sector like consumer electronics, said Cohen, men have recognized the need to step up their game.
"Even in a tough economy, I think male clients are really more aware of how they’re dressing," said Robert Chavez, Hermes president and CEO. "This summer, men’s sales have been very, very strong and we just see it continuing going forward."
In fact, Hermes plans to open its first, men’s-only store in New York City next Fall. The 6,000-square-foot boutique will feature four floors, including a salon for custom-made clothing.
Retailers like Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s have also revamped their men’s departments, adding male accessories like GPS systems and more exclusive lines like Emporio Armani underwear, respectively.
"Don't be surprised if you see in 2009...lots of retailers getting aggressive with this men's trend," said Cohen.
But, not all retail experts are as bullish.
"The discrepancy [between men’s and women’s clothing sales] may not be as large given overall weakening of consumer demand," said Dana Telsey, Telsey Advisory Group CEO.
But as the going gets tough, some retailers are still hopeful that men will go shopping.
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