Retailers, Stand by Your Man

During the worst of the recession, there was a lot of discussion about how women’s clothing sales suffered because mothers would skimp on themselves and divert their more limited funds to the rest of the family.

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While that behavior certainly occurred, new research from the division of International Business Machines that studies retail analytics suggests that menswear may be tracking the ups and downs of the economy more closely than women’s apparel.

Why? It’s likely tied to employment levels, with men spending more on clothes to wear to work.

IBM projects that men’s apparel sales will rise nearly 8.3 percent in the first quarter, far outpacing other retail categories.

The firm expects women’s apparel to rise 2.4 percent, children’s apparel to climb nearly 5.1 percent, while home furnishings is expected to rise 6.9 percent, and health and beauty and footwear each to increase about 3.5 percent.

Last year may have been the best year on record in terms of sales for men’s apparel, according to Mike Haydock, chief scientist and retail analytics leader for IBM Global Business Services. Haydock expects the men’s apparel category to rise about 8.21 percent in 2011, compared with a year earlier.

By comparison, women’s apparel sales last year are projected to be up 1.96 percent from 2010.

While the women’s category far outstrips the size of the men’s category, it would appear that if retailers are looking for growth in clothing sales, they might want to focus on men.

In the women’s category, retailers are likely seeing a shift in the sales patterns regarding when women shop the most. In 2010, there was a surge around the Christmas holiday, but last year, there were a series of “mini-occasions,” such as Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, that sparked women’s apparel purchases.

As for the men, it appears they are wanting to put their best foot forward — especially those who are returning to the work force after a period of unemployment — and are purchasing more formal business attire.

“They’re tired of the khaki pants and golf shirt uniform that ruled many offices for the past couple of decades,” said Jill Puleri, global retail leader for IBM Global Business Services. “They’re looking to dress more stylishly — choosing items like skinny ties and suspenders that present a more polished look.”

So if you thought the workplace was becoming a dressier place post-recession , you might be right.

The trend also may be good for sales of skin care, hair care and other grooming products.

Last year, the men’s facial skin care market grew 11 percent in dollar sales, according to market researcher NPD Group. But there is a lot of room for growth — only about one quarter of men currently use such products, which include facial cleansers and moisturizers, lip and eye products, and anti-aging treatments.

“There is a huge opportunity with men for facial skin care,” said Karen Grant, vice president and senior global industry analyst at NPD Group.

But Grant admits there is a challenge to getting men involved with these products.

“There is a feeling that facial skin care products are not needed unless you have a specific skin problem, such as acne,” she said.

Grant suggests companies such as Procter & Gambleand Estee Lauder, which make grooming products, focus on communicating skin care needs that men have and how to address them.

Questions? Comments? Email us at Follow Christina Cheddar Berk on Twitter @ccheddarberk.