Apparel sales rise: Dressing up returns, suits designers fine

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Sloppy-dressing days are over and men's fashion designers couldn't be happier. The new demand for dressier clothes has top design houses readying launches of more tailored, sophisticated lines and sales are already growing as a result of the shift.

"Guys are definitely paying attention to how they look and what they wear. ... It's a good thing," said Bill Zeitz, VP-marketing for Cole Haan. The upscale design label has seen sales climb double-digits recently, he said, as a result of men "trading up" and spending more on their clothing and footwear. Sales of dressy oxfords for suits and dressier casual shoes for the weekend have helped drive the significant sales increases.

Cole Haan is responding with the launch in fall 2004 of the Cole Haan Collection, a luxury line of shoes, briefcases, travel pieces and outerwear. It will be supported in September with a print brand image campaign featuring head-to-toe fashion looks that, Mr. Zeitz said, define American style and luxury from a uniquely Cole Haan point of view. Lloyd & Co., New York, handles.

hilfiger's approach

Tommy Hilfiger Corp. this spring will also launch a "better" sportswear line, H Hilfiger, defined by a spokeswoman as "more sophisticated, elegant and tailored than traditional sportswear ... clothes that go from day to evening and are a little more career focused." Ads for the line (also from Lloyd & Co.) break in April magazines. For the fall, Tommy Hilfiger will introduce tailored, dressier shirts and outerwear to fit with the line.

According to designer Alexander Julian, president of his self-named design house, the loosening of dress codes in corporate America created a problem for men in that they had nothing to wear except weekend play clothes; now, he said, there is a "glaring need for a bridge between casual and dress." His answer is the "Alexander Julian Private Reserve line" targeting 35-to-65-year-old in-shape men with clothes in luxurious, flattering and soft fabrics.

Retailers have definitely seen a spike as a result of the dressier trend. Jim Thorne, VP-general merchandise manager at menswear chain Jos. A. Bank, said sales are up as men are back buying dress-up clothes. Suits are moving well, shirts and ties are selling "phenomenally" and there is a big shift in the style of shoes, he said.

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