Tuesday, March 15, 2011

In January, I had the privilege of speaking at the Milwaukee Biztimes’ Economic Forum. I knew little about the event when I said yes to it, but I somehow assumed it would be a panel discussion in front of a small group, involving mostly off-the-cuff Q&A and little preparation. So, I was a caught off guard when the Senior Editor called three days before to give me some last-minute coaching and make sure that my “speech” would be “no longer than 15 minutes for sure, and 12 would be better.”

“Speech?” I asked. “What am I speaking about?” He replied that they had me down for two topics: “How to Revive American Manufacturing” and “The Future of Retailing.” (Oh, I thought, is that all? Why not throw in Health Care Reform, too?) Then he added, “Go ahead at the end and talk about men’s fashion trends if you want. There’ll be a lot of men there who’ll want to hear about that… but, remember, 15 minutes max, 12 is better and no Allen Edmonds commercial.” “Got it. How many people are you expecting?” “Over 600 -- it’s sold out. Congressman Paul Ryan is kicking it off talking about fiscal discipline in Washington, and he’s a big draw. As the head of the House Budget Committee, people want to hear what he has to say about what’s going on.” Indeed.

Well, I got some slides ready and showed up. It was actually pretty fun to do. My comments about the two BIG topics needed to be pretty broad-brush, but the audience seemed interested. They definitely perked up more, though, when the Men’s Fashion Trends Slide went up. People started talking at their tables and, when I cracked a couple of one-liners, I got way more reaction than I expected. I noticed immediately that the sudden buzz had a disproportionate number of female voices in it. When I made this point -- “Brown is the ‘new black’ in men’s serious business shoes. You can definitely wear brown now with a classic blue or charcoal grey suit to any important meeting … unless you wear bad shoes, then stick to black because brown shows off how really cheap that leather is.” – the hearty laughter seemed 70% female, which maybe confirms again that women definitely do judge men’s shoes… and a lot of guys get failing grades.

This time of year is good for discussing Men’s StyleTrends. Warmer weather gives us more options, which can be a double-edged sword if we wander too far off-base. It’s also a good time because our team has just finished doing trade shows across the U.S. and in Europe, and we have an up-to-date sense of what’s going on out there. Here’s the slide from the presentation, filled in with the comments and edited to incorporate some impressions after the shows.

Quick Primer of Men's Style trends

-What's Hot: Classic American Styling, authentic American heritage brands (i.e. pre-WWII), long-lasting quality, sensible values, fewer luxury splurges, i.e. Mad Men attire. This "new normal" era means more classic sensibilities and made in USA is big across the globe (even bigger in Asia).

-Brown is the "new black" in high quality leather shoes for the office (but not in those low quality "hide-of-the-Nauga" shoes where brown looks especially plastic). Suede is great now all year long, for both dress and casual wear in all different kinds of dress and casual shoes.

-Brogues (wingtips or captoes with perforated designs) are really big. Tasteful leather shoes are the right thing for weekends (men aren't wearing last year's running shoes with their jeans anymore). Brogues can also be made of saddle leather types and thicker soles that give them a rougher look.

-Stylish vests work in place of sport coats at the office or social events. French cuff shirts with personal-connection cufflinks are back in the office and with upscale weekend wear (cufflinks reflect the man's individuality with hobby or city themes).

-Tasteful plaid ties or Brooks Brothers' rep-stripes are preferred again over $150 patterns depicting aristocratic equine paraphernalia.

-Leather is displacing ballistic nylon in briefcases, duffel bags and rolling carry-ons. After 20 years of never using their bags for cover in a gunfight, I guess men feel safe switching back to classic and natural materials.

-College baseball caps in winter have been displaced by Stormy Kromer or Scottish caps and Indy Jones hats.

-Moderate-length leather coats (longer than aviator cuts) will make a comeback in fall 2011.

P.S. I asked a colleague for input on the above list. His comments are so good, I thought I’d quote them here…
From Brett Klein, our wholesale salesman in New York City who has great fashion sense…

Men are really caring and taking pride in how they look and dress again. Not just dressing up for the office (which we all know has been more important over the last couple years), but it’s clear how much effort men are putting into their casual looks. Across the country (and clearly evident in and around NYC) at first glance a guy may look like a modern day lumberjack to some degree, but it’s clear how crafted and put together his outfit is. Every item speaks to heritage, quality, made in the USA. Most of it is brand new out of the box or off the hanger, but it has a vintage look and feel and is clearly authentic.

Your first few bullet points on shoe trends, plus my above paragraph bring something else to mind regarding our specific new product (Elgin, McTavish, etc): The trends are clearly classic, the consumer wants authentic American brands, men are putting more effort into dressing, and classic dress looks are being worn in a way that they haven’t in modern times. All of these things allow us (at Allen Edmonds) to take some liberties and have some fun with our new SP11 and FL11 designs, creating new looks with our classic patterns, but having the freedom and opportunity to reinterpret them in a manner we haven’t previously with new casual leathers/materials, contrast stitching, raw and natural finishes on leather and soles, etc. Shoes are really fun again in a way they haven’t been for awhile.

Best wishes,

Paul D. Grangaard
President & CEO
Allen Edmonds Shoe Corporation