The trendy teen retailer bets that tailoring is the future.
I once bought a T-shirt at Urban Outfitters that said “Party” in a massive, shiny metallic font. I was, well, going to a party that night and looking for exactly this sort of ridiculous graphic tee, the kind that is foundational to Urban’s massive business. The only excuse I have is that I was in high school, like most of Urban Outfitters’ customers. So I was surprised to learn that the longtime home of graphic tees, like this copy-of-a-copy-of-a-copy Joy Division one, was getting into an unexpected new category: tailoring. “We can always talk about adding graphic T-shirts to the Urban assortment,” Colby Black, UO’s executive men’s director, tells me, “but we already have a lot of graphic T-shirts. So it's like, what are some new things we can offer him?” The answer: grown-up clothes, specifically suits.
On Monday, Urban Outfitters launched a dedicated men’s suiting shop. It kicked off with two styles (skinny and relaxed fit), along with all the fixings to go along with them: shirts, pocket squares, ties and bow ties. As Black points out, the new shop is part business opportunity—suits were something customers weren’t previously coming to the retailer for. But the new category also speaks more broadly about the state of the suit in 2018. Over a large chunk of the last decade, the suit would have been item non grata at Urban—they weren’t seen as stylish and hardly anyone the retailer targets, 18 to 28 year-olds, were buying them. Suddenly, though, suits are no longer the item acquiring dust in guy’s closet, waiting for few-and-far-between opportunities like job interviews or weddings to shine. Increasingly, guys are returning to the classic item for everyday wear—to the extent, apparently, that tailoring is now a viable business opportunity for a youth-oriented retailer like Urban Outfitters.
Black points to how street- and skatewear brands like Noah and Supreme have gotten more into suiting over the past year as evidence of how the trend has taken off. “[Noah and Supreme], to some degree, are in the same boat as us,” says Black. “What [retailers] are starting to realize is that if people have a certain taste level or a certain aesthetic they want to extend it to all aspects of their life.” Meaning that while guys will continue to use wear suits on select occasions, they’re less willing to sacrifice their own personal style while doing so.
So Urban is rolling out suits in traditional colors, but there are notably offbeat iterations that are pinstriped, covered in distinct black-and-white plaid, or just in slightly untraditional colors like teal. Black hopes customers will wear them for formal occasions, but also casually on normal days. The price point will also open up opportunities for guys to treat suits more like the trend-driven items they buy in droves. You don’t have to worry so much about something going out of style when it only costs $230 for the pant and jacket set.
Black and Urban are betting that this is the new way forward—that guys will want to wear suits more casually every day. It flies in the face of the trend we’ve seen over the past couple years as streetwear and sneakers have dominated what’s happened in retail, the types of hires made at luxury houses, and where investors are dumping their money. Everything seems to be moving in one direction, so it feels counterintuitive for Urban to go all the way in the other direction. “When something is so huge,” Black explains, “that's the time you want to inject something totally new and fresh and unexpected.” In 2018, what’s new and fresh and unexpected? A suit.
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