As the world becomes more casual, the lines between dress codes for different occasions have become increasingly blurred. Business events, leisure activities, and family celebrations no longer require the same level of formality that they once did. However, this shift towards more casual attire has resulted in consumers embracing creative and bold styles for special occasions when they do decide to dress up.
This evolution in dress codes is visible across genders, but it is more pronounced in men’s assortments and merchandising as traditional suiting loses relevance. As a result, preferences for the clothes people wear at offices and evening events as opposed to upscale special occasions are becoming even more distinctive.
At the same time, for day-to-day wear, “smart” or “power casual” clothing that can be dressed up or down is increasingly popular. Consumers are embracing more creative styles, choosing unconventional fabrics, bold colors, and statement pieces that stand out in their wardrobes and on their social media feeds.
The changing dress codes present an opportunity for brands across the market to guide customers towards new products, materials, and shapes that reflect modern lifestyles.
Rebounding from the Pandemic
The formalwear market has been significantly disrupted by the pandemic, making it challenging to measure its size accurately. However, it can be divided into three groups: office wear, evening wear, and occasion wear.
While sales of formalwear were slow during the pandemic, the market is beginning to rebound as people start to return to work and social events. In Europe and the US, retail sales of shirts, blouses, non-denim trousers, and skirts are projected to grow faster between 2022 and 2026 than they did in the decade before the pandemic, according to Euromonitor.
The market’s resilience is expected to be most evident in occasion wear, such as tuxedos and gowns worn at special ceremonies or celebrations, reflecting some of the patterns apparent during previous recessionary periods. During the early 1980s, for instance, American department stores reported that high-end evening clothes were among the only categories that remained in relatively high demand.
According to the BoF-McKinsey State of Fashion 2023 Survey, 39 percent of fashion executives expect sales of occasion wear to be among the top three growth categories in 2023. Meanwhile, fewer executives see opportunities for office wear, with 27 percent stating that they expect business attire to be among the top three categories set to grow next year.
Putting Fashion to Work
Even before the pandemic and the hybrid-working paradigm of today, office attire was relaxing. Hoodies, jeans, and sneakers became increasingly acceptable in many offices. Even banks and professional services firms—with entrenched suit-and-tie cultures—have acknowledged that office dress codes need modernizing.
In 2019, Goldman Sachs announced a firm-wide flexible dress code, encouraging employees to use their judgment when deciding whether they should or should not ditch their suits for a more casual look.
In women’s wardrobes, a new take on the pant suit emerged in 2022, with labels such as J.Crew and The Frankie Shop showcasing oversized suits and trousers in soft materials for customers looking for a more relaxed, yet stylish option.
As dress codes continue to evolve, formalwear is taking on new definitions. While the traditional suit and long dress may no longer be required for many occasions, special events and celebrations may demand statement-making outfits that consumers rent or buy to stand out.
Guiding Customers Towards New Products
As the formalwear market rebounds, brands across the market have a unique opportunity to guide customers towards new products, materials, and shapes that reflect modern lifestyles. The changing dress codes have led to an increased demand for versatile clothing that can be dressed up or down.
To meet this demand, brands can introduce new collections that feature a mix of classic and modern styles. For example, they can offer suits in new materials such as technical fabrics that are wrinkle-resistant and can be worn for different occasions. They can also experiment with new shapes such as slimmer silhouettes or relaxed fits to cater to different body types and preferences. Reinventing Formalwear for Modern Lifestyles
The shift towards more relaxed dress codes in the workplace and beyond has led to a reinvention of formalwear that caters to modern lifestyles. Formal attire is no longer reserved for a select few occasions but has become more versatile, reflecting the changing needs of consumers.
One of the ways that formalwear is being reinvented is through the use of unconventional fabrics. Designers are experimenting with materials such as denim, leather, and even neoprene, giving traditional formalwear a contemporary twist. This trend is particularly visible in men’s suits, with many brands offering options that blend classic tailoring with innovative materials.
Bold colors and statement pieces are also becoming more popular in formalwear. Customers are no longer satisfied with the traditional black and navy suits and dresses but are instead opting for bright hues and unique designs. This trend is particularly prevalent in occasion wear, where customers want to make a statement with their outfits.
In addition to unconventional fabrics and bold colors, designers are also offering more versatile formalwear that can be dressed up or down. This trend is particularly visible in women’s dresses, with many brands offering options that can be worn to both formal events and more casual occasions.
The Rise of Rental and Secondhand Formalwear
Another trend that is shaping the formalwear market is the rise of rental and secondhand options. As consumers become more conscious of their environmental impact, many are opting to rent or buy secondhand formalwear instead of purchasing new garments.
Rental options, in particular, are becoming more popular for special occasions such as weddings and proms. Instead of spending hundreds of dollars on an outfit that they may only wear once, customers can rent a statement-making dress or suit at a fraction of the cost. This trend is also beneficial for brands, as it allows them to tap into a new market and reach customers who may not have been able to afford their products otherwise.
In addition to rental options, secondhand formalwear is also becoming more popular. Customers can find gently used designer suits, dresses, and accessories at consignment stores or online marketplaces. This trend not only benefits the environment by reducing textile waste but also allows customers to purchase high-end formalwear at a lower cost.
The Future of Formalwear
As the formalwear market continues to evolve, brands will need to adapt to the changing needs and preferences of consumers. This means offering more versatile and sustainable options that reflect modern lifestyles.
One area where brands can innovate is in occasion wear, which is expected to see growth in the coming years. By offering more statement-making options in unconventional fabrics and bold colors, brands can capture the attention of customers who want to stand out at special events.
In addition to occasion wear, brands can also focus on offering more sustainable options such as rental and secondhand formalwear. This trend is not only beneficial for the environment but also allows brands to reach a new market of customers who value sustainability and affordability.
Overall, the reinvention of formalwear is a reflection of the changing needs and preferences of consumers. By offering more versatile, sustainable, and statement-making options, brands can capture the attention of modern shoppers and stay ahead in the competitive fashion industry.
Additionally, brands can leverage technology to enhance the customer experience. For instance, they can use virtual try-on technology to enable customers to visualize how a particular suit or outfit will look on them before making a purchase. This can help customers make more informed decisions and increase their confidence in buying formalwear online.