Nic Eatch explores how Covid-19, remote working, fashion trends, pricing and other factors have affected sales figures of formal attire. He talks to senior business leaders, James Evans and Adam Bartlett from the world of tech, and discovers the German meaning of “Feierabend”.
HOW does a socially-sterilised and office barred brave new world view the suit?
With the TV news packed full of further restrictive measures heading our way, measures that find 7.1 million of the UK’s population effectively under lockdown, when do you get a chance to dress up, go into the office and wear your best suit?
The forecasts are that we will be spending more, lots more, time in our homes.
Homes that see us each morning, coffee in one hand – but more than likely not our pre-Covid freshly ground brew from our favourite outlets – adorned in tracksuit bottoms , rather than tailored trousers made from the finest merino wool.
In Australia, where the wool industry is worth an estimated A$3.1 billion per annum, the price of wool per kg is half what it was in 2019.
On the fashion flip side, retail data analyst Lyst reported searches for jogging pants rising by 104 per cent in April 2020, while high-end fashion retailer Browns’ reported that tracksuits from brands including Burberry, Fendi and Off-White, were amongst their top-selling items.
Zoom meetings now abound, when most people had never even heard of the American video conferencing giant as the decade began.
The stereotypical image of the news reader sat with splendid tailored business jacket on, but with underwear and fur slippers under the desk is now a reality, with this sketch show classic now re-enacted in conservatories, kitchens and home offices from Newcastle to Southend-on-Sea.
For many in the business world, particularly in the ever-expanding world of tech, the suit – though not dead – was dying pre-Covid-19.
James Evans, 50, is the chief revenue officer of IRIS, a tech company which claims to be revolutionising audio experience, by dramatically improving sound quality to simultaneously activate your brain.
James shared his view on the future of the suit, saying: “Having come from a strong corporate background, it is a breath of fresh air to dress how you feel at IRIS. I really think it helps people express their individuality, as well as feeling part of the same team from the top down.”
The suit is dead. Long live the suit!
When we asked James what was the last suit he bought, he told SR News: “That would be a black tie suit that I bought for a Christmas party two years ago.”
We asked if James thought remote working would lead to the demise of the suit?
He said: “During Covid, and the ability and direction to work remotely, casual dress has become the norm. I think the only places now where you will see suits are where the organisation is run by an older generation, where they still feel more comfortable in suits and ties.
“In the start-up tech world, where change and the entrepreneurial approach are key, casual dress is definitely here to stay.”
James’s view is one shared by most in the world of tech … but certainly not all.
Adam Bartlett, 53, who lives in Hastings, East Sussex, is the international sales director of MDC Precision, a technical firm serving the research, semiconductor, aerospace, life sciences and food processing sectors, with a global turnover of $100million.
Adam’s view of the suit may be the tonic the tailors want to hear.
“I feel great when I put on a suit, but less is more. It’s definitely worth having one or two absolute-quality suits, rather than a wardrobe full of cheap ones,” he said.
We asked Adam when was the last time he bought a suit and what he paid for it?
“Last Monday … it was £350 and discounted by 60 per cent.”
The formal clothing sector is seeing huge discounting taking place currently, so Adam is not alone in finding a bargain.
On doing some investigation online at Flannels, a high-end clothing supplier, we found suits from fashion houses such as Burberry and Dolce & Gabbana, discounted from several thousand pounds to several hundred pounds.
Adam was keen to stress why he feels wearing a suit is important.
He said: “I think a suit represents being smart, thinking smart and acting smart, and makes a great first impression.
“Although if you are purely relying just on your suit to succeed, you are going to fail.”
So what will be the destiny of the suit?
Or will the suit remain an ever-present but become more an item of fashion as much as it was the “norm” across the entire business world past … and is it still really important to have strategies in place to separate the two states of home and work life?
In a fascinating piece for BBC Worldwide Global, writer Krystin Arneson introduces the subject of ‘Feierabend’, a word to describe a state of mind with practical actions, originated in Germany and encapsulating a strategy for separation between work and home life.
In fact, Feierabend is a third period, a period that lies between work and home to provide space for hobbies, spiritual practices, changes of routine etc. to provide a cushion and increased wellbeing not only for the practitioner but for their families and loved ones.
This, if not the saviour of the business suit, does give thought to differentiating the wardrobe worn in these three worlds that ideally should co-exist.
She wrote: “Feierabend isn’t just a German word for ‘work-life balance’; while it’s related, ‘work-life balance’ is a term that can often end up just as nebulous in meaning as the problem it’s trying to correct.
“Instead, the German approach seems to acknowledge that there will always be tension between the work self and the private self.
“Rather than attempting to reconcile the two, the disconnection that comes with Feierabend establishes boundaries between them. It also usually creates a path between the two states, like dressing for the office and changing after work…”
What is it like to buy a suit in lockdown?
So I think it’s fair to say the future of the suit hangs (pun entirely intended) in the balance.
Buoyed by this talk of huge discounts I take myself off to my local TK Maxx and hunt through the formal rail – and there I find it!
A thing of rare beauty, at least to my 54-year-old eye.
A beautiful, tailored, fully silk-lined jacket from my hometown of Nottingham and favourite designer Paul Smith. The original asking price, just short of £200, the new price – which I have to do a double-take on – £26 … yep, that was £26.
“Great, let me try that on…” damn, this Covid really sucks!
I take it home.
There is a God / Higher Power: hallelujah! My whole face smiles, in that way only a brief, fleeting moment of superficial retail therapy can bring you.
And in another fleeting moment of time, that time being right now, the place for the suit, and it’s associated price tag and role in society may never be the same again.
The suit is dead. Long live the suit.