Drapers explores what the national obsession with the England manager’s fashion choices reveals about the menswear market.
As football fans wait in nervous anticipation for tonight’s semi-final clash between England and Croatia, there is already one clear winner from the World Cup: the waistcoat.
Once left languishing at the back of men’s wardrobes, dug out for rare special occasions, the style has undergone a surge in popularity thanks to England manager Gareth Southgate. The unlikely fashion icon has donned a Marks & Spencer waistcoat for all of his team’s matches in the tournament so far and scores of supporters are looking to – quite literally – follow suit. M&S, which is urging fans to wear a waistcoat for the all-important game, has reported a 35% increase in sales of all its waistcoats since the World Cup kicked off on 14 June.
“The classic navy, tailored style is understated, yet confident, and makes a shirt and tie look even smarter,” head of buying for M&S menswear David Binns tells Drapers. “The waistcoat is a great alternative to the jacket in warmer weather. I think it is safe to say Southgate’s style has inspired a lot of customers and the waistcoat is proving customers are opting for tailored looks. We have seen lots of great pictures on social media with customers wearing waistcoats in different ways, from smartening up a look with jeans, to wearing it like Gareth with a shirt and tie.”
As football fever sweeps the nation, it seems the rest of the menswear market is also feeling the effect. Young fashion retailer Topman has seen a 15% lift in waistcoat sales over the past week.
“Waistcoats have always been out there in the market in one form or another, but they haven’t had such a prominent position over the past couple of seasons,” argues Adrian Thornton, senior lecturer in Fashion Design at Manchester Metropolitan University. “They’ve not necessarily been at the forefront. Southgate communicates a man holding it together – he’s cool, calm and collected. He’s ticking all the boxes and created a real buzz around the waistcoat.”
Moss Bros chief executive Brian Brick agrees: “Waistcoats are always a good product for us, and we regularly do well with them, but I would say we have seen a spike in sales since the start of the World Cup. Why? Because Gareth Southgate looks good in one and we’re winning – at the moment!”
Waistcoat sales are also flying at premium menswear independent Hotspur 1364, director and founder Lisa Aynsley tells Drapers.
“Even before the World Cup, we had ‘Waistcoat Wednesday’ on our social media channels each week to help promote our range,” she explains. “We’ve seen sales of navy waistcoats increase by about a third since the start of the World Cup. The waistcoat was already coming back into vogue, which helped, and then Gareth Southgate became an icon. Everybody is doing everything then can to get behind the team.”
Aynsley adds that the influence of the waistcoat will be felt even after this Sunday’s World Cup final, as the menswear market starts to experiment with a return to tailoring after a long-held obsession with sportswear and streetwear.
“The market has changed hugely over the past 12 months, and there’s been a massive resurgence in tailoring,” she says. “Almost 40% of our sales over the past 12 months have come from tailoring, despite the fact it’s a category we only recently introduced to the store. It’s come from brands such as [formalwear specialist] Marc Darcy introducing tailoring at a ‘pick up’ price point – customers can get a full suit for a couple of hundred pounds. Shoppers are also moving away from the classic black and navy to experiment with colour and texture.”
Simon Whitaker, chief executive of menswear independent Master Debonair, agrees that the furore surrounding Southgate’s sartorial choices reflect shifts in the wider market.
“We’ve sold about 600 navy waistcoats since the start of the World Cup in June, and that’s about 6% up on this time last year. But what we’ve really seen is that men are dressing a lot smarter than they have for a long time. It might not be a head-to-toe look, but a mix of smart and casual pieces, so guys shopping with us are buying a waistcoat or a blazer that they might pair with jeans and brogues. I think it is great that the England football team’s suits are from Marks & Spencer, because it means it’s a look that is affordable for everybody.”
The nation’s joy at reaching the World Cup semi-final for the first time in 28 years can also be seen elsewhere in the fashion market. Searches using the words “football” and “soccer” are up a massive 340% year on year, fashion search engine Lyst reports. Vintage-inspired football scarves and shirts have proved some of the most popular items.
Regardless of the outcome of tonight’s match, the “Southgate effect” could mark the return of smarter dressing in the menswear market.