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Which stores are wearing the trousers?

The menswear market is booming, but competition is as fierce as ever. So what are retail’s big names doing to stay in the race?

UK men are notoriously bad at shopping for themselves, as style advisors Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine discovered when they investigated why men have so much trouble dressing well. In their TV show Trinny and Susannah Undress the Nation, they stopped unsuspecting males in the street to point out their fashion faux pas, enlightening them on how to dress more appropriately.

But despite men’s lack of fashion savvy, menswear sales are likely to be 3.3% ahead against last year to £9 billion by the end of 2007, according to Verdict. This level is the best growth for 10 years.

With Debenhams and Matalan the latest retailers to unveil revamped menswear collections next year, there are still plenty of businesses trying to grab a share of male spending power. But some mid-market menswear retailers have struggled this year, hit by the growing formalwear and casualwear offers from value retailers and supermarkets As the festive season approaches, Asda has launched a tuxedo for £35, while H&M has a tuxedo jacket for just £15.

Offers such as these are having a big impact on retailers that have a substantial hire business. In September, Moss Bros announced a pre-tax loss of £800,000, despite a 3% rise in like-for-like retail sales. As a response to increasing competition at the lower end of the market it has shifted towards more premium product on suiting, with lines introduced from the likes of French Connection and CK by Calvin Klein.

In May, menswear group SRG’s owner Gresham ousted chief executive Adrian Wright because of poor trading. The company has since sold its Chester Barrie brand and branded menswear chain Woodhouse.

Department store Debenhams has also had a tough time, issuing three profit warnings since December last year, partly due to sluggish menswear sales, which now appear to be on the up again. However, long-term trends in the menswear sector show market share declines over the past decade.

Despite the tough trading backdrop, some businesses have managed to improve their menswear performance. Department store John Lewis’s positive weekly clothing sales figures have been mainly driven by menswear in the past month, thanks to revamped menswear departments in 17 of its shops. The retailer has also introduced new brands including Reiss and Fat Face which have limited distribution outside their own stores.

John Lewis fashion buying director Peter Ruis says: “Casual is still king for us – the branded side is up 22% year on year. Shoppers are more astute and are able to recognise quality. They’re looking for really good pieces and they won’t buy brands just for the sake of it.”

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