Dressing the Male : With a host of specialty retailers popping up, trend-conscious young men are discovering that shopping need not be approached with fear and loathing.

<i> Times Staff Writer</i>

Common wisdom has it that women are born to shop, and men are not.

Yet, ever so slowly, clothing designers and retailers seem to be winning over a growing number of males to the notion that keeping pace with fashion can be fun and that shopping need not be a task filled with fear and loathing.

Specialty chains catering to trend-conscious young men--with names such as Chess King, Merry-Go-Round, DJ’s, Oaktree, G.Hq. and Politix--are popping up in the nation’s malls. Stores such as J. C. Penney, R. H. Macy & Co. and Fifth Avenue’s tony Bergdorf Goodman are expanding their menswear departments. Macy’s and the Gap are rolling out new concepts--Aeropostale and Hemisphere, respectively--heavily weighted toward men’s casual clothing.

And even women’s retailers, such as the Limited, and design houses, including Liz Claiborne, are discovering opportunities in the opposite sex.


“It’s desirable now for a man to have a sense of style,” said Jack Kliger, who spent four years as publisher of the men’s magazine GQ before being named recently as publisher of Glamour magazine. “That, combined with the fact that women are working much more and are not there to help men make shopping decisions, has forced men to become more appearance conscious.”

Rick Pallack, whose service-oriented Sherman Oaks boutique outfits rock musicians, movie stars, lawyers and investment bankers, said the change in menswear has evolved slowly over the last five years or so. “Men are far more accepting of fashion today,” he said. “A double-breasted suit is considered very appropriate for a banker on Wall Street. Pleated pants are normal today. Even the more traditional younger men are open to wearing more fashion.”

Barry Bryant, a retailing analyst with Drexel Burnham Lambert in New York, rejects assumptions about women primping in mirrors and men remaining indifferent to how they look. “The truth,” he said, “is that the real geniuses in retailing and fashion have neglected the menswear market.”

The demographics indicate that the potential is there for savvy marketers. There are 51 million U.S. men between the ages of 19 and 44, slightly more than the number of women. Yet men spent only half as much on apparel as women over the last year--$50.5 billion versus $105.9 billion.


Even in the best years, men’s clothing sales show real growth of only 4% to 5%, compared to much stronger increases in women’s apparel, according to Carl Steidtmann, vice president and chief economist of Management Horizons, a retail consulting firm in Columbus, Ohio. When the women’s apparel business went into the tank over the last year, menswear held its own for many months. But recently it, too, has shown signs of sagging, retailers say.

Men’s is a fragmented market, with new players coming in all the time. And many observers agree that the men’s market has been underserved and undermarketed, particularly on the West Coast. There is, for example, no single powerhouse chain for men, whereas women have several well-known national franchises. Meanwhile, men have become more style conscious, in part thanks to television shows such as “Miami Vice” and movies such as “Wall Street,” which featured Michael Douglas as a clotheshorse-cum-corporate raider.

At the same time, the number of men’s stores has been on the decline as thousands of small mom-and-pop operations have thrown in the towel, unable to compete with chain stores and discount retailers.

To really make it with men, designers and retailers realize that they will have to combat some well-entrenched attitudes. Some observers are skeptical. “We are dealing with men who perhaps have never been really too comfortable with the fashion forward, highly specialized sorts of things that so many stores have been dealing in,” said Kurt Barnard, publisher of Retail Marketing Report newsletter in New York.

Relatively Few Yuppies

Economist Steidtmann sees the best opportunities in younger consumers, between 16 and 24. “He is not nearly as set in his ways,” Steidtmann said. “There is a chance of orienting him to be more fashion conscious.”

Besides, noted Dudley McIlhenny, manager of consumer marketing at the New York office of the research firm Kurt Salmon Associates, true yuppie men--young, financially secure males with ample disposable income--represent a relatively small handful of the population. “Still and all, the average man . . . lives in the Midwest and buys at Sears, and, yes, his wife or significant other is an important purchaser.”

“I don’t like to shop, but I do,” said William A. Frumovitz, 47, a Santa Monica obstetrician. Twice a year, in fact, he makes a pilgrimage to Wilger Co., a traditional men’s retailer in Westwood, to buy business clothes. “It’s kind of button down, if you will, but that’s the look I like and the look I like to portray in the office. . . . I never buy pants without cuffs.”


Frumovitz always buys his own business attire, but occasionally his wife, Adrienne, will bring casual clothes home from Bullock’s “on spec.” She would like him to be a “little more avant garde” in his casual wear. Frumovitz admits to being “a little timid when it comes to that, although I’m getting better.”

Gradually, Frumovitz has come to welcome the changes in menswear. “It’s a bad thing for my pocketbook, but I think it’s nice to have a change of wardrobe and style.”

After detecting an absence on the West Coast of moderately priced but stylish merchandise with a European flavor, brothers Asbed and Viken Momdjian opened their first Politix men’s store in Westwood 2 1/2 years ago. Since then, they have opened a new location about every three months in upscale shopping centers in Northern and Southern California. The 10th store, the last for the time being, will open this month; the parent company, Moba, projects sales for next year at $13 million to $15 million. Sales per square foot now average $600 to $650, but the company’s goal is $1,000.

Although the stores have gone over well with the advertising and entertainment crowd, traditional dressers are not flocking to them. “We’re having some difficulties in breaking down that barrier with button-down dressers,” said Moba President Viken Momdjian. “That would be a very good achievement.”

Expansion Planned

The boutiques depend primarily on word-of-mouth advertising for their products, which are manufactured by an affiliated company in Europe. Because Moba saves on middleman costs, it is able to price its fashionable garments competitively. The secret to attracting customers, Momdjian said, will be to have the company’s in-house designers respond quickly to changing demands.

In late 1990 and early 1991, the company plans to take the concept to the Midwest and East Coast, with five stores in Chicago, Boston, New York and Washington.

Hosea Sanders, a Channel 2 reporter and anchorman, is the kind of man clothing retailers love. He hits the stores at least once every two weeks, usually on the prowl for specific items.


“I like to buy classy but not trendy,” said the 30-year-old Sanders, who said he sometimes buys as many as 20 suits in a year because his job requires that he look sharp. “I have a really thorough knowledge and intense feeling of what is me and what works for me. I won’t stray too far from that.” His favorite destinations are “Italian-inspired clothing shops” in the Westside Pavilion or the Cooper Building in downtown Los Angeles’ garment district.

In June, the Broadway department store chain asked men to respond to a survey about their shopping habits. Nearly 4,700 did (and in only one case did a wife fill out the questionnaire for her husband).

These were among the findings: Nearly two-thirds (63%) said they shop more often for casual clothes than dress clothes, and 39% said they always shop for themselves, whereas 55% said they occasionally do. Of those who said they do not do their own shopping, 87% said they rely on their wives or mates for help.

Ten years ago, the industry operated on the assumption that women were buying as much as 80% of men’s clothing. As women entered the work force in vast numbers, that all shifted. To the Broadway, the survey results indicate “a very significant change,” said Stephanie Wargo, a Broadway divisional vice president and men’s fashion director.

Patrick S. Kelly, senior vice president and general merchandise manager for men’s and young men’s, acknowledged that the men’s area has been somewhat shorted on space. As the chain remodels or builds stores, he said, it will look at increasing the area devoted to men’s.

In the meantime, the Broadway is aggressively pursuing a more upscale male customer, with ads in GQ magazine, an upgraded product mix that includes such well-known names as Christian Dior and Perry Ellis, and more exciting displays and in-store boutiques designed to make it easier for men to find the items they want.

Several Increasing Space

Combinations of shirts, ties, belts and braces will be displayed on tables. “It’s for the consumer to see exactly how (the clothing) should be worn,” Kelly added. The idea is “very well known in women’s but new to men’s.” The Broadway is also experimenting with personal shoppers for men in selected stores, most recently at the Beverly Center.

Other stores have already boosted space for men’s clothing. In 1984, Macy’s on Union Square in San Francisco moved its burgeoning men’s department into three floors of a building across the street. Between 1983 and 1985, J. C. Penney doubled the amount of room for menswear.

And Bergdorf Goodman, the only nationally known retailer with one store, announced plans in August to expand into a separate building across the street from its location at Fifth Avenue and 58th Street, in a spot formerly occupied by the F. A. O. Schwarz toy store. At the time, Chairman Ira Neimark said the men’s shop was “literally bursting at the seams.” At the new site, to open in spring, 1990, Bergdorf will double the space for men’s apparel.

David O’Connell, a 36-year-old with his own graphic design firm and advertising agency in Chatsworth, enjoys avant-garde looks. He is partial to unconstructed suits, baggy pants, neck jewelry instead of ties and stores with a “strong point of view,” including Fred Segal on Melrose, Ron Ross in Tarzana and designer Leon Max’s new shop on Main Street in Santa Monica. Most chain stores leave him cold. “You can’t really tell one from the other,” he said. "(Most of the mall stores) meet the lowest common denominator.”

Among his friends, he has noticed much more willingness to experiment with fashion and to choose clothes themselves rather than let their wives or girlfriends do it. But are they really more daring? “They feel they are, but most . . . end up looking like they did before. If they pick a collar that isn’t button down, (they view it as) a major leap.”

About a year ago, the Limited Inc., a prominent, mid-priced women’s specialty retailer based in Columbus, Ohio, took the plunge into men’s, offering a line of casual sportswear with a European look at eight of its Express stores. The clothes are now offered at 48 of 386 Express stores (including four in the Southland), and plans call for the line to be in 80 locations by year-end.

“The men’s market is probably the most underserved market today,” said Michael A. Weiss, president of Express, a division of the Limited. “There are not many good places where men can shop. We hope to provide American men with the kind of shopping experience and merchandise that seems to be missing.” Weiss predicts that the men’s business could account for a third of the Express division’s sales within three years.

In the view of retailing analyst Bryant, the Limited’s foray into men’s is the biggest news in the market for men 20 to 40. “I think they view men’s as probably a major thrust of expansion in the 1990s and are laying the groundwork,” Bryant said.

Bryant also foresees the company turning its recently purchased Abercrombie & Fitch chain, which offered sporting goods and clothing for men and women, into a purveyor of fine men’s clothing and furnishings similar to Brooks Bros. “We think there’s a great opportunity there,” said Limited Vice President Albert S. Dietzel. Customers will be seeing more dress shirts, ties and personal care items such as shaving cream and expensive shaving brushes.

Key Player in Business

Like the Limited, other companies count on so-called private-label merchandise to set their stores apart. In its six Hemisphere stores, the Gap, long a favorite of middle America, is attempting to appeal to a more affluent clientele with branded merchandise as well as a heavy dose of private-label sportswear, including linen, cashmere, silk and suede garments. And Macy’s, with its new Aeropostale chain, offers private-label clothing in stores with a French aviator theme.

Two young men’s chains, DJ’s and Attivo, owned by a fast-growing publicly held company called Merry-Go-Round Enterprises in Towson, Md., offer their own line of European-inspired, moderately priced casual wear called I.O.U. With more than 430 stores in 32 states and $255 million in sales in the year ended Jan. 30, 1988, Merry-Go-Round Enterprises is a key player in the “fashion forward” men’s business, analysts say.

G.Hq., the 6-year-old “brother” operation of Judy’s, a 42-year-old Southern California women’s chain, has grown to 34 stores in California and Dallas, with plans to expand rapidly in the East, Southwest and Northern California. The stores “zoom in on men 18 to 35" with men’s contemporary sportswear, said Lawrence Israel, president of G.Hq. and chairman of Van Nuys-based Judy’s Inc. As its customers age, will the chain start carrying merchandise with an older point of view? “Absolutely not,” Israel said. “We have no intention of chasing our customer. If our customers remain trim and avant garde, they can stay with us until they’re 80.”

“G.Hq. is not too overpoweringly funky,” said David Carter, a 24-year-old Studio City resident who appears as a dancer in music videos. “Your mom wouldn’t hate these clothes.”

“Yuppies go after value and investment,” said Thomas H. Tashjian, vice president of retail trade at Seidler Amdec Securities in Los Angeles. “If they can get good-quality merchandise at a value price at C&R; Clothiers, they’ll do it. I’ve got to be honest. I have some C&R; suits right next to Giorgio Armani in my closet, and they cost one-third as much.”

Increasingly, clothing makers are trying to tempt reluctant customers with hard-to-resist garments at moderate prices.

Liz Claiborne Inc., long a star on the women’s fashion scene, also made a splash three years ago with its wearable line of men’s sportswear. The line has evolved into what a spokeswoman describes as “an interesting mix . . . that combines sophistication with fresh fashion quirkiness.” The line is designed to appeal especially to college-age men who could build a wardrobe that could carry them into the business world.

Two years ago, Levi’s Menswear, a division of jeans giant Levi Strauss & Co., built a better mousetrap, and men nationwide beat a path to their door. The product was Dockers, a soft-cotton, comfortable pant with a moderate price ($28 to $36) and a “relaxed silhouette” (i.e., a little more fullness in the upper portion for gents who are not as sleek as they once were).

This year, the company expects to sell $100 million (wholesale) of the pants to department and specialty stores. “We knew the formula for success was quite simple,” said Steve Goldstein, director of marketing for the menswear division. “Figure out what the baby boom generation was going to wear next and make sure you were there.”

“When I need clothes, I don’t mind shopping, but I don’t shop because it’s a pleasurable pastime,” said Jim Shalvoy, branch chief of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Los Angeles regional office. “If I get two suits a year, that would probably be a lot.”

Shalvoy, in his late 30s, prefers the button-down look and shops primarily at Brooks Bros., Nordstrom, Bullock’s and traditional men’s shops. He does not consider himself adventurous when it comes to clothes and feels uncomfortable in European designs.

“In California, I would consider getting dressed up casually to be wearing a pair of jeans instead of a pair of sweats.”