Men’s Skirts Were All Over the Fall Runways. But Will They Sell?
PARIS — Men’s skirts, from chain mail minis at Ludovic de Saint Sernin to floorsweeping slit styles at Gucci, were all over the fall runways. But will they carry through to the shop floor?
A survey of retailers suggests that unlike handbags, which have been widely adopted by younger male consumers in recent years, skirts have yet to reach a tipping point in terms of mainstream acceptance.
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Data from fashion search engine Tagwalk showed that close to 65 percent of brands featured at least one men’s look with the tag “skirt” in their fall 2023 collections, up from 51 percent for the fall 2022 season. Among the brands that featured the most skirts were Ximon Lee, Songzio, Family First, Givenchy and Charles Jeffrey Loverboy, it said.
But it seems the styles were more for image than for actual consumption.
“It was used mainly as a runway statement, and then it was something you saw less in the showrooms,” said Alice Feillard, men’s buying director at Galeries Lafayette in Paris. “But a lot of brands featured skirts on the runway, not just on one look but on several silhouettes, so it was a real trend.”
Her team picked up the style selectively. “It will be mainly for our Paris stores on Boulevard Haussmann or the Champs-Elysées. For sure, we won’t try it in our provincial network. The customer is not ready,” she explained.
Several buyers noted the presence of men’s skirts on the fall runways was not a shocker. They’ve been a staple in the collections of brands including Rick Owens, Givenchy under Riccardo Tisci and the OG skirt master, Jean Paul Gaultier.
Reginald Christian, men’s fashion market manager at Saks Fifth Avenue in the U.S., said the department store began offering men’s skirts last season and currently carries styles from Thom Browne, Ludovic de Saint Sernin, Sacai and Rick Owens.
“Skirts recently became increasingly visible throughout menswear collections such as Thom Browne, Willy Chavarria and Gucci. This encouraged us to add skirts to our men’s assortment as we continue to expand wardrobe opportunities for our clients and shop for the future,” he said.
“At this moment, it is a niche market. However, we are keeping a close eye on the category to gauge its scalability and commercial potential,” he added.
Riccardo Tortato, head of buying departments and fashion director at Tsum in Moscow, noted that while the men’s skirt is no longer provocative in his eyes, it lacks the widespread cultural appeal needed to gain traction worldwide.
“You can sell it more in L.A. and in New York, but less in Riyadh and in Dubai. So when it’s not global, it’s difficult to define a commercial success,” he said. “As much as some people are free to use it, some other people are free to think that it is inappropriate for certain circumstances or certain places.”
Chinese consumers are generally more adventurous, and have more available income at a younger age, said Laura Darmon, head of buying and business development at Shanghai-based concept store ENG, which is expanding in China and plans to open a branch in Paris this year.
“That allows us to have more avant-garde brands and for some brands, to buy more avant-garde pieces than if we were buying for the European market,” said Darmon.
Previously a buyer for Parisian nonbinary store L’Insane, she brought a similar genderless merchandising approach to ENG, which she believes has helped the store to stand out in an increasingly crowded market.
“There is a young menswear customer in China who is underground, a little edgy,” she said.
That customer is as likely to buy skirt-over-pants looks from South Korean streetwear brand Post Archive Faction as womenswear pieces from Mugler, she reported. “In China, you can have a menswear brand that is bought by women and vice versa,” Darmon said.
ENG is the exclusive Chinese stockist for Ludovic de Saint Sernin, but is also investing in more traditional styles, like the kilts shown by Walter Van Beirendonck, who layered the traditional garment over shiny pants in coated fabrics.
The idea is to have something for fashion-forward customers in cities like Shanghai and Hangzhou, home to the headquarters of e-commerce giant Alibaba Group and a hub for influencers, and those in more conservative centers like Beijing.
“From one city to another, you can be three or four years behind in terms of fashion,” Darmon explained. “We also play a role in educating our customers where we have to try to spread this image, and I think it depends a lot on merchandising and display.”
Federica Montelli, head of fashion at Rinascente in Italy, said that while she might buy more risqué pieces for display purposes, she is counting on tamer options to actually sell.
“Either the kilt or a skort: that would be my best bet, with some sturdy boots, a bit like the Dior styling, or like the Comme des Garçons styling with chunky lace-ups,” she said. “Otherwise, the option would be like Givenchy, which is more like an extra layer on top of pants rather than a real skirt.”
That look resonated most widely with buyers polled by WWD, who said it was an easier sell. “The practical side of it needs to be a factor in the conversation. I mean, it’s not sexy to say it but it is true, right?” said Montelli.
“This perspective of it being detachable on top of pants and being a single item I think is a smart thing to do,” she continued. “But if you have to convince someone to just buy the skirt by itself, I think it will be more of a commitment.”
While seeing celebrities like Brad Pitt or Robert Pattinson rocking a skirt may help the style gain visibility, retailers were cautious about their impact on sales.
“That will not be enough to influence people,” said Montelli. “[Only when] the more contemporary brands or high street brands, the likes of Zara and so on, will actually put it in their own collections, then people will start considering actually wearing it every day.”
ENG’s Darmon was slightly more bullish, citing the impact of A-listers like Harry Styles and Kid Cudi. “It’s going to take a little while longer to reach the mass market, but I think we’re in a movement where quite soon, it will no longer be an issue,” she said.
Christian at Saks agreed the red carpet was more of a barometer than a sales driver for the time being. “For tangible demands, we will continue to watch celebrity and social trends equally as they take time to penetrate sales commercially. The zeitgeist seems to approach fashion more authentically, encouraging shoppers to dress more freely,” he said.
He was upbeat about the direction that menswear is taking.
“We are living in an exciting time for fashion, especially as we continue to address freedom of expression and the breakdown of gender norms,” he said. “We will be ready to meet the demand with our offering when demand increases.”
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