Men ditch high street for fashion on the web

MENSWEAR online has always been seen as second fiddle to women’s wear,” says Jeremy Langmead, newly anointed editor-in-chief at Mr. Porter, Net-a-Porter’s new online men’s fashion mecca. “You always had to find menswear by scrabbling around for the button hidden away at the top left or right hand corner of a women’s wear website. There hasn’t ever been a dedicated global men’s style destination for men.”

That is, until now. Mr. Porter launched last month and already is setting the hearts of stylish men aflutter. Langmead (former editor of Esquire and Wallpaper*) said he wanted the site to be as much a place to read and pick up style tips as to shop. It will, he says, “make shopping easy and enjoyable, but also make men feel comfortable being on a shopping site mixing editorial, style advic, and inspiration.”

Men have traditionally been averse to shopping on-line, but that is changing. “We’ve seen huge growth in the online designer retail market, which is continuing to grow,” says Sarah Curran, CEO at My-wardrobe, where Burberry, Polo Ralph Lauren, Vivienne Westwood and Paul Smith are all best sellers. “We launched menswear in January 2009, achieved over £1m in sales in the first year and have consistently recorded over 100 per cent year-on-year sales growth since. The market is one of the biggest opportunities as more time poor men realise the efficiency of shopping this way.”

It helps that menswear itself is booming. “It’s the biggest area of expansion in the fashion industry, partly because until now it’s been under-developed,” says Robert Johnston, associate editor at GQ. “Menswear is on fire,” agrees Ed Burstell, buying director at Liberty. “We are currently experiencing a double digit increase over last year. We have also just increased the size of the department by over a third.”

Do men shop differently to women? “They are more brand driven and direct. They go specifically for the items they want. They also buy in multiples. For example, I’ll go to Green and Jack’s and buy 10 shirts at once,” says Johnston. “Men are less interested in trends and more interested in the stories behind clothing and how they’re made and the craftsmanship,” adds Max Reyner from LSN Global, a trends prediction company. Men – unlike women – also like direction: “Male shoppers are surprisingly receptive to outfit-building suggestions,” says Gordon Richardson, fashion director at Topman. A key feature of Topman’s site is a selection of helpful complete outfit looks.

Reyner says there is an opportunity for online men’s fashion companies to attract new consumers, previously wary of shopping. “Lots of men still tend to be intimidated by some store environments. Shops have tried to overcome this with bars and pool tables, but it has varying success,” he says. “Online men’s wear sites are a great way to research and find the products without having to deal with any of that.”;