Style-conscious men prove colorful socks no longer a fad
May 2, 2014
First it was the dress shirts, then the ties, — and now colorful socks have solidified their place as a must-have in a stylish man’s wardrobe.
For the first time in over a decade, men’s apparel sales have outpaced women’s for the second year in a row, with 2013 sales to men rising 5% to $60.8 billion, according to research firm NPD Group. Driving the growth: double digit gains in outerwear (because of colder weather); pants ( pleats to flat front looks); and — socks.
But they are not your average black and white cotton socks that cost like $12 for a 12-pack. Driven by demand for such brands as Nike Inc.’s NKE Elite socks, which come in various colors and prints and cost typically between $14 and$18 a pair, bright, and pricey socks, have proven to be a big bright spot in men’s fashion.
“Small steps in men’s market make a big impact,” spurring men to follow suit once a trend catches on, said NPD’s industry analyst Marshal Cohen in an interview, adding the trend of guys wearing colorful socks started in Europe before they migrated to the U.S. and major labels like Nike spotted an opportunity. “What Nike Elite did was bring attention to the better socks business. It’s no longer just grabbing white socks out of the drawer. Now it’s got to be this sock. The consumer-born trend sparked the whole idea of dressing the foot up.”
And dressing the price up. The average selling price of men’s socks have risen 24% to $2.18 a pair in 2013 from $1.76 in 2011, according to NPD Group’s Consumer Tracking Service.
Nike first unveiled its Elite socks for basketball players in 2008 before introducing the second version in 2012. The socks, including signature versions for star athletes including LeBron James, boast features including cushioning and compression. Nike has said socks have become “a sizable and highly profitable $100 million business” that’s “growing rapidly.”
“Socks used to be a commodity part of the basketball business but we developed a new innovative sock,” said Jayme Martin, a Nike executive, at its investor meeting in October, adding they are a growth opportunity across multiple sports categories. “Kids aren’t just wearing them on the courts. They are social currency. It’s an example of how we leverage great ideas across the organization to drive new growth.”
Retailers including Foot Locker Inc. FL have credited “performance socks” led by Nike’s as a growth driver.
“Every kid had to have a pair,” analyst Matt Powell of SportsOneSource told MarketWatch, adding other brands from Adidas DE:ADS to Under Armour UA also are pushing colorful performance socks. “(It’s) a fashion thing. Everyone is trying to get in the game, but no one has had any success knocking (Nike) off.”
Athletic sock sales last year surged 22% after jumping 34% in 2012 and Nike’s share of the market has risen to 43% year-to-date from 37% during the same period last year, Powell said. Another indicator of the popularity can be seen in many Twitter handles and Facebook pages dedicated to Nike Elite Socks. Nike even produced a series of videos on “sock etiquette.”
And it’s not just an athletic trend. Other retailers and brands, from Macy’s Inc.’s M Bloomingdale’s and Ralph Lauren Corp. RL on the higher end to discounter Target Corp. and Forever 21, have all touted colorful socks with different prints.
Target TGT told MarketWatch it “has seen a steady interest” ever since it introduced fashion socks in 2012.
“Bright colors and patterns have become key trends in the sock category,” Matt Feniger, menswear editor at trend consulting firm WGSN, told MarketWatch. “Men want to have some expression or quirk in their outfit and especially for men who wear suits a flash of color from the sock is the perfect way to do it. Also, the popularity of the ankle-cropped pant silhouette makes it easy for men to show off fun socks and statement footwear. The attention to the sock industry is really due to men’s increasing acceptance and interest in color, prints and pattern. ”
And men’s fashion appetite isn’t showing any signs of slowing down.
Men’s apparel spending is expected to continue to outpace women’s growth in each of the next four years, according to Euromonitor. Its data showed men’s apparel sales, after having fallen from 2007 to 2009, have increased each year since then, outpacing the rate for women in three of the past four years. (See related story on men’s dressing up trend.)
“More men (are) embracing the slimmer fit trend,” said Jane Hali, WGSN’s vice president of customer research. Retailers and brands continue “to update their assortments to include various interpretations of the slim fit, which is also giving men more options. Men are also not as price conscious as women. They’ll pay for compelling fashion.”
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