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The Western Formal Wear Market in India

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The persistent economic uncertainty, coupled with a perception of policy paralysis and the possibilities of a change in government, has negatively impacted the growth of business activities in India. The annual GDP growth, which was consistently hovering around 7-9 percent between 2003-04 and 2010-11, slumped to 6.2 percent in 2011-12 and 5 percent in 2012-13. Industrial growth also dipped to as low as 2 percent, with the mining and quarrying sector registering -0.5 percent and manufacturing a mere 1 percent growth. 


This decline in growth has in turn dampened consumer confidence and lowered discretionary spending among different consumer groups. With spending on fashion also being discretionary, the growth of the fashion apparel category has also slowed down noticeably in recent years. The formalwear category is no exception to this trend. However, it is expected that, following the general elections of 2014, business and economic activities will return to the growth track, and thereby further the growth of western formal wear in the country.


In India, the western formalwear market can be broadly split into two categories, viz. business wear or office wear, which includes formal shirts, trousers, suits, skirts, dresses, etc. and event-specific formal wear, which includes formal clothing worn at such events as weddings, proms, awards ceremonies, product launch events, etc. Though the former forms the larger chunk of the market, the latter is relatively less impacted by the economic slowdown. 


The Western Formalwear Market


It is estimated that the western formalwear market in India is worth US$ 4,675 million, of which 90 percent is contributed by men’s formal wear. Again, these numbers are not inclusive of the size of rental services available for occasion or event-specific formal wear. The blurring of the difference between casual wear and formal wear makes the categorisation of certain products difficult.


The western formal wear market is concentrated in urban areas, with major contributions from metros and mini metros. The size of the women’s formal wear market is relatively low due to two primary reasons: the skewed ratio of working women to working men and the strong competition from ethnic wear categories as saris, salwar-kameez, etc. The evolution of fusion wear, which combines the attributes of women’s ethnic wear with formal western wear, is emerging as an additional challenge for women’s western formal wear players.


Men’s Western Formalwear


Formal shirts, trousers, and suits dominate the US$ 4,320 million-worth men’s formal western wear market, which is also relatively organised. Formal shirts dominate the men’s formal western wear market with a share of 53 percent, followed by trousers at 35 percent, and suits at 12 percent. In addition to the readymade garment segment, men’s formal suits market also encompasses bespoke tailoring. In the super premium and premium segments within men’s suits, consumers are very specific about the quality of the material used, as well as about the overall look and fi t of the garment. 


The organised bespoke model has evolved to cater to demand from customers who are willing to pay a premium in order to avail their desired attire. Thanks to the increasing presence of multinational companies and the growing business environment, the bespoke

formalwear market in India now sees a demand for high-end premium shirts, trousers, and suits tailored to fi t customers’ body dimensions and using fabrics from manufacturers of international repute like Dormeuli, Ermenegildo Zegna, Brioni, Sic

Tess, Scabal, Holland and Sherry, John Foster, etc.


Women’s’ Western Formalwear


The women’s western formal wear market, though relatively smaller in size, has

registered newer opportunities in recent years. As with men’s western formal wear,

formal shirts is the largest segment within women’s formal western wear as well,

followed by trousers and suits.


Both Indian and international fashion retailers have been focusing on the menswear market until recently. With the increasing presence of women in the corporate world, and the rising exposure of Indian women to office wear from various countries, women’s formal western wear market has started evolving much faster.


In addition to traditional women’s western formal wear brands and retailers, many

casual wear brands and retailers have also started adding these products to their



Thus, Indian women no longer restrict themselves to saris and salwar-kameez. They see themselves at par with their western counterparts in terms of organisational hierarchy and realise the importance of business attire in office and business meetings. Although Indian women continues to dress themselves in saris and salwar-kameez for formal occasions, yet the usage of western formal wear is expected to register higher growth rates compared to the traditional categories. 


Key Trends In Formal Westernwear


  • Formal wear categories will grow slower than casual wear


The growing demand for apparel offering higher comfort, better design, and trendy look at affordable prices is a worldwide phenomenon, with India being no exception. Additionally, technology and innovation-driven companies have started allowing casual wear in office spaces—the growing demand for knitwear apparel is one reflection of this trend. It is expected that in India, T-shirts and denim markets will grow at double-digit rates over the next five years, whereas the corresponding ratesfor formalwear categories like shirts, woven trousers, suits, etc. will be in the range of three to eight percent.


  • Western formal wear market will remain strong despite slower growth


Consumers of medium to high-end formal wear and occasion specific formal wear are expected to remain loyal to the category, with a lower propensity of shifting to casual clothing. Many business leaders and professional services companies consider the classic business attire as a necessity in a serious business environment. 


Aspiring, middle-aged Indian consumers, working in corporate roles, are expected to stick to business attire and thereby indicate their ambition of climbing the corporate ladder. 


  • Consumers to experiment even in the formal fashion space


In the men’s category, consumers who normally do not experiment much with fashion are also expected to tinker with fabric design, fibre content, fabric finishing, apparel design, colour, and fit even for their formalwear. The increasing acceptance of cotton suits is one indication of such experimentation whereby consumers bring in comfort and a casual look at comparatively lower prices. The rise in sales of slim-fit shirts and trousers also reflects the trend of experimenting with formal wear. The designing of collars, cuffs, etc are also expected to undergo frequent changes with a view to improve the formal look.


  • Private labels promise opportunities for value-conscious consumers


The slowing of growth and persistent economic pressure has turned the middleclass consumer more value-conscious. Business executives in non-client-facing roles or in the junior to mid-manager levels are now opting to trade down. It is thus expected that some consumers now perceive value solely through affordability.


Consequently, private labels, which offer formal clothing at an affordable price, have started witnessing comparatively higher growth. Some brands are also banking upon discounts and promotions to lure bargain hunting customers.


  • The aspiring youth will contribute the most to the growth of formalwear


India has over 700 million people in the age bracket of 15-54 years who form 59 percent of the country’s total population. This younger population has a heightened awareness of the latest fashion statements and is ambitious in terms of career choices. The majority of this population is also very specific when it comes to dressing for an occasion, whether it is active wear for the gym, formal wear in the office, jeans and tees when shopping, and nightwear for sleep. Despite a penchant towards casual clothes many customers within this aspirational group dress themselves appropriately for business meetings and formal events like marriages and award ceremonies.


  • Women’s western formal wear is poised for high growth


Women’s employment in the organised sector has increased from 4.9 million, in 2002, to 5.9 million, in 2011. This corresponds to an increase in the share of women employed to the total employment in the organised sector, from 18.2 percent, in 2002, to 20.5 percent, in 2011. This trend is expected to continue in the coming years as well. On a positive note, 11 percent of Indian companies have women CEOs[ Source: Survey by EMA Partners]. Interestingly, among companies on the Fortune 500 list in the US, only 3 percent have women CEOs. 


The success stories of Indian women who are business executives and managers will provide additional impetus to other women in business organisations. The growth in the number of employed women will in turn spur the growth of women’s western formal wear.


  • The trend of gifting formal western wear is gaining momentum


Typical formal dresses are increasingly seen as a suitable gift for people working in corporations. Many formalwear brands have therefore started offering gift vouchers, which are slowly gaining acceptance among parents, friends, spouses, etc. Many corporations also use such solutions for rewarding employees or as wedding and birthday gifts. 


  • The relatively unnoticed market for formal accessories will attract more consumers


The desire to stick to perfect formal attire, especially in specif c events like award ceremonies, marriage functions, etc. forces consumers to be more selective in their choice of accessories, be it ties, belts, wallets, pocket squares, or cufflinks, for men, or handbags, scarves, stockings, etc. for women. The formal wear market has only recently graduated from unbranded clothing to branded clothing; soon, the use of appropriate accessories will also gather momentum.


  • Corporations have started considering customised formal wear for Employees


The customisation of formal wear by organisations provides them scope for inculcating a sense of ownership among employees. Shirts or suits with corporate logos, colours, or specific styles, which reflect the values and beliefs of the organisation, sometimes act as a morale booster for employees, reminding them of their official duties and obligations. Even sports federations across the country are customising their formal wear for senior executives and office bearers.





Despite the global trend for casual clothes, formal wear is expected to remain the preferred attire for business meetings, formal weddings, and special functions. Additionally, certain professional services will continue to stay away from adopting


casual wear in business environments. For manufacturers and retailers, the formal wear market will remain an opportunity given the growth of long-term business activities in India. Again, the formal wear market is expected to see a lot of experimentation in terms of fabric design, application-specific finishes like crease resistance, wrinkle-free fabric, stain release, etc. The widening, high-end bespoke market for formal wear is yet another growth opportunity on which players can cash in. The continued success of the formal wear market will depend on the ability of brands and retailers to demarcate their customer segments through a granular understanding of their customers and tailoring their product offerings as per customers’ demand. Players offering formalwear products should thus view their offering not just as a product but as a complete solution for the consumer who seeks formal attire.

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