In Menswear: Socks are the New Neckties

The garment historically worn for warmth and protection is making a move from commodity to fashion piece, with growth over the past few years morphing it into a $5.6 billion industry as of the 12 months ending August 2014 (Sept’13 – Aug’14), according to global information company The NPD Group. The socks category outpaced the overall $206.7 billion apparel market, growing +2 percent during this time, and also experienced strong growth in 2013, +8 percent, and in 2012, +5 percent.

On average, men spend more for a pair of socks than women. Females purchase socks based on value rather than their fashion statement. Athletic socks drove overall sock category growth and were the hot spot for women, but for men attention was divided between both casual and athletic.

The New “Necktie?”

Transforming a traditional item into a trendy fashion piece is the movement that has penetrated menswear overall, from clothing to footwear and everything in between, including socks,” said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst, The NPD Group. “Men are driving the growth in this category because over the past few years, socks have become yet another outlet for expressing the extra splash of pattern and color they seek. It only seems appropriate for them to pair their colorful oxfords and outfits with matching socks.”

While 73 percent of men wear socks almost every day, this is the case for only 41 percent of women. Seasonality also plays an important role for women, with sales of women’s athletic socks peaking in the spring and summer months, and casual socks during fall and winter.

Women, who have tights, sheers, leggings, pointed toe flats and open toe boots, wear socks differently than men as a result of dressing differently,” said Cohen. “Higher priced socks have become the new normal for men, whereas the women’s market seems to be a missed opportunity, an uncommon situation for the saturated women’s retail market to face. Retailers and manufacturers should find ways to reinvigorate this category for women by setting a new fashion statement, one that treats socks as an accessory, something special, and not a basic commodity. If women will wear shorts with tights in colder weather and boots during warmer seasons, they will find more room for socks in their wardrobes.”

Men make up 61% of the men's apparel shopping audience according to AudienceSCAN data. About 40% of these shoppers intend to hit the outlet malls or stores in the next year which is a 31% higher than average rate. And, roughly 80% of these shoppers want to support companies that sponsor a favorite sports team or athlete. This is a much higher than average rate and indicates that menswear marketers can boost sales by promoting these sponsorships. About 15.4% of these shoppers say that a radio commercial they heard in the past year has influenced them to start an online search.

AudienceSCAN data is available as part of a subscription to AdMall for Agencies. Media companies can access AudienceSCAN data through the Audience Intelligence Reports in AdMall.

Kathy Crosett
Kathy is the Vice President of Research for SalesFuel. She holds a Masters in Business Administration from the University of Vermont and oversees a staff of researchers, writers and content providers for SalesFuel. Previously, she was co-​owner of several small businesses in the health care services sector.