Corporate Casual's Days May Be Numbered

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For those who have not yet done so, now may be a good time to go into the closet and update that suit and tie collection.

At least one direct marketer of upscale men's apparel is partially crediting the demise of the Internet culture for double-digit sales growth during the second half of 2001 over the same period last year.

"We've seen a movement back toward shirts and ties, which are the foundation of our business," said Allen Abbott, senior vice president of marketing at Paul Fredrick MenStyle, Fleetwood, PA. "So when that area grows, our business grows."

Abbott does not believe the apparent shift to more formal attire is due to corporate decrees, however.

"There's a lot of discussion about whether companies are going back to more corporate type dressing," Abbott said. "I don't think that's really begun yet, but I think individuals have made that decision, and we've benefited from it."

The suit and tie were declared uncool early on in Internet culture because they were considered the uniform of those who serve -- lawyers, accountants, etc. -- not those who would lead the so-called revolution. And now that the traditional companies have not disappeared as many once predicted, and a significant number of the self-proclaimed revolutionaries have had to find other things to do, suits and ties may be on the comeback trail.

This was certainly evident at @d:tech New York in December, as suits, ties and graying hair were far more easy to spot than at previous shows. Even the first-morning keynote speaker, Gregory Coleman, executive vice president of North American operations at Yahoo, wore a suit and tie.

"The biggest gauge for me was the [18th Annual] catalog conference [in Boston] in June," Abbott said. "I hadn't been there in a couple years. At the last one I attended, probably 1999 or so, I think one in 10 people had a tie on," he said. "This time, I think it may have been half."

And though Paul Fredrick MenStyle may have benefited from the probable demise of the Internet culture, it certainly has not turned its back on the medium as a sales channel.

According to Abbott, Internet marketing drives about 25 percent of Paul Fredrick MenStyle's sales. The company claims a house e-mail list of 250,000 names.

"We work the Web very hard," Abbott said.

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