Smart shoes feel the Covid-19 blues
Sales of dress shoes are unlikely to fully recover as office workers stay at home in their comfy slippers
New York — Americans don’t want to get all dressed up with nowhere to go. They may not even want to when there is.
US sales of dress shoes such as formal oxfords and high heels fell 71% in the second quarter, compared to the year prior, as office workers stayed home and nightlife dried up due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to data from research firm NPD Group. The segment performed much worse than the overall US footwear market, which was down 26% in that period, aided by strong sales of casual summer styles such as slippers and slides.
In fact, dress shoes may never return to pre-Covid-19 levels, said Beth Goldstein, an analyst at NPD. Sales were falling off even before the pandemic, dropping 12% in 2019 as workplaces became more casual. This trend only accelerated during lockdowns.
“The traditional dress shoe was falling off to begin with,” said Goldstein. “Even when we go back to events and you might need a dress shoe, we’re at the point where we don’t need them so much for work anymore.”
This mirrors the struggles of other workplace attire and formal clothing. Brooks Brothers, with its sizable dress shirt business, filed for bankruptcy earlier in July. Ascena Retail, parent company of women’s workwear staple Ann Taylor, did the same two weeks later. Suitmaker Tailored Brands, owner of Men’s Wearhouse and JoS. A. Bank, said this week that bankruptcy was likely.
Shoemakers have recognised the category’s dire situation and are rushing to make the appropriate moves, reorienting their design teams and supply chains around less dressy items.
Steven Madden, for instance, said on Wednesday that the retailers that sell its shoes are overstocked with too many styles meant for the office. CEO Ed Rosenfeld said he was looking to sell more flat sandals and platforms. With autumn approaching in the northern hemisphere, executives have decided to focus on sneakers and casual boots.
“We’ve really pivoted toward casual styles,” said Rosenfeld. “That’s really what’s performed in the market.”
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