Nfld. & Labrador·Our New Normal

Dressing down: How we're trading suits for sweats during the pandemic

A St. John’s clothing store is seeing fewer customers walk through its doors as more people are swapping suits for sweatpants and ties for T-shirts while working from home.

St. John’s men’s clothing store seeing reduced sales as people dressing less to impress

John McCarthy is the owner of Benjamin's Menswear, a clothing store that has been open in downtown St. John's for 30 years. (Zach Goudie/CBC)

There have been big changes in our little corners of the world, due to COVID-19 and related restrictions. CBC Newfoundland and Labrador is exploring those changes in a series called Our New Normal.

A St. John's clothing store owner is seeing fewer customers walk through his doors as more people are swapping suits for sweatpants and ties for T-shirts while working from home.

Normally, a large portion of Benjamin's Menswear clientele are looking for dress clothes but the downtown St. John's business said if things don't change it will be looking at ways to adjust to cater to a more casual style. 

"June, July, August, we would see quite a number of people who just want to buy a new summer outfit whether it be a sports coat or a new pair of pants.… Those customers we didn't see [this year]," he said.

We have plans to be here for another 30 years. We have no desire to go anywhere.- John McCarthy

McCarthy said he was surprised when businesses in the province were ordered to shut down due to COVID-19. He was also concerned about the new order of spring clothing he had bought months before going unsold.

"It was a shock to me, just the fact I would go who knows how long without any ability to do any business just to pay for the inventory," he said. 

Normally, a large portion of Benjamin's Menswear clientele are looking for dress clothes but if things don't change McCarthy will consider selling more casual clothes. (Zach Goudie/CBC)

In an attempt to sell more clothing he ran his business online, he said, but it didn't catch on with his clientele. 

"Men aren't online shoppers, I don't find. We like to touch and feel," he said.

"If we feel we don't have a need, then we don't need to buy it.… That need hasn't been around for a long time."

The need certainly hasn't been there for John Weber, who has been working from home more often since the pandemic began.

Since March, Weber has bought only one pair of pants.

"I haven't bought any clothing besides that. I don't know when I will be actually wearing them," he said. 

"If I am at home I might have on a pair of sweat pants or jeans and a T-shirt.… If I am going to be at home working from my computer, I am just going to dress in a very laid-back attire."

John Weber says he is looking forward to dressing up again. (Zach Goudie/CBC)

Working from home permanently?

With stories of some businesses announcing permanent work-from-home measures, McCarthy said he's uncertain about the number of people who will go back to the office after the pandemic.

"It's very concerning. We really need people back to work," he said.

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When the store opened 30 years ago, McCarthy said, a small portion of their business was casual men's clothing but as the workplace became more relaxed that changed. 

He said suits and sport coats will always be an important part of his business but if people are no longer looking for formal work wear he will have to plan differently. 

"We will obviously have to revisit what our product lines look like … look at what we currently carry, how much of it do we need and readjust," McCarthy said.

"We have plans to be here for another 30 years. We have no desire to go anywhere."

McCarthy says he was surprised to see more men coming into the store this year to buy wedding attire. (Zach Goudie/CBC)

Weber said he doesn't think COVID-19 has ruined dressing up forever.

"I would probably like to go back to the way I was dressing beforehand because I associate that with interacting with more people, so I like to do that," said Weber.

Traditional wedding wear changed 

McCarthy said although his sales are down drastically from last summer, he was surprised to see more men buying wedding attire this year.

"The bigger weddings kind of never happened. Obviously you couldn't have 300 people at your wedding," he said. "A lot of these grooms and groomsmen would say, 'We only have 12, we are only doing a family thing so didn't feel like we needed tuxedos so we bought suits.'"

But as restrictions have been relaxed in Newfoundland and Labrador, McCarthy said, he's seen more people coming through his doors, and he's confident people will be back to looking their best after the pandemic ends.

"Clothing is more than what we put on our back; it is your image to the world, so it has an impact. It has an impact on how people see you. Obviously we need to have that positivity in this world of COVID. We need to feel good about ourselves, and I think clothing does that.

"It certainly does that for me."


Our New Normal 

(CBC)

The COVID-19 pandemic has meant great changes in our daily lives. We'll be exploring them in Our New Normal, a series of segments you'll see here, on Here & Now and on our current affairs shows.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

About the Author

Meg Roberts is a video journalist with CBC Newfoundland and Labrador, based in St. John's. Email her at meg.roberts@cbc.ca.

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