Scratchy wool, boxy shoulders, and baggy lapels: The rental tuxedo is the awkward uniform of life’s major milestones.
Maybe not for long, though.
Big Tuxedo is slimming down these days. Men’s Wearhouse, a giant in formalwear, said it expects its rental tuxedo business to drop by a percentage in the “low single digits” this year. In the past quarter, the trade was down 2.8 percent.
Today’s rental tux from traditional outlets isn’t any worse than it ever was. It’s still perfectly tailored for gawky photos and sweaty palms. But the occasions are changing a bit, as are the other options. Here’s why tuxes are tanking:
1. A Wedding Drought
There are fewer weddings overall these days. The U.S. marriage rate is at its lowest level in a century, according to a recent report from Demographic Intelligence. Slightly less than seven of every 1,000 people will tie the knot this year. That rate has dropped by almost one-third since 1990 and is projected to decline further over the next decade.
“There are indicators that the overall wedding business is slowly shrinking due to shifting cultural attitudes toward traditional weddings,” Douglas Ewert, Men’s Wearhouse chief executive, said on a conference call this week.
The brave few who are continuing down the aisle are starting to spare their guests the formalwear. Contemporary weddings tend to be more bourbon than champagne, more banjo than cello, and more seersucker or chambray than black silk and tails. Some 6 percent of all weddings last year were on farms, double the number five years earlier, according to TheKnot.com
Ewert said more of the Men's Wearhouse wedding business is shifting from rent to buy. “We believe this is a function of a movement toward more casual and destination weddings," he explained.
Meanwhile, there are plenty of ways to rent a tux these days that don’t involve a trip to the strip mall. The Black Tux has been renting tuxedos online since 2013. The cost ranges from $95 to $125 before such extras as cufflinks and shoes, and two-way shipping is included. What’s more, the offerings are based on a customer’s exact measurements. The company pocketed $10 million in venture capital early this year in its second round of funding, taking total funding to $12.6 million. Meanwhile, Mengiun, which has a similar direct-to-consumer Web platform, is approaching its one-year mark.
4. Trimming margins
Spending $100 to borrow a natty and ruffled powder-blue tuxedo was a relatively easy decision when buying one cost close to four figures. But the spread between renting and buying has never been slimmer—again, thanks to direct-to-consumer companies cutting out hefty margins in the middle of the supply chain.
Online store Combatant Gentleman has seven different tuxedos on offer at $200 apiece, ranging from a classic notch-lapeled number to a swanky shawl-collared version complete with a ticket pocket. The company has said about 40 percent of its customers used to buy from Men’s Wearhouse or Joseph A. Bank. Indochino, a Vancouver company that has production in Asia, sells made-to-measure tuxedos for $450 and up to customers who enter their data online. (For those who sartorially lean away from James Bond and toward Michael Bolton, Indochino offers a white suit for $350.) More mainstream players are getting in the black-tie game as well. Bonobos and J. Crew have built a small collection of tuxedos starting at $695 and $465, respectively.
Men’s Wearhouse, meanwhile, isn’t going to let its incredibly lucrative tux-renting business just walk off without a fight. This week, it announced a strategic partnership with Macy’s that will put its formalwear and fitting staff in some 300 stores. In short, the company is betting the future of its most lucrative business on department-store shoppers and prom-going teenagers.