Bangalore/Delhi: Demand for clothes such as chinos, brightly coloured trousers and stylish shirts is outpacing sales of formal shirts and trousers, partly as people are increasingly choosing to wear semi-formal apparel at work.

Companies such as Tata group’s Westside, Arvind Ltd, Aditya Birla’s Madura Fashion and Lifestyle, Future Group and Max Fashion said demand for semi-formal clothes is holding up well at a time when retailers are struggling to boost sales due to weak consumer sentiment.

“Consumer preference is evolving towards semi-formal and sportswear. Customers like IT (information technology) professionals and people who are just out of college, they want to dress in a more vibrant and colourful way and don’t want to look stiff," said Jacob John, brand director at Madura’s Louis Philippe.

Louis Philippe’s formal wear grew 10-12% last year compared with 40% for semi-formal clothes. More than 55-65% of the brand’s business still comes from formal wear. But over time, semi-formal and sportswear may become 50-60% of the business, John said.

Apart from younger people entering the workforce, those in the age-group of 30-40 are also trying for a more non-formal look, said Vinay Bhopatkar, brand head at Van Heusen.

Many labels including Louis Philippe, Van Heusen and Arrow, which started out selling formal clothes, have launched semi-formal brand extensions that are increasing their share of overall sales.

“Our casual wear/semi-formal brands such as Arrow Sport, Nautica, Izod and US Polo are doing exceedingly well and outperforming (pure) formal wear," said J. Suresh, chief executive at Arvind Lifestyle. “Even in the industry you’re likely to see that continue—lots of casual/semi-formal, stylish product and very limited formal-oriented products coming up," he said.

Sales of men’s formal wear at Central have remained flat while sales of casual and semi-formal clothes are growing in double digits, said Jitendranath Patri, marketing head at Future Group-owned retailers, Central and Brand Factory.

“Today, colour is a big thing. Men have the option of wearing different coloured-trousers, unlike the plain colours that you get in pure formals. There hasn’t been much innovation and new variants in formal wear. Apart from people in banking and the hospitality businesses, who have to wear formals, there has definitely been a shift towards semi-formal and casual wear," he said.

Westside has increased its offering in casual wear and launched a Nuon collection to meet demand for semi-formal apparel, said a spokesperson at the Tata-owned retailer.

“The look and the styling of the work wear fabric are changing. It’s bolder than formal wear and is becoming more relaxed, but it’s still within the space of formal wear. Like, you would not see most people wear round-neck T-shirts at work," said Sumeet Soni, chief operating officer at Raymond Premium Apparel, part of Raymond Ltd, which owns brands such as Park Avenue and Parx.

The Indian apparel market for men, which includes shirts, trousers, t-shirts, suits and innerwear, was worth $17 billion in 2012 and is likely to grow to $25 billion in 2017, according to a February report by consultant Technopak Advisors.

“Apart from demand from working professionals, what is driving growth for casual wear is that men are increasingly looking for specific attire for specific occasions. For example, active wear and sports wear are showing strong growth as more people go to the gym. In international markets, this kind of specific buying is even more prevalent," said Amit Gugnani, senior vice-president of fashion at consultancy Technopak.

Retailers said margins on formal apparel and casual and semi-formal clothes were similar.

“There’s not much or any difference in margins for us. It’s basically just a shift in consumer preference, which I think is going to continue because we’re finding that people are buying suits and other formal clothes mostly for celebratory occasions only, like marriages, rather than for work," said Rachna Aggarwal, chief executive at Indus-League Clothing Ltd, which owns brands such as Indigo Nation and Scullers.