There’s something not quite right with the sign mensware, recently seen in a department store with bilingual signs. No, it’s not that there should be an apostrophe in mens-, although you would need one if the two elements were written as two separate words. The part that is wrong is -ware. The correct form is menswear: clothing that men wear.
The element -wear always refers to clothing of some sort. It can be preceded by the person for whom the clothing is made (as in menswear, and as a separate word in children’s wear, women’s wear), the type of clothing (e.g., knitwear, leatherwear) or the part of the body it is worn on (footwear, headwear, legwear).
The element -ware is familiar from software and hardware. It means objects made of a particular material or for use in a particular context. In this meaning it is found in tableware, glassware, kitchenware, earthenware, silverware, and ironware, and before the age of computers, when you talked about hardware you meant goods made of metal (e.g., buckets, hammers, nails, etc.).
So when trying to decide on the correct spelling, consider whether you’re dealing with clothing (-wear) or some other objects (-ware).
©2014 Baxter Publishing, Hilversum, The Netherlands