The Shifting Shore
RACKING FASHION TRENDS can be difficult. The task is sometimes similar to watching ocean waves repeatedly wash over a beach, then trying to guess the forthcoming shape of the shore. Everyone knows the water will inevitably change the sand, but the exact appearance it will take is seemingly impossible to guess.
T-shirts are especially guilty of this watery fashion unpredictability, being a highly competitive product that also happens to closely follow retail trends. Luckily, it isn’t necessary to wander along a wet shore, desperately looking for a pattern in scattered seaweed and broken shells. There are, after all, figurative oceanographers out there who make their living accounting for every shifting grain of sand on the beach of style. Two such “fashion oceanographers,” Andrea L. Engel, vice president of merchandising for Trevose, Pennsylvania-based BroderBros., and Kimberly Pfeil, national account manager for Los Angeles-based Alternative Apparel, shared a few of their insights with Promo Marketing.
Among the more interesting trends Engel mentioned are changes in T-shirt colors and patterns. “From a color perspective, we’re really seeing movement [since] fall of last year, into brighter jewel tones and more and more color,” she said. Surprisingly, when asked to explain why, Engel pointed to the troubled economy. “I think it’s a trend when the economy is tough, generally colors get brighter. People kind of look for something to make them [happy]. Even if you just see what’s at retail, you’ll see less and less black,” she said.
Stemming from this shift in basic coloration, Engel mentioned two color patterns that warrant watching. The first, a natural outgrowth of the move toward brighter colors, is tie-dye. Although it hasn’t been taking the industry by storm, an increase in demand can be seen on the horizon. “If it’s done in a more muted way, not quite the traditional hippie version, I think that could be something that could start trending,” she said.
Engel also highlighted camouflage designs as a pattern to watch. It’s trending a little differently than basic colors or tie-dye, and Engel named the political climate as a factor governing its popularity. She said that the new administration’s foreign policy decisions could cause camo patterns to wax or wane in stylishness.
As for the shape and cut of T-shirts, Engel and Pfeil both detailed a few current style leanings. A few of last year’s trends are experiencing continued growth, like burnout styles (a tee that began as a cotton/poly blend, then has the cotton burned away, leaving behind a wispy poly shell) and the V-neck. The V-neck, however, has been building significant momentum since last year, so much so that Pfeil said, “V-necks are more popular, it seems like, than crew necks for girls.”
Engel seconded the V-neck style’s growing popularity. “We’re seeing a huge demand for V-necks,” she said, specifically mentioning designs with a higher V-shaped neckline, and therefore, a more unisex style. Admitting surprise at the demand increase, Engel suggested the style has become popular simply for the different look it offers.
While the demand for V-necks may seem the height of fashion capriciousness, there is another major shift in T-shirt style that is a little more rooted in rationality. Engel and Pfeil both name pocket tees as an additional structural trend.
“We’re seeing a real rise in pocket T-shirt demand,” Engel noted. “I think it’s because people throw [in] their cell phones or iPods. It’s an interesting shift.” She added that she’s seen many retail stores, like Urban Outfitters and Abercrombie & Fitch, starting to screen print on pocket T-shirts.
Pfeil agreed there is increasing emand for this design, saying Alternative Apparel is adding pockets to a lot of its new styles. She also stated a pocket can be used to enhance the style of a shirt. “[It’s] just for something a little unique and different,” Pfeil said. “I think the styles right now are sort of, not tomboyish, but there’s a lot of oversized fittings, so the little pocket makes it seem more feminine. It’s kind of a nice balance.”
With any article on current T-shirt trends, it would be a mistake to exclude one of the biggest areas of increase: organics. Said Engel, “I definitely see [organics] moving out of a niche and into a category. It’ll never be as big, I don’t think, as the traditional commodity T-shirts, but it’s definitely growing.” She added that along with organics, eco-friendly and recycled fabrics were likely to see of growth. Because there is only so much organic cotton available, manufacturers will be forced to look elsewhere for a similar product.
For the same reason, Engel also predicted there will soon start to be T-shirts that are made from “transitional” organic cotton. Transitional cotton comes from farms that are growing their product organically, but have not had the chance for their land to fully purge itself of chemicals used in prior farmings, a process which takes three years. The cotton is therefore considered “transitional” because it’s what organic farmers sell while in transition from regular to organic growing.