We need to talk. Ladies' styles have changed a lot in the past few years and we want to make sure everyone knows. Gone are the days of men's shirts in smaller sizes or youth shirts in larges. Women's wear not only fits women's curves, it fits the many different curves of many different women. Apparel suppliers are drawing from retail chains, echoing runway looks and employing clever designs to make women's apparel more flattering than ever. Not only do these garments boast a "woman's fit," they actually fit all women. We chatted with a few of the industry's elite suppliers to get the lowdown on women's wear in 2012. Their responses on what's in and what's out may surprise you.
What's In: Runway Looks
"Runway fashions always find their way into different areas of the clothing industry," said Elson Yeung, product line manager, Ash City USA, Lenexa, Kan. He explained that end-buyers demand fashionable apparel, so apparel suppliers make it. "The current customer demands and buying habits make this [fashionable apparel] possible," he said.
Yeung stated that the trick to incorporating fashion-forward looks into your promotion is to pick the ones most suited for the industry. "Some of the trends [seen on the runways] do impact Ash City's new styles but only where we feel they would be adaptable and beneficial to our customers' use," he said. "For example, the use of embossed printed fabrics is prominent in our Spring '12 launch."
Other ways to update your apparel promotions while sticking to promotion-friendly styles is to change the way you imprint the garments. "You can achieve a more up-to-date feel by decorating a logo in unique locations such as along a shoulder seam, down the forearm of a sleeve or asymmetrically on the right side of a back yoke," said Yeung. He suggested using style lines or color blocking so logos can be framed, making them more eye-catching. Yeung also noted the two new style details for corporate apparel that go well with clever imprint locations: Y-necklines and waist-narrowing princess seams.
What's In: Purples
Yeung mentioned that the most popular color that has filtered down from the runway is purple. "Colors such as our mulberry purple has been extremely popular for women's corporate looks, available in our Merton sweater (pictured right) and Dollis cardigan, these styles combine feminine styling with this popular color," he said.
What's Out: Men's Styles for Women
"It is no longer acceptable for corporate purchases to simply buy men's styles for female staff," he said. "That's why at Ash City, we've always addressed this by offering feminine ladies' styles that actually fit comfortably and look flattering." The V-neck sweater (pictured above) is an example of a ladies' fit garment.
What's In: Color Blocking
Color blocking has been a trend for a few years, but newer styles are using blocking as a shaping technique. The goal is to make feminine silhouettes appear more flattering. "Innovative and flattering color blocking really puts the finishing touches on an item," said Florence Wong, public relations and marketing associate, Tonix Teams, Fremont, Calif. She explained how color blocking is different on men's and women's garments, even when they appear the same. "The men's shoulder color clocking is more broad and angular, whereas the women's is more soft and round, and it is placed more on the front rather than the shoulder," she explained. "The women's side body blocking is designed to have a deeper curve to give the appearance of an hourglass figure. The back color blocking displays a more rounded look for the rear end," she added.
Wong listed pants, polos and V-neck performance tops as garments that benefit from color blocking. "[The women's] Aero (pictured right) and [men's] Attitude are often ordered because of the stylish color blocking. These two are the same shirts, except the [women's] is a V-neck and the [men's] is a polo," she said. Companion styles like the Aero and Attitude can give a team look without losing a flattering fit. "We want a team or staff to still show unity and pride without compromising on fit because it's co-ed," Wong said.
What's In: Girly Garb
Wong listed cheer, dance and gymnastic academies as big sells for ladies' performance gear. "They like things to be girly and have a feminine cut," she said. "This market is great because many companies use these teams for promotional events."
What's In: Longer Shirts
"Longer shirts have always been a request," said Wong. The need derives from the mobility needed during sporting events. "There is a lot of reaching done in sports, so we make sure our shirts are long enough to cover things meant to be covered," she explained.
What's Out: Shirts Without Breathability
Wong noted the important of moisture-wicking qualities in performance gear. "Breathability is a must," she said. "Perspiration is bound to happen. We can't prevent it, but we can control how quickly we can get it away from the body so the athlete can focus on the game." She mentioned that Tonix Teams only sells garments with moisture-management properties. "We use polyester for our women's SoftCool shirts," Wong said. "This provides the ultimate in breathability and has a very soft, comfortable hand feel. Some of our shirts are treated to be colorfast, and some are treated to have UV protection." These extra elements keep the shirts from fading so team colors stay vibrant.
What's In: Retail
Taraynn Lloyd, director of marketing for Edwards Garment, Kalamazoo, Mich., mentioned that retail styles dictate image apparel (a.k.a. uniforms). "Edwards looks to retail to assist in determining new styles that will work for image apparel programs," she said. One such style is the button-down shirt. "A basic button-down collar shirt for both men and women … seems to transcend time," she said.
Basing promotional styles like button-downs on retail trends has proved lucrative for Edwards Garment. "Our stretch blouse in 3⁄4 sleeves (pictured right) was one of the first offerings and we've expanded this line due to sales exceeding our expectations," Lloyd explained. The reason the style is so popular is another big "in" for women's uniforms: stretch fabric. "This blouse was the first that offered stretch in the material with the use of Spandex," said Lloyd. "The tailoring with contoured side seams and front and back princess seam darts offers a flattering fit."
What's In: Embroidery
Embroidery on uniforms has recently spiked in popularity. "Edwards has seen an increase in embroidery and emblems as embellishments on garments for this industry," said Lloyd. "Embroidery is an effective way to build the properties brand while tailoring the marketing message," she elaborated.
What's In: Red, Black and Blue
According to Lloyd, popular uniform colors rarely change. "Popular colors continue to be navy, blue, white, black, red, burgundy and French blue," she said. She added that these colors are popular because they often tie into the corporate colors of hotels and restaurant chains. "Image apparel is a natural choice to strengthen the clients marketing message," she said. "Restaurants do this quite well by dressing their servers in a woven shirt that is their corporate color and then adding embroidery to tailor the message for the patrons."
What's Out: Apparel with a Short Lifespan
Lloyd mentioned that the largest market for uniforms is the hotel and restaurant industry. "This market has over 13 million employees with over 50 percent being women," she said. These women need uniforms that will last more than a few wears. "When developing an image apparel program, the client is looking for a style and material fabrication that will hold up," Lloyd stated. "They are looking for something that will maintain color and shape for approximately two years," she added. Flimsy garments that fall apart after a few months, or even one year, are not likely to be reordered.