Fishing Shirts, Camp Shirts and the Promotional Lifestyle Apparel Explosion
I have two favorite lifestyle apparel pieces that I am constantly running into in my travels, everyday commuting and walking the busy streets of midtown Manhattan—the caped vented fishing shirt and the square-hemmed bottom camp shirt. These two very distinct styles have a long history in the American fashion and apparel industries, and certainly in recent times have seen a major increase in everyday wear by the American consumer, even extending to promotional lifestyle apparel.
One of my favorite pastimes when I am sitting in an airport is to take notice of the many different shirt styles people are wearing as they scurry about in the sea of humanity. I guess you could call this an occupational hazard—being in the promotional apparel business does have its pitfalls and downsides. Just ask my wife, who has been mortally embarrassed on many occasions at the neighborhood get-together when I reach for the neck label of an unsuspecting friend seeking out the brand name label or fabric contents.
Watching in public spaces to see what shirts people wear, I've noticed that lifestyle apparel often finds its way onto a crowded terminal, busy mall or bustling restaurant. No longer designated to the outdoor lifestyle and travel catalogs and magazines, the fishing shirt and the camp shirt have become the standard-bearers of lifestyle apparel in mainstream America.
You see that guy over there with four kids in tow, proudly wearing his Bimini Columbia fishing shirt in bright teal, hurrying to his connecting gate? He is proud as a peacock wearing his multi-pocketed shirt with security zippers and all—yet with no fishing tackle in sight. The fishing shirt has become one of those indispensable lifestyle pieces that exude comfort and identification—but not necessarily fishing.
In fact, our father-of-four scurrying around the airport trying to catch his connecting flight in his tricked-out fishing shirt is telling you he wants to be identified with fishing and the outdoors—a Marlin Perkins minus Mutual of Omaha; an Indiana Jones from Cleveland. The fishing shirt no longer involves fishing in all cases, but represents comfort, performance and outdoor lifestyle.
Today, we are seeing a great assortment in both the retail and in promotional products arenas of solid and patterned fishing shirts that feature the modeling attributes that put them in the “outdoor” category: roll-up sleeves with tab, caped and vented backs; multi-pockets with security zipper pockets; Velcro tabs and adjustments and easy-entry chest pockets that feature snaps and Velcro closures.
These are everyman shirts built to accommodate your next fishing trip off Edger Town Harbor searching for bonito or the short drive to your local Starbucks for a dark roast with room for milk. Wrinkle-free and wrinkle-resistant, stain and soil finishes, UPF sun protection, insect repellent and antimicrobial performance are now standard features of the fishing shirt.
The camp shirt enjoys the same place in lifestyle apparel pieces. Once associated only with Hawaii, vacations and cruises, today’s camp shirts speak of comfort and a relaxed attitude. Remember that two-part episode of the "Brady Bunch" on vacation in Hawaii, when Bobby found the statue at the construction site and Don Ho was featured playing his ukulele each night? The camp shirt, decorated in plantain banana leaves and over-sized prints, was there.
Defined by a straight-bottom hem meant to be worn outside on the pant, the camp shirt is found in textured, solid or printed fabrics. Pocket treatments always vary with an emphasis on outdoor functionality such as zip security pockets, Velcro closures and hidden button-down collars. Camp shirts usually tout a hand-feel-driven fabric story of comfort and softness, with performance features like UPF sun protection and antimicrobial finishes. Comfort and relaxed attitude best describe recent camp shirt assortments.
Today's lifestyle apparel pieces have nothing to do with the original intent or purpose of these garments. People wear these shirts even when they're not on a Hawaiian cruise, a fishing junket to the Florida Keys or a guided hunting trip to Idaho. Lifestyle apparel now simply represents how the wearer identifies with a specific hobby or sport—fishing, hunting, hiking—than with actual participation in that hobby or sport. These garments represent who and what we want to be identified with, supported by comfort and performance.
The recent explosion of outdoor activities and hobbies has led to a great influx of lifestyle apparel garments that have become a huge part of our casual sportswear repertoire. Moisture-management and wicking fabrics, stain and soil finishes, anti-pilling and UPF sun blocking features have all crept into our casual apparel and corporate apparel assortments.
So, next time you see that father-of-four scrambling to his connecting gate at the airport in his vented roll-up sleeve fishing shirt, please don’t ask him if the fish are biting. He's only traveling to Florida to visit his in-laws.
David J. Bebon is CEO of DBEBZ Apparel, a manufacturer of woven and knit sport shirts. Before that, he was executive vice president of Capital Mercury Apparel for 18 years. He lives in Connecticut with his wife Zoe and four children. Bebon is a frequent speaker and presenter at industry trade shows and is contributing writer for several trade publications.