Image courtesy Comfort Colors by Chouinard

Flash-Back Fleece

Blame it on the hipsters. From a resurgence of popularity in PBR, geek glasses, and all things ironic, everything that was once old is new again. This adage may be most true at the moment, with fashion statements trickled down from retail into the wholesale markets. What’s more, the most apparent category where this is evidenced is fleece.

One of the crew

In recent years fleece has shifted from the popular zip-up hoodie style worn by everyone from skaters to CEOs, to the basic, rounded neck crew. “Who would have ever thought crewnecks would be such a trend,” muses Kevin Meehan, Beimar. It is rather shocking that the throwback design would be the trend du jour in 2014. But when French design house Givenchy sends a Disney screen printed crew neck down the runway, you know that the look is in.

Much of the crewneck’s success can be attributed to the latest craze in anti-fashion, as Kevin Camisa, Comfort Colors by Chouinard, calls it, or normcore as it’s been dubbed in the media. “We’re really seeing the old fashioned look again, I like to call it a resurgence of the nineties.” This can be spotted in everything from 20-something’s wearing Birkenstocks, a bevy of denim overalls in stores and the ubiquitous plaid in renderings for every seasons.

In the fleece category, particularly in wholesale, this normcore trend translates to boxy, oversized crews, or the “boyfriend” look that many women are adopting. Camisa credits this phenomenon to the shift from boot cut jeans to skinny denim or leggings as the pant of choice these days. In part, the oversized look on top helps to balance out the slimmer silhouette.

But this trend is not just for the ladies. Sales of crews amongst men have been strong as well, and the anti-fashion fashion statement crosses over too. “You’ll see guys pairing a boxy sweatshirt with a pair of jeans and old sneakers or Converse,” Camisa offers.

However, this is not to say that the basic is an exact replica of the ’80s and ’90s wear (although wolf sweatshirts on Amazon are highly rated). Instead, they are made with the latest fabrics, and minor updates to elevate the look to this millennium. Among them are lighter weight constructions, more open necklines, contrast neck tape, and other fashion details such as pouch pockets or raglan sleeves.

Wear it again

Although the crew has been in the spotlight as of late, that isn’t to say that other styles, primarily throwbacks themselves, aren’t having a moment as well. Among the trends, is the growing interest in sweatpants, Meehan reports, which also echoes a shift in lower body wear as noted above.

But again, the look has been elevated from loungey weekend wear to a garment that can be worn out every day and even work as office attire. The sweats of today are cleaner, leaner, and often have fashion elements built into them. And, while the sweatpants trend is particularly popular on the retail side, the trend continues to grow in wholesale as well, making a great option for athletic and collegiate clients.

Other vintage trends today include all-over prints, textured fabrics such as yarn dyed heather, Hawaiian and floral prints, and color-blocking says Rebecca Thompson, Independent Trading Co. “What I’m really surprised is still as popular as it is, is the contrast; contrast zip cords, drawstrings, etc. It’s been around a long time but there are some colors we still can’t keep in stock,” confirms Celeste Vella, Independent Trading Co.

Beyond these trends, the pullover hood is starting to take up more sales space in comparison to the buzzworthy crew. “The college kids have really taken an interest in the pullover hoodies and they kind of lead the way on trends. For example, if your college aged daughter starts wearing this style, you may be more apt to wear the same. The kids really start trends on what the adults wear in the marketplace,” states Camisa.

Technically speaking…

Even if the styles are a throwback, the technology behind today’s fleece is anything but. The fabrics are designed to both look and feel good with a soft hand and functionality when being decorated. “Fabric content is a huge part of decorating any style,” stresses Thompson. In a time when polyester and performance are practically a necessity, this is important to note.

Most fleece styles are constructed of a cotton/polyester blend with varying degrees of each fiber. Depending on the decoration, this can be crucial. As Meehan notes, sublimation will need a poly rich blend while screen printing requires a cotton rich or 100 percent cotton fabric. And, with much frustration in achieving long-lasting dynamic designs on fleece, many fleece styles are sold with a cotton face, allowing for brighter and stronger prints.

Still, Vella points out the importance of print testing regardless of the fiber content or if the style is from a go-to brand. With the higher price point of fleece versus that of T-shirts, it’s especially crucial to test out techniques and prints first. This is because, as Vella explains, dye can vary from batch to batch causing bleeding or dye migration issues.

Beyond fabric composition, it’s also important to look for construction details that likely indicate the fleece is of a higher quality and, thus, better performing in the long run. A simple trick Meehan suggests is to check for neck tape and bar tack stitches. Both ensure solid construction and attention to detail. He also notes that better quality fleece will often times have a jersey lining for added comfort.

So, whether looking for old school appeal or straight up comfort from one of wholesale’s coziest categories, the market has a solution for every need. And, while the looks may be a nod to the past, their ability to deliver forward-thinking decorations and performance is anything but dated.