The Immaculate Placket is Always in Sight, in Season, in Style

Of all the activities in which women were once prevented from partaking, somehow dressing themselves wound up on the list. Unlike the right to vote, to work, and to obtain an education, however, it was not hidebound social mores that kept women from buttoning their own plackets, but the very nature of the outfitting regimen. In many cases, the clothes themselves forced women to be dressed by servants, mothers, sisters, whoever was handy—and, accordingly, their plackets to be oriented in reverse. How’s that?

“The preponderance of right-handed people combined with the tradition of ladies being dressed by chamber maids required that buttons be placed on the lady’s left,” reports former Dunbrooke president Bob Pierce, Pierce Marketing & Communications, to make the dresser’s job easier. “The practice is a product of the Victorian Age when women were forced to endure large hoop skirts and corsets. It was literally impossible for a lady to dress herself after these corset and hoops were installed.”

And, as fashions often do, this curiosity evolved into a status symbol. “Having buttons on the left side of the garment became something of a social signal indicating that the wearer was a lady,” Pierce explains, “not a commoner.”

While so much has changed for women—from breaking silence, to casting votes, to holding previously unthinkable candidacies—enduring tradition keeps their buttons, just like female presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton, on the left; but placket placement seems about the only property that’s stayed put, as new markets with unique needs are pulling on placket shirts every day.

The scholastic placket

While teachers are hard at work molding young minds, the placket’s popularity among students teaches them a fashion lesson in return.

“The days of instructors wearing button-down shirts and ties are long past their prime,” says Lou Iantorno, Imprints Wholesale. “Today, teachers are more likely to dress as their students do, thus making it easier for the students to relate and feel more comfortable.”

Iantorno sees soft-finish, 100 percent cotton piqué fabrics, solids and traditional stripes, and a particularly tailored look as the academic spins on this classic piece.

“Trends in placket-shirt looks, as it relates to the education market, would include a European fit—a more fitted, tighter placket shirt incorporating shorter banded sleeves,” he comments, describing embellishments for such styles as novelty screen prints, embroidery or a combination of both.

For trendier customers, Iantorno discusses a new direction for placket-shirt styling with soft jersey fabric and detailing that includes contrast stitching at the collar, placket, armhole, sleeve and bottom hem.

He also points out another school-related opportunity for which plackets continue to be in high demand: “Placket shirts are a mainstay for team- or spirit-logoed apparel. Coaches and parent booster clubs all wear placket shirts with their team logos screen printed or embroidered,” he states, reminding decorators to define the customers’ specific needs when selling teamwear: “Schools are generally looking for price, while booster clubs are willing to pay more for the fashion looks and quality.”

Beyond price, specifications can include easy-care properties as well as assortments in size, sleeve-length and color.

“Little Johnny’s sportshirt needs to stay wrinkle free and colorfast for mom and the school’s image,” Iantorno suggests. “Color dye lots that can match other clothing options such as Ts, fleece hooded sweatshirts and twill sport shirts with a generous range of sizes are what this market is requesting.”

Vantage Apparel’s Gina Barreca adds alumni to the ever-growing list of educational-placket prospects: “Traditional placket polos are excellent choices for alumnus catalogs and programs, while newer, more fitted styles are great fashion choices for the students,” she remarks, stressing embellishment’s significance. “In retail or bookstore space, decoration and graphics play an important role in garment sales. Alternate logo placements such as shoulders or hips are popular, and specialty screen-print inks like liquid foil, shimmer or suede can add to the appeal of the polo.”

Resort to it

With even more emphasis on the decoration aspect, resort employees, guests and visitors hitting the links can see and be seen in placket shirts bearing trademarks.

“Resorts are looking for fashion-forward styles to highlight their logos—the trendier the better,” comments Iantorno. “Color is the key to catch the end-user’s eye. A great logo offered in a variety of colors really catches the eye and creates a need to purchase.”

To get those vivaciously eye-catching colors, garment and reactive dyes work well to exhibit a resort’s branding efforts, according to Iantorno, who brings up retail’s influence on this higher-end marketplace.

“Brand recognition, sizing and larger retail specs are important in the resort market, compared to the education market,” he says. “The resort market is closely tracking new retail trends from all segments—from pro shops to Nordstrom’s—looking for any new performance sizzle, from super-soft fine yarns to wicking and UV protection.”

Examples of those sizzlin’ retail specs include stripes, color panels, and self-fabric collars and open sleeves versus knit collars and sleeves. Creating interesting combinations and a more refined look, surface interest or jacquards are also found more often in the resort market, Iantorno notes.

Where retail-reinforcements meet color, Pierce attributes forces such as Pantone as pallet predictors for modern-day plackets.

“Colors for decorated apparel continue to move increasingly away from corporate and school colors to the trendier, retail-oriented color schemes,” states Pierce. “The hot color in 2007 was chili pepper red: Pantone’s Color of the Year. For 2008, the color will be blue iris.”

Alongside color, Pierce expects 2008 to see a continuation of the dependable and visible left-chest decoration, an increase in back-yoke embellishments, and an emergence of cuff/sleeve logos.

On innovative embellishment placement, Iantorno agrees: “Logo placement can mimic the placement found in only the most expensive clothing lines, like on the back of a collar and side of a sleeve, so as not to take too much away from garment.”

He also believes that the most effective and memorable marks are reverse-engineered from the colors on which they’ll be positioned; thus, to bring the garment and identity to a classier level of recognition, Iantorno proposes playing with the understated yet edgy tone-on-tone logo.

Just as crucial to the resort community as left-chest embroidered crests and plackets functioning as wearable marketing materials, are performance-oriented styles catering to golf, tennis, and other active endeavors, according to Vantage’s Barreca.

She also comments on a trend in plackets for resort-going females: “While most men’s pieces have a traditional button placket, women’s styles are more likely to vary with open, no-button plackets or zip mock-neck silhouettes. Color trends are either active inspired with brighter shades of sport red, golf green and dark pink, or they come from the eco trend of cotton in its natural, creamy shade.”

Other nature-inspired colors, such as earthy brown or sea-infused green, are part of this movement.

Eco-devotion

These days, not many apparel discussions can conclude without some environmental emphasis and, according to Barreca, eco-friendly styles contend with performancewear as one of the most important trend stories for 2008.

All sources agree: “An interesting retail trend called ‘eco fashion’ will find its way into the resort, education and promotional markets in 2008,” asserts Pierce. “ ‘Going green’ appears to be a strong trend. In all likelihood, it seems this will become a full-fledged segment of the fashion market as consumers gradually become aware of the harmful effects of pollutants, pesticides and chemicals used to manufacture clothing and accessories.”

Pierce predicts an upturn in sales of natural and recycled fabrics such as organic cotton, tencel, bamboo, hemp, organic denim, silk, wool and eco-fleece products. “Decorators will need to pay extra attention to the embroidery and screen printing challenges that these fabrics present,” he advises.

Along with bamboo, Iantorno forecasts momentum for natural fabrics such as corn and soybean, as well as recycled materials. With inherent moisture-wicking properties, a soft hand and clear Earth-related benefits, organic garments will likely appeal to the general public, while undoubtedly remaining important to the growing socially-responsible subset.

“There are also new eco-friendly and organic placket polos which are great for Earth Day events, green energy companies, health and fitness industries, and really any business that’s looking to make an environmentally-conscious statement,” Barreca remarks.

Plethora of plackets

The aforementioned performance fabrics and properties continue to be a hot topic into 2008, consequently making up a large segment of the placket industry.

“Almost all of our new placket shirts for 2008 fall into the performance category,” reports Barreca. “Originally targeted for the activewear market, these high-tech pieces with moisture management and easy-care characteristics have made their way into everyday wardrobes.”

Still, those performance benefits can double as decorating hindrances, says Pierce, who reminds embellishers to familiarize themselves with each brand of performance material to determine how it works, how to decorate it, unique selling points, and any special-care requirements.

“Most performance fabrics require accommodations for decoration and need to be tested and sampled prior to decorating,” he declares.

Whether they function to perform, better serve the Earth, or just plain clothe clientele, gaps between placket markets are reportedly narrowing.

“The education market mirrors the need in the institutional or uniform ID market,” Iantorno reports. “The resort market is the fashion and performance piece for the management team. The general promotional market is being asked to provide both as a one-stop-shop apparel consultant.”

While differences between these shirts clearly exist for their respective markets, bigger trends have emerged, allowing embellishers to count on this old standby for general success across audiences.

“We are seeing Egyptian, Pima and Peruvian cotton come down into commodity pricing—under ten dollars from closer to twenty,” says Iantorno. “They would not be considered for uniform programs too often but, due to today’s pricing, are now standard fare.”

The same goes for the popular performance category, with accessible fabrics that project a reasonable image at a reasonable price.

Certainly, the placket shirt’s versatility continues to propel its popularity, making it one of the most appealing apparel options.

“Dress-down Friday has created a whole new movement and cadre of knit-sport-shirt-wearing professional people,” states Iantorno. “That demand has created an opportunity to fill a need with more choices.”

Choices in fabrics, performance, color and fit followed, as well new ways to brand those options with embellishments and placements thereof.

“The twenty-something market has opened up the range of acceptable and even desirable embellishments,” says Iantorno, indicating that the main market-defining detail lies in the decoration. “Embroidery, screen printing, high-density transfers and sewn-on appliqués can be used to push forward the sportshirt’s look and produce the identity for a given demographic.”

With the upcoming election campaigns pulling you every which way, the multifunctional placket with its limitless specs, shades and decorate-able spaces remains a strong candidate no matter on which side you and your buttons reside.