Ponder for a while the term junior, and it might summon imagery of tweens and teens, an entry-level job position, a namesake for someone who’s not the first to come along, a younger individual, or merely a miniature version of something else. But as it’s used to name an apparel category, what is it really and who among the above-mentioned “juniors” can get away with wearing it?
Printwear probes purveyors with a stake in this category to find out where, when and on whom a junior-styled item is appropriate.
The juniors department
In theory, the juniors market as defined by Alstyle’s Todd Profit is made up of an age group with 18 to 24-year-old parameters, but in practice is based more around a lifestyle encompassing young, hip, fun and fashion.
“It’s hard to say ‘if you’re twenty-five, you’re not a junior anymore, you’re a woman,’” he explains. “I think that, as designers create lines for the junior market, they go after that fashion-forward girl who’s in that age group, but definitely doesn’t have to fall in that age category.”
Profit also sees body type as one aspect that differentiates juniors from the often indecipherable styles offered in other categories.
“You don’t really see junior plus-size offerings as you would in the women or missy markets,” he reports, with juniors sizing beginning at zero and usually topping out at 12.
Luiza Raposo of Boxercraft also names size as something that renders juniors distinctly so: “The category is named juniors due to sizing—juniors run smaller—but it is mainly composed of more trend-focused items. After mass acceptance, they may move into the missy/women’s department.”
While certain items can be found in both departments simultaneously, a closer look will reveal some even more obvious distinctions between them than size.
“An example is a sweatsuit,” Raposo offers, “Juniors sweatsuits are slender, have a low rise and will be in the season’s must-have colors and prints, while a more classic/traditional suit can be found in women’s."
"It’s not that juniors items are just for younger women,” she adds, “but for those who want to wear a specific type of style. So anyone can wear that juniors sweatsuit on a casual day, regardless of age. Women of various ages buy from the juniors department because they will find slender silhouettes, the hottest items for the season and more diverse offerings.”
Morey Mayeri of Royal Apparel agrees that style is, above all else, what characterizes this group, terming it edgy and fashion-forward, and expressing confidence in this clothing category’s viability: “That’s the hot market,” he remarks. “The retailers that are all doing well are all juniors-based, young teen market retailers such as Abercrombie, Hollister and those types.”
With a clear picture what juniors is, the classification becomes even more apparent and interesting when considering what it isn’t . . . and the fact that half the population seems to be left out of the picture.
The word juniors speaks of mints and misses. But what about the young male counterparts to those 18-to-24-year-old females, or any guy for that matter who’s outgrown a youth T yet is too hip for his dad’s? Juniors sales exclude the dudes, our sources tell us, because women are more complicated in both taste and shape, necessitating a little something extra.
“Most men’s styles are straight up and down,” Mayeri says. “They don’t have a curve, a waist to the body or a lot of bells and whistles, whereas women have a lot more details, more going on.”
Although men trend toward basics, fashion-forward does exist for them, manifesting itself in specialty fabric or tailored European cuts with narrow, rather than big, boxy, baggy specs. But even the increasing popularity of smaller-fitting shirts for the chaps is not yet enough to bring about a juniors-for-gentlemen sector, as they don’t tend to buy with as much regularity as the ladies.
“For women,” says Mayeri, “we have twice as many styles as we do in the men’s, because men don’t demand it. If they’re fashion-forward, guys will wear that T-shirt but they’ll get a lot more out of it whereas the woman wants a lot of variety.”
Raposo agrees, recommending a spin on the everyday hoodie, sweatpant or T-shirt for the classic-loving males.
“Women buy apparel more frequently and buy trendy items compared to only basics,” Raposo reports. “Traditionally, men buy basics while women are diverse in their spending, buying different silhouettes, patterns and styles. For men, a twist on basics is really the best idea.”
According to Profit, the young-men’s market fits on the smaller end of a broad menswear sizing scale that caters to the young and old alike, with embellishments serving as the real distinguishing factor.
“We’re still marketing it towards the sixteen, seventeen year old, but usually they’re a medium adult so they kind of fall into the adult category,” says Profit. “If they haven’t hit their growth spurt yet they could get away with still buying a youth product and if they have, they could go ahead and buy an adult or men’s product.”
Teenaged girls, on the other hand, can’t as easily be grouped with the youth or women’s categories because for them, it’s about finding a fit with specs that fall outside any one given spectrum. And as its intended audience, juniors styles are there to offer that comfort and confidence to young women.
“For the juniors, the body type plays a big part of it with their chest and hips growing, so there’s a little bit more to play with there,” Profit adds.
In the New York fashion landscape, Mayeri observes individuals sporting the junior-like soft-washed, longer-bodied, sheer-burnout and thermal styles, all of whom appear to be out to get noticed. “As far as colors go, brights are in,” he reports. “The purples and the kellies, fuchsias and colors that pop are very popular. Obviously black is the number-one color always, black and white is just a staple, and then I think the fashion colors right now are the bright colors.”
The same goes for hipsters on the left coast and, according to Profit, even though the guys go for basic gear, California males tend to make louder color statements than the females.
“Turquoise, hot pink, safety green even, they’re really going, especially in California,” Profit says. “Down at Huntington on the weekends, I haven’t seen this much color just walking the streets for ages. I think it translates over to the women, but they will still go with the earth tones. They’ll wear the deep purples and the loud stuff, but not as much as I see in the young men’s market right now.”
Complementing those vivid shades are soft-handed discharge prints, foils, rhinestones, and specialty acid and stone washes. “Multimedia embellishments are all the rage,” Raposo adds, discussing reverse and layered appliqué techniques.
Conscionable youth are also reading, and buying into the organic story, with young consumers becoming educated about protecting the environment, says Profit: “They have strong beliefs in what they are buying and wearing.” The slightly higher cost, however, could cause its popularity to wane in a maxed-out economy where perceived value may no longer hold up against actual dollar amount."
“We sell a good amount of organic but it has tapered off a little bit over the last few months,” Profit states. “It’s a fine line. I think the kids believe in it and they want to do it but, when it comes to a twenty-dollar shirt versus a twenty-five dollar shirt, are they going to pay that much of a mark up? It’s yet to be seen.”
The junior exec
While juniors fashion portrays an essence of youth, it is clear that it’s also being sold to a broader base of buyers. Accordingly, our sources suggest that these styles have their place outside of the obvious school and team markets, with expansion potential within the classic corporate market, “. . . If it’s done right,” Profit says. “Young corporate America still wants to be hip and current with style, so there’s always a little something they could do without going over the top. Just little touches here and there to dress up their Ts or clothing.”
Instead of bringing the hip to corporate, Mayeri recommends seeking out businesses with a cool-factor already intact: “If the end user is more fashion forward––for example, let’s say you’re doing a promotion for a liquor company––they’ll use fashion-forward items instead of using a basic, boxy T-shirt, because the girls will wear it. That is, they’ll wear it out instead of wearing it to sleep.”
Raposo mentions uniforms and staff apparel as another department that can benefit from junior-styled items, pointing out that many women would welcome form-fitting apparel for the workplace, such as fitted polo shirts for teachers.
Retail-licensed apparel, she says, is another alternative, with celebrity icons, rock bands and the like as licensed art that can be profitable if paired with the right apparel.
Youth may be wasted on the young, but its fashions aren’t, with juniors styles that appeal to, and can be worn by, youngsters and the young-at-heart.