This article appears in the latest issue of Printwear magazine. Jump into the July issue and more by subscribing here!
When we hear the word uniform, our minds can’t help but think of a classic white or navy button-down shirt or even a polo branded with a logo. As times have changed, so have uniforms and corporate attire, and those companies who want to be successful at their marketing and brand strategy place a great deal of value on keeping their uniforms modern, on-trend, and fashion-forward.
The days of formality and strict dress codes are behind us and are being replaced by companies embracing cool and comfortable looks that show versatility and style. In fact, more offices even communicate that staff is permitted to follow a ‘business casual’ dress code.
Essentially, a uniform is all about telling a story. What does the company represent? What are its mission and culture? How can staff clothing bring this to life? So much more than a branded shirt or polo, a uniform is a huge opportunity to motivate internal associates and inspire clients or customers. What the team wears at work is all a reflection of who the company is, and ultimately, what it would like to be known for.
So, if you’re looking to freshen up your uniform assortment this season, it’s important to think about stylish design trends and new options, which can complement a host of different work environments.
Comfort is king
Just because something is comfortable to wear it doesn’t always mean that it looks ‘too comfortable.’ There are a variety of different ways to embrace the comfort trend, without compromising on the intended professional appearance.
Taraynn Lloyd, VP of marketing at Edwards Garment explains this shift stating that a hotel property, for example, may have more ‘traditional’ suiting from Monday to Thursday. But, on Friday and the weekend, they are shifting to casual woven shirts, dress pants, and sweater vests. This trend is more relaxed and comfortable for the wearer but is well put together and professional looking.
Corporate buyers are also moving away from the traditional oxford shirt to have staff sport a dress shirt with a textured weave and soft hand.
Performance at its best
Performance materials are now much more acceptable in the corporate and hospitality market as well. Whether your client is considering a performance mesh or snag-proof polo, fabrics that allow their employees to stay dry and comfortable in the most humid conditions make all the difference in the world.
What features do companies look for when considering performance-based apparel? Trending now, are garments that have advanced moisture wicking to keep the wearer cool and dry, an antimicrobial finish that can curb unpleasant odors caused from perspiration, and UPF protection for staff members that often work outdoors. These built-in technologies are being requested more frequently, describes Tim Stiene, VP of sales at Century Place Apparel, but it’s also important to have pieces that offer both performance strength and tailored style. Think double-stitched hemmed sleeves, flat collars, and designer buttons, to name a few.
Don’t forget about good old durability though. “Today, there are ways to knit polyester-based yarns that reduce or even eliminate snagging, yet still be able to wick moisture and perform under a variety of conditions,” says Stiene. For this, consider offering snag-proof performance polos, as they can take on tough jobs without compromising the garment’s intended strength.
Right: What a team wears at work is all a reflection of who the company is, and ultimately, what it would like to be known for. (Image courtesy Century Place Apparel).
Getting the look just right
New women’s blouse styles that offer slightly retro details like small contrasting collars and peplum waistlines are performing well in the corporate market indicates Lisa Denham, marketing director at Executive Apparel. A take on a nostalgic trend from years ago, the peplum look is making a great comeback. Incorporating this flattering silhouette into a corporate attire wardrobe is a must-have for any female.
Another hot look for office wear? Sweaters. “Quarter-zip pullovers and vests in a cotton-rich blend, along with a long, open cardigan, is the No. 1 choice for ladies,” Lloyd adds. “Buyers are always looking for fresh and youthful styles, regardless of the wearer’s age.”
Your clients can also never go wrong with selecting a blazer for their employees’ closets. Denham comments that hybrid blazers fill the space between corporate and casual, especially in hospitality and more ‘relaxed’ offices.”
There are so many ways to complete a look with a blazer. They are traditionally added alongside a dress pant and oxford shirt, but nowadays, the blazer can take you from the office to a night out on the town by pairing it with dark jeans and a T-shirt for a trendier look. Single-breasted blazers for both men and women are popular in this category, as well as a cropped blazer for ladies who are looking for a more fitted style.
Below: Hybrid blazers fill the space between corporate and casual. (Image courtesy Executive Apparel)
The finishing touches
Nothing completes a professional look more than a wrinkle-resistant finish, which is a big selling feature that continues to be requested. To ensure the garment looks its best at all times, this finish is applied to maintain shape, fight wrinkles, and enhance your overall polished appearance.
Most new corporate wear ranges also include a wash-and-wear blouse option and shirts that are super easy to care for with home laundry. “No one, including myself, wants to haul out the iron to make the garment look great, so it needs to wash and dry with little to no fuss,” states Lloyd. Tops that have this feature are a real bonus, especially when they can work for a range of body sizes and style options.
Aligning industry with apparel
The work environment and the expectations your clients have for their apparel determine which style works best. Stiene comments, “Understanding the working conditions in which the garment will be worn is often overlooked, but definitely needed before making a recommendation.”
A warehouse worker may require tough, snag-proof tops, whereas an office professional may value a wrinkle-resistant finish. Gaining more insight into the type of industry and apparel requirements is necessary to ensure they are happy with the ultimate selection.
Other types of organizations, such as hotel and lodging properties, restaurant and banquet establishments, airline and transportation, as well as financial, education, or healthcare institutions all have unique needs. At the same time, the wide array of style selections can be applicable in multiple business categories. “It’s great that blazers and corporate apparel are a uniform staple in so many industries,” adds Denham. That’s the beauty of some of the style trends explored here. They’re versatile enough and can resonate with numerous audiences.
Choosing the perfect shade
Of course, you can never go wrong with a navy, gray, or black in suit separates or polos, but consider elevating your color assortment to be more in tune with your client’s brand and the tone they wish to communicate to their audience. Do they wish to portray their team as more subdued and laid back, or do they imagine their persona to be more vibrant, bold and ‘out of the box?’ Something else to recommend is matching the apparel’s color with the company logo.
“It has become all about colors. Years back, your traditional colors, such as black, navy, and red were your common shades,” says Stiene. “Today, we are seeing a wide array of colors requested, from pastels to bright neons.”
Have fun with your colors and explore all variations before finalizing on your client’s perfect team uniform. If you can’t decide on just one shade, try incorporating a few that best complement each other, such as combining a solid navy blazer with a light blue knit T. Remember, a uniform tells a story, and the color is just as important as the actual garment.
Left: Most new corporate wear ranges include wash-and-wear options like shirts that are super easy to care for with home laundry. (Image courtesy Edwards Garment) Right: You can never go wrong with navy, gray, or black polos, but consider elevating your color assortment to be more in tune with your client's brand. (Image courtesy Century Place Apparel)
The retail influence
It is clear that retail-inspired style details will continue to impact the corporate apparel and hospitality world. Denham explains it rather well, saying, “Retail trends, which take their style cues from the runway, eventually trickle down to the uniform industry. Where our industry is impacted is by the overlapping purchasing habits that retail buyers and wholesale buyers share. Retail systems are quickly changing, and the urgency in the purchasing timeline forces change for manufacturers and distributors.”
Essentially, your customers are expecting a retail design without the retail price, but, of course, you need to ensure these styles have some longevity, as you don’t have the luxury to change your assortment as frequently as retail stores can.
Some solid examples where retail has influenced the hospitality, corporate, or uniform market were brought up by all of our sources. Lloyd comments that the “easy-fit waistband was retail-driven and now has become mainstream in corporate and uniform apparel, as has selecting a knit T to wear under a suit, versus a traditional woven.”
On the fabric side of things, Stiene states that textured and striated heathers are becoming a bigger part of the corporate market, heavily because of their popularity at retail.
Whenever someone is selecting the perfect uniform, they will most definitely want to ensure that their brand is prominently and tastefully displayed through decoration. After all, the company’s logo on top of a stylish design will create the lasting impression that they desire.
Anything can be done with a solid decorator but have fun when recommending different spots for the logo, including on the sleeves, along lapels, or on the side body. A creative placement will stand out more versus showcasing the brand on the left or right chest.
In terms of other decoration trends, embroidery and woven heat seal patches will continue to lead in this market, while transfers and dye sublimation are becoming more common. “Both methods offer a ‘flat’ look,” explains Steine, although dye sublimation will have some color limitations.”
Whichever type of decoration is chosen, it is important that at the end of the day, the brand is represented well and tells the right story. So, take the time to collaborate with your client before presenting the next best thing. After all, they know best regarding what they are looking for. Understanding their culture and ensuring the uniform and decoration communicates that tone is truly what it’s all about.