What's Hot in Teen Fashion?

The mall! What a great hangout spot for so many teenagers. It provides a place for them to meet, socialize . . . and generate wardrobes that express their personal sense of fashion. What better place to find out what’s hot and what’s not, and to talk to this group of people who . . . like . . . live for fashion?

So Printwear decided we’d hang out at the mall, seeking answers to such questions as What is the “juniors” market? What are these kids looking for? and How can the decorated-apparel industry meet that need?

The young adults with whom we spoke described a quest for uniqueness in their wardrobe, but also wanted name-brand association. They wanted “style,” but also garments that wouldn’t fall apart after one washing. And, significantly, while individuality is important, they also wanted a clear amount of peer uniformity.

We also did a bit of window shopping, asking the juniors at the mall to point out the exact items they would buy—or at least wear if  somebody else was kind enough to pick up the tab—and we were even invited on a $500 shopping spree with a teen who loved to watched Stacy and Clinton on TLC’s What Not to Wear . . . .

Shopping spree

Sarah Wymore, a freshman in college, was wandering the mall in a pair of pajama bottoms (just the bottoms: all the rage as street/schoolwear), flip-flops, a T-shirt and a jacket over top. Wymore explained that she was given a $500 gift card for Christmas and, once she recognized us as apparel “experts,” said she wouldn’t mind some help shopping, being just a bit overwhelmed with the style choices offered to her age group. She had a few photos clipped from a magazine showing “looks” she liked and wanted to replicate. We saw this as the perfect opportunity to learn more about the current fashion directions, and to ask retail managers what they were forecasting for 2007.

What we were shown were low-rise pants with flared leg, T-shirts that were more form-fitting than in the past, deep V-neck Ts and sweaters . . . and pointy-toed shoes. Bright pinks, greens and blues also caught our attention. And, according to one store manager, digital-camouflage prints were selling faster than more traditional camouflage motifs.

When Wymore’s bankroll had dwindled to pocket change, she’d scored a pair of dark-washed low-rise jeans with a slight flare at the bottom, three short-sleeved T-shirts that hit at her hip, a pair of black pointy-toed boots, two lightweight sweaters, two Henley-placket shirts and a pair of spaghetti-strap tank tops. Not bad for $500, we thought. And, of her 11 new wardrobe items, how many were embellished via screen printing, embroidery or other method? Everything but those dangerous-looking boots.

Stylings of today’s teens

But Wymore wasn’t the only mall teen who caught our attention. Jessica Thompson, a high-school sophomore, was a walking vision in pink. Wearing a light-pink knit hat with matching scarf and gloves, Thompson also sported a white, magenta and light pink jacket over a light-pink long-sleeve shirt under a magenta T-shirt with rhinestone embellishment, dark-washed jeans, and white shoes with light pink accents. Her favorite accessory was her pink backpack. As she was definitely not trolling the mall solo, we couldn’t but think her ensemble was acceptable to her many peers—acceptance seemingly a must in the juniors market.

Scott White, a high-school junior, proclaimed to be really into skateboarding and snowboarding. His baggy jeans allow him flexibility, and he is also conscientious about his boxer shorts showing; he explains that he’ll likely spend more money on cool-looking boxers knowing of the high likelihood that many people will see them. White prefers darker-colored shirts, particularly in winter—the sun being absorbed by the darker colors, keeping him warm on the slopes while allowing him to wear fewer layers—thus allowing him to move more freely and “pull better tricks.”

Another college student, Brandon Larson, claims to maintain three wardrobes. He explains his first is for important meetings and formal social events; the second comprises his school clothes, while the third is reserved for “hang-out” time. The meeting and formal-social-event wardrobe includes three dress suits: one black, one gray, one light brown. The suits must have matching shoes, socks and a variety of collared, button-down shirts. Larson’s school wardrobe includes more casual button-down shirts, sweaters, comfortable jeans, and brown shoes or nice sneakers. He makes the extra effort to find softer fabrics, but claims this is not for his comfort, but “for the ladies.” Larson’s casual wardrobe consists of distressed jeans, T-shirts and sweatshirts that all sport logos of fraternity and business-club events.

So, what have we learned so far? And what does it all mean? Certainly some trends are emerging. For example, the typical “junior” at the mall is not shy about touting brands, events, personalities, celebrities and other popular icons on clothing items from head to toe. But exactly what is a junior, and how might embellished-apparel professionals exploit its changing demands?

Defining the teen market

“The term juniors really refers to high-school girls between the ages of fourteen and eighteen,” says Nicole Wilder of Atlanta-based Boxercraft. “It also refers to a specific garment cut and style. Garments made for juniors are smaller in size and feature low-rise waists, straight cut through hips, and flared-legs. The Ts are form-fitting and longer in length.” Many young women also shop the juniors department, Wilder says, who are looking for hipper, sexier clothing than what’s offered them in other clothing collections.

“Juniors” sets itself apart from kid’s wear, misses, and women’s wear through the cuts and styles, but also through the use of brighter, bolder colors. Pinks, aquas and bright greens are currently hot, but Mindy Anastos of L.A. T Sportswear in Canton, Ga., encourages embellishers to stay on top of color trends as this group of buyers changes much more quickly than do other groups. Anastos, therefore, also recommends the use of raspberry pink, kelly green and turquoise as they have much greater staying power than collegiate or even traditional colors such as red, royal and gold.

The male counterpart to juniors is young men, or guy collections. Dean Vuong of Los Angeles-based Kavio! explains how teen apparel—for both genders—unabashedly offers sex appeal that kid’s wear and adult wear do not. It’s edgy, trendy and in a whole world of its own. Yet Vuong believes today’s guy collections reach a broader range of males spanning from high-school age to their early 30s. As long as the guy has a decent physique, and wants to look sexy, he may continue to shop these collections. This, incidentally, goes for juniors as well.

Marketing to fashionistas

There are thought to be principles every decorator should know in order to sell consistently to this evolving demographic: What’s hot now, what’s going to be hot tomorrow, how it can be embellished, and what is the most likely target market.

All our sources agreed that, for juniors, pinks, greens and blues are hot now, and are forecast to be hot for a while yet. Khaki, brown, army green, and olive are gaining popularity for spring and summer 2007 collections. For guys, similar colors of khaki, browns and olives are popular now, and will continue strong for 2007. Classic black, gray and white will also remain strong as building colors for every wardrobe.

T-shirts, baby doll Ts, V-necks, scoops, three-quarter-sleeve Ts,  raglan tops, spaghetti straps, racer-back tanks and sleeveless tops are very much in, according to Anastos. And what about the continued appearance of those long-exposed mid-sections, belly-button jewelry and lower-back tattoos? “Juniors cuts today are much longer than in previous years,” says Anastos. “They used to be more cropped, but today they are longer and remain fitted over the hips.”

Trims also play a role in fashion; these keep styles looking fresh without completely reinventing the wheel. Trims can be single-stitched, double-stitched, or incorporate a piece of fabric in a different color sewn on at sleeve and neckline or a different type of fabric such as lace or silk ribbon: both are gaining popularity in retail stores and with suppliers, so expect to see them as hot trims for 2007.

Our industry is also noticing a lot of variations in camouflage for both genders, explains Vuong. For juniors, camouflage incorporates pink, white, black and even purple; for young men, we’ll be seeing the more traditional greens and browns, but in non-traditional camouflage patterns. Even our armed-forces have updated their wardrobes to include the new digital-camouflage garments. Vertical stripes, vintage-looking shirts with distressed prints, and rhinestones for a dressier look on Ts and jeans are also still strong. If the decoration is unique and hip, say our sources, then it will sell the shirt. But don’t forget about accessories. “Bags and totes act as a way for individuals to express themselves and their interests,” says Wilder. These carry-along accessories are getting the same careful attention as the clothes teens actually wear.

Juniors will tell you what’s cool, which is a great way to gain market perspective. But when actually marketing to teens, Anastos explains, decorators must satisfy two very different niches: the teens themselves . . . and their parents. Seeking input from both these demographics will help decorators sell product, as significant business in the teen market will also be found at the group’s second-most prevalent hang-out venue: school. Thus is it important to offer garments that, yes, are fashionable, but also appropriate. Because it seems that, in most cases, the parents are footing the bill.