The 2019 Style Guide

Ashland Knit Hooded Cardi by Trimark

When it comes to style, there’s no right or wrong look. Everyone has their own approach, their own thing, and that’s what makes it so fun.

It also makes it tough to put together a definitive style guide, but that didn’t stop us from trying. No, instead, we went big. We asked the top apparel suppliers in just about every category—activewear, business attire, uniforms, socks, caps, everyday casual wear, etc.—for the big trends to look out for, decoration tips to consider, style predictions and so much more. Then, we put together all their answers in this handy promotional apparel roundup: the 2019 Style Guide. We hope you enjoy it!

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by Sarah Semple
May 2019

Business Attire and Uniforms

1. Upgrades in the uniform market
Traditionally, when you think of business attire, you probably think about a matching suit with a tucked-in shirt. But Eric Rubin, president of Blue Generation, Long Island City, N.Y., says that’s changing. “For the first time in many years we are seeing a new trend emerging in the uniform market, specifically in the woven shirt category,” he said. “The ‘untucked’ look in gingham, plaids and crossweave solids has given new life to the woven button-shirt market. Coupled with ladies’ shirts, which have been styled to be worn out for many years, the look in men’s makes for a beautiful collection. It’s fresh and new and gets tremendous raves in presentations.”

Untucked Shirts by Blue Generation

2. Fun, versatile and easy to put together
There are always going to be places that prefer professional attire at the office, but more workplaces are shifting to allow employees to wear more business casual apparel. Taraynn Lloyd, vice president of marketing, Edwards Garment, Kalamazoo, Mich., said new business casual looks are one of the top trends she’s seeing in 2019.

“There are two new trends in uniform apparel for business,” she explained. “This includes the selection of business casual garments that are comfortable, easy to care for at home, offer stretch and can be dressed up by adding a suit coat or sports jacket. The second trend we are seeing is this concept of ‘building a wardrobe.’ This is fast becoming an extremely popular trend for uniform programs. What this means is associates are offered multiple options to create their uniform apparel that builds their wardrobe. For example, if the associate needs a uniform that requires three tops, two pants, and a jacket or vest, they will purchase three different-color top choices, two pants and one suit coat or vest. As long as they select from the garments listed in their corporate uniform guidelines, it is simple for them to create a wardrobe that makes them look great and feel engaged.”

Uniform Wardrobe by Edwards Garment

3. A rising market
What markets are big buyers of business attire and uniforms? Unsurprisingly, there are a lot of them: hotel and lodging, casinos and resorts, servicewear, schools and corporate apparel, restaurants, catering and security, etc. Lisa Denham, marketing director for Executive Apparel, Philadelphia, said hospitality was by far the biggest market for Executive Apparel’s uniforms, but there was another that’s emerging as a major buyer.

“We are getting more inquiries from airlines recently, and it may be because, like the hotel industry, airlines are making a concentrated effort to stay fresh in the market by rebranding frequently,” she said. “Like major hotel chains that introduce new targeted brands every few months, perhaps national and smaller regional airlines are taking their cues from the hotel industry by learning to segment their customers.”

Blazers created by Executive Apparel for a distributor's client

Socks, Hats and Accessories

1. Go bold with sock design
Tosha Everhart, sock boss at Sock 101, Kansas City, Mo., said that dress socks remain the top seller. But that doesn’t mean they have to be plain and boring. The opposite is true, actually—to get the most bang for your clients’ branding buck, you’re going to want something designed to be seen.

“What makes socks so different from any other promo product is that if you design a cool sock, people are going to show it off,” she said. “They won’t throw it away, they will wear it out that night and show their buddies. ‘Check out these sweet socks I just got!’ That is someone else spreading the word for your client’s brand—a win-win in our book.”

In other words, don’t be timid in your sock designs, even if your client is looking for something for office use. But you will need to know a few things about decoration going in. Stephan Goralczyk, senior accounts manager for Custom Sock Line LLC, Dumont, N.J., had some advice there.

“Avoid small text and graphics with shading, and allow yourself enough time to see pre-production samples if you’re new to designing socks,” he said. “All of our socks are produced with custom knit designs. Designs cannot be knit on the toe or heel and only certain designs can be on cuff area. All of our standard styles can accommodate up to six yarn colors, including the sock body color. We also offer embroidery (the largest embroidered area in the industry), silicone grips and woven labels. Silicone grips are not only for the bottom of the foot, but can also be applied in other areas.”

Pocket Sock by Sock 101

2. Take advantage of the entire hat
Our headwear experts told us mesh hats have been the top style for 2019. But running a successful headwear promotion has more to do with the decoration than the type of hat alone, and Jamie Allen, marketing director at HTT Headwear, Murrieta, Calif., was happy to share some tips on the subject.

“The one thing I recommend to our distributors is to make sure to utilize the entire cap,” she said. “Remember that the under visor, inside tape and closures can be decorated as well. I think people look only to the front or back of the cap for decoration, but adding something as simple as a woven label to the back or side of the cap can give it that look that sets you apart.”

Garment Washed Cap and Wool Surge Mesh Tru Pro by Paramount Apparel International Inc.

3. Wherever, whenever
Promotional headwear has a place in just about any market. So, as Joey Knight, assistant division director for Paramount Apparel, Bourbon, Mo., advised, it pays to think outside the usual selling spots.

“To be truthful, there really isn’t a market that doesn’t buy hats,” she said. “Everyone thinks of the obvious markets that are historically male-influenced such as trades, trucking companies and the auto industry. However, a hat can be used in just about any market with consideration of the event at hand. For instance, you don’t see bankers wearing hats during the work day, but they sponsor events such as walks and golf outings all the time, which are perfect events for headwear. Sometimes it’s not even about the event or workwear, but personal style when kicking back on the weekends with friends and family.”

Dress Sock With Matching Pouch by Custom Sock Line LLC

4. Color
Allen said coral (likely due to Pantone’s 2019 Color of the Year, Living Coral), reds and golds are the top hat colors so far in 2019, while Knight mentioned neutrals such as khaki, black, white, charcoal and navy. But both agreed that when it comes to color, it’s best not to overthink it. “Color trends, while something to consider, aren’t a huge factor in headwear,” said Knight. “Coral could be the color of the year, but clients logos drive the colors they purchase, not color trends.”

Custom Cap by HTT Headwear

Outdoor and Activewear

1. What’s trending
In last year’s Style Guide, our experts talked about how retail trends influenced a lot of promotional apparel. That’s the case again this year, and Terry Chen, general manager for Landway International, Hayward, Calif., told us what that means for outerwear. “It’s simple: People want to wear what’s trendy regardless of the day of the week or the activity they are engaged in,” said Chen. “And in retail, specifically in outerwear, it’s always ‘how do we make it warmer, but lighter weight?’ I think insulated jackets will continue to be popular and versatile in many different forms.”

For Jeff Wright, senior apparel designer for Storm Creek, Hastings, Minn., the most obvious reflection of retail influence is the way technical features and styles once reserved for outdoor activities are making their way to everyday wear. For example, he sees lightweight, packable jackets and vests replacing sweaters and being worn as part of a layering system. “Items like this offer terrific warmth without weight,” he said.

“We continue to see technical and lifestyle designs getting blurred together, giving apparel an added twist,” he added. “Technical fibers find their way into fabric constructions that typically would be made with natural fibers. Then, those fabrics are styled in outdoor/active silhouettes and details. Conversely, active/technical fabrics find their way into traditional sportswear silhouettes, such as four-way stretch polyester woven button-front shirts. Workwear and military-inspired designs continue to influence the marketplace as well.”

Men’s Ultimate Stretch 10k/10k Rain Jacket by Storm Creek

Athleisure, a popular topic around these parts and a promotional apparel stalwart, also shows no sign of slowing down. If anything, it’s crossing over, influencing other categories. John Perez, marketing manager for Tri-Mountain, Irwindale, Calif., predicts we’ll see features common in athleisure styles, like moisture-wicking and media pockets, make their way to other apparel. He also mentioned nostalgia as a driving factor in modern apparel design.

“One trend we’ve embraced in our new spring collection is some throwback/vintage looks,” he said. “For example, our LB004 Aria features a twist knot in the front. The knot is sewn down inside, so it will stay in place. But this style is a bit of a throwback to the '80s fashion trend. Another vintage look is the classic bomber jacket, J8870 Aviator. There’s no other bomber like ours on the market—the craftsmanship is top-notch.”

Aviator/Matte Satin Bomber Jacket by Tri-Mountain

2. Decoration
You can’t go wrong with a screen print, but garment decoration has involved to include a variety of other options. Perez suggested two that have been big lately for outdoor and activewear. “Go with a method like laser etching or borderless heat transfers,” he said. “We do both methods in-house. In an active/outdoor situation, where people are moving around a lot, you don’t want an embellishment with a backing or the stiffness of a standard heat transfer material. That’s why I recommend laser etching, primarily. It’s weightless—no material is being added to the garment. The downside is it’s tonal. So if you’re looking for full color, borderless heat transfers (BHT) are another good option. The BHT is more lightweight than a standard heat transfer, so it won’t have as much stiffness to it when it’s transferred onto the garment”

Wright also recommended heat transfer. “Heat transfer is a great option for outerwear, especially woven fabrications,” he said. “It allows for very clear graphics at refined sizes and does not involve disturbing the integrity of the shell fabric. We recommend using reflective transfers for an added safety component.”

Meanwhile, Chen said that jackets, in particular, offer a huge number of decoration options, from embroidery to heat transfers to patches (sometimes all at once). “For example, there can be an embroidery on the left chest, heat transfer on the cuff and a nice patch on the bicep area,” he said.

Ladies' Summit Textured Knit Jacket by Landway International

Casual and Everyday Wear

1. Retro everything
The throwback trend spans more than just the outdoor and activewear. It’s big everywhere—especially in T-shirts and other casual, everyday apparel—with the '90s leading the retro charge. As seen on “Saved By The Bell” (one of our favorite shows, of course), high-waisted pants, bike shorts, denim and muscle tanks were huge. All of those have made a comeback, but Summer Barry, creative and marketing director for Bella+Canvas, Los Angeles, focused on one throwback style in particular.

“It’s pretty much guaranteed in fashion that certain trends will come back around again,” she said. “Right now, that decade-of-the moment is the '90s, and if we could point to one '90s trend you should be paying attention to, it’s crop tops. Crop tops come in many shapes, lengths and forms, and we’ve added three of our favorites to our 2019 collection. The cropped tee and our two cropped fleece items were all favorites from our Fast Fashion collection that we added to our full line. One of the reasons people gravitate towards these styles is the flattering fit. They all have looser fits and when paired with high-waisted jeans, they show just the right amount of skin. The two cropped fleece styles are great layering pieces that look effortless and fashionable with a flowy tank underneath. Crops are for all sizes and ages when styled appropriately.”

Women’s Cropped Crew Fleece by Bella+Canvas

2. Fabrics
Soft, lightweight fabrics such as triblends and polyester remain popular in everyday wear. That’s no surprise, but what may be one is the emergence of fleece as a casual apparel staple, with high fashion driving most of the shift. “Fleece is no longer just for layering or cold-weather dressing,” said Barry. “We are seeing fleece on the runways as statement pieces. Fleece is fashion, and our industry is seeing more and more customers requesting fleece over basic jersey.”

Women’s Festival Scoop by Next Level Apparel

3. Bold looks
Pastels and muted tones ruled the style world in 2018, but Barry said 2019 is a return to bold colors. “Think primary colors in slightly varied tones,” she explained. “For example, instead of your standard red and orange, we’ve released Autumn and Brick—which are rich colors that are bold, yet very wearable. Our Pale Yellow Triblend is a softer version of its bright counterpart. In an industry like promotional products, where sales are so color-driven, offering these unique twists on classic colors to customers is a sure way to impress and differentiate.”

The same bold approach applies to decoration for casual styles. “Think outside the box,” Barry said. “Play with unexpected color relationships. Less is more, but you can still achieve an eye-catching look by mixing unique colors and sleek graphics.”

Another idea for standout design? Playing with location. For T-shirts, that might mean sleeve or pocket decoration. For hoodies, it could mean sublimated, custom logo prints in the hood lining, as in Blue Generation’s latest line. “This gives the customer a new way to display their logo with relatively small minimums,” said Rubin. “It is a real eye opener—a unique and different way to display their logo.”