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It’s Game Time: Decorated-Apparel Athletic & Teamwear Trends

Comfort and customization reign supreme in decorated-apparel athletic and teamwear trends for 2024

By Hilary Daninhirsch, Contributing Writer


The pro baseball sector is finding ways to expand its unique uniform offerings. Photo courtesy of A4



March 26, 2024

Team sports took a back seat during the pandemic, and as expected, the athletic and teamwear decorated-apparel market saw a major downturn in the Covid years. Since then, though, the industry has begun to right itself. Leisurewear became the go-to outfit during our time at home, and as the pandemic began to recede, people did not want to give up that comfort. Leisurewear transitioned into athleisurewear, with people craving comfort on the field as well as off.

female model wearing Augusta Sportswear sublimated basketball uniform

Augusta offers FreeStyle Custom sublimation for all styles. Photo courtesy of Augusta Sportswear

The pandemic also emphasized the focus on wellness and boosted the eco-consciousness of many, younger consumers, factors that play into these trends.

Some of this year’s buzzwords for athletic and teamwear are sublimation (due to demand for customization), sustainability, comfort and performance. “Year to year, team athletic wear doesn’t change much. Over time, the end user demands more comfort in performance with fabrics that move with the athlete, that feel and look good, and decoration, whether sublimation or other techniques that brand the team in a vibrant clean modern way,” says David Goerke, VP of marketing and merchandising at Augusta Sportswear.

Overall, trends are leaning toward a more modern fit and shorter inseams; lighter and softer performance fabrics; bold colors and designs; and, of course, a comfortable fit.


Performance & Style

When it comes to athletic wear, the name of the game is comfort. Fabrics continue to get lighter while

male and female models stretching in TriDri decorated-apparel athleisure

TriDri’s Unisex Spun Dyed sets provide the ultimate teamwear look. Photo courtesy of TriDri

still retaining strength, stretch and durability. Comfortable apparel that keeps the wearer dry and cool is what consumers are seeking.

“Comfort everywhere all the time. It existed before the pandemic, but several months of not going into the office made people realize that comfortable clothes could look good. This has continued to blur the lines between performance wear, training wear and everyday wear,” says Russ Neale, SVP marketing, Founder Sport Group.

“All-in-ones and matching sets are also increasing in popularity, particularly among women,” says Grace Owen, brand manager with TriDri, though one-pieces can produce problems with sizing. “An easy option for the B2B clothing industry is matching sets, giving customers the option to choose their desired fit and look of top and bottom. An easy add-on sale can be offering customers multiple tops and bottoms in the same color in loungewear. For instance, maybe they have a branded hoodie. Give the team the option to purchase both the full-length joggers and jogger shorts,” Owen suggests.

Eco-Friendly Fabrics

Trending, sustainable fabrics in athletic and teamwear include recycled polyester and organic cotton, though polyester, poly blends and spandex will continue to be dominant in the performance space. “These blends will be seen in fabrics such as micro meshes, peached interlocks and tech fleece. Historically, these blends have had a very slick and synthetic hand feel, but people are now looking for softer fabrics that feel closer to cotton blends,” says Marcus Davis, product development manager for HanesBrands. He adds cotton blends are also popular, which goes hand in hand with looser fitting styles.

Similarly, smart fabrics that contain no chemicals and wick sweat naturally are increasingly important for Augusta Sportswear, along with clothes featuring UPF protection.

“Expect to see both blends and newly coning performance in wicking or UV protection. That combination delivers the performance athletes need without sacrificing the comfort they want. You will also continue to see garments that combine multiple fabrics to bring different performance elements to different areas of the garment, whether that is venting, durability, or stretch and compression,” says Adam Waugh, VP of marketing at A4 Sports Apparel.

Athletic Fit

male model wearing Founder Sport Group decorated-apparel hoodie

The United Collection is an ideal fit for maximum movement. Photo courtesy of Founder Sport Group

Some manufacturers are reporting that tighter and more form-fitting fits are trending. Others say looser fitting teamwear is having a moment. Certainly, these differences could be sport-dependent. However, a

buzzword they have in common is “tapered”—close to the body, not baggy, but not overly tight.

“The things that connect fit across sports would be potentially ‘looser fitting,’ but not so loose that they don’t flow with the body well, and that is true for men and women,” says Goerke, adding that shorter shorts are in demand, particularly on the basketball court. The ultimate goal is for the athlete to feel comfortable on and off the field or court.

Neale notes that baseball and softball are requesting tapered and form-fitting pants. Overall, he adds, shorter and tighter is trending in football and in basketball, with 5-inch adult shorts becoming popular in soccer and lacrosse as well.

In this same vein, Owen says while the line has become blurred between male and female fits, “oversized” is in demand.

“For low-impact activities, looser or relaxed fits are popular for comfort and can provide warmth and layering opportunities, where high impact activities may still rely on more fitted clothes for wicking and stretch benefits as they conform to the body,” adds Davis.

Patterns/Colors

Thanks to the continued evolution of sublimation, color options are endless, with people mixing and matching all kinds of patterns.

“After a few years of patterns really pushing the boundaries, classic and retro designs are now in style. Truthfully, these never really went away, but teams are going back to the future. Pinstripes, classic braids and the new United collection are a modern twist on classic looks,” says Neale.

That said, many still prefer solid colors. Owen also notes that while pastels have been key over the past years, her company will be launching pieces featuring brighter pops of color.

“Because the range of possible customization is so huge, bolder colors—even neon—and patterns are growing. Some leagues and sports have rules that constrain design, but where they are allowed, people get creative,” Waugh says.

Streetwear Influences

Fashion trends in professional sports almost always have a trickledown effect to college sports and,

Models wearing Champion athleisure hoodies and sweats

The Powerblend Fleece provides warmth and durability without the extra weight. Photo courtesy of Champion

ultimately, youth leagues, particularly as many younger people look up to professional athletes as role models. “Teams are always looking for an edge on and off the field. As high-end college and pro teams adopt form-fitting uniforms, it cascades quickly to travel, institutional and rec teams,” Neale says.

Owen agrees, adding, “Amateur teams will look to professional teams for the top technical products and styles with the sporting industry.”

At the same time, Waugh says, on the design side popular looks and styles can also go in both directions. “A lot of the innovation happens at the college or travel ball level that can trickle up. Pro baseball is famously traditional, but even they are finding ways to expand their uniform offerings in more creative ways, which is a reflection of what is happening elsewhere, rather than something they are driving downward.”

Another noteworthy driver is athleisure, says Goerke. “An example is the soccer field with collars. That comes more from heritage than the sport, but necklines, trims, hems, cuts and other product details are coming over from athleisure.”

Apparel Industry & Sustainability

Consumers are becoming more and more eco-conscious in their purchasing decisions and appreciate transparency from companies about how and where materials are sourced as well as manufacturing practices. With this in mind, Hanes and Champion are introducing something called CiCLO technology into many of their products this year. “CiCLO is technology that allows synthetic plastic-based fibers to behave more like natural fibers once they are in a landfill as compared to untreated polyester. It’s conscientious clothing,” explains Davis, adding that the cost will not be passed along to the buyer.

For his part, Waugh predicts that sustainability will move from “nice to have” to “expect to have” in the coming year. Similarly, Goerke says his company has started a line of recycled collections called Eco-Revive for the express purpose of continuing to tap into this market.

Decorated-Apparel Customization/Techniques

Custom sublimation is growing and is here to stay, which jibes well with lightweight fabrics. “In many sports, custom sublimation sales outpace blank stock sales,” says Neale. “Lead times continue to shrink, quality is unmatched, and decorations are all-in. Sideline and performance wear still tends to be dominated by stock that is decorated after production. However, as custom sublimation offers clubs and organizations unique looks like watermarks, distressed designs and edge-to-edge logos, it will continue to make in-roads off field.”

model wearing A4 athleisure compression tights and athletic shorts

Compression tights are designed to keep muscles in place and aid in recovery. Photo courtesy of A4

Goerke agrees, saying sublimation is on the rise because of the creativity it allows, particularly where youth sports are concerned. At Augusta Sportswear, he notes customization is easy and affordable on their platforms, with quicker turnaround times than ever before.

Davis also says sublimation is key thanks to the way it interacts with the fabrics it’s used with. “Sublimation doesn’t affect the feel of the fabric, because the dyes from the image bond with the fabric without leaving a layer of ink on the surface. This is important for any product that has more than a left or center chest logo, or for any products with wicking or quick dry technologies, in order to prevent the dyes from restricting or changing those features,” he says.

On the downside the original garment needs to be completely white to get the full range of options. It also might be not suitable for larger prints, and it may not work as well with garments with wicking or quick dry technologies.

On the plus side, direct-to-film (DTF) continues to improve in quality and, according to Neale, is a good option in that it allows flexibility in smaller runs, single piece flow and faster ship-outs. “One of the key factors of DTF is the ability to use multiple colors without impacting decoration cost, so teams and clubs don’t need to ‘dumb-down’ their graphics to hit a price point,” he adds

For her part, Owen’s says her company relies heavily on DTF in part because it’s an easy option for customers working with small or large units. “Our styles are created with decoration in mind being suitable to take on heat as well as offering multiple placements for branding,” she says.

The Year Ahead

As the world slowly begins to recover from the life- and business-altering effects of the pandemic, sources are predicting a steady growth in the market for athletic and teamwear.

The country’s continued emphasis on wellbeing is another reason why this category should continue to be a high performing one in the coming year, and youth sports are growing, particularly after they were stalled.

“Team sports and activities will continue to grow as people look for community building and focus on their own mental and physical wellbeing. It’s not just organized team sports, but activities that help build groups and communities that find a common interest in being active together. The products for each market can be completely different, so it’s important to offer a variety of options for your customers, ranging from high tech polyester performance gear to cotton rich tees and sweats,” says Davis.

“We are expecting a very strong year for the athletic team wear market driven by growing participation,” Waugh says. “Last year, participation in high school athletics, for instance, grew significantly and almost reached its pre-pandemic highs. We expect that trend to continue, especially as newer sports like pickleball and flag football continue to grow at a fast pace.”

All of which is good news for decorators looking to grow their business in these areas.

Hilary Daninhirsch is an award-winning freelance writer based in Pittsburgh. Her work has been featured in a number of lifestyle and trade magazines. She can be reached at hdaninhirsch@gmail.com or hilarydaninhirsch.journoportfolio.com.