Build Your Business:

The Lowdown on Ladies’ Apparel

Cuts, colors and versatility will be part of womenswear's niche-defining statement in 2019.

By Jennifer Morrell, Contributing Writer

March 21, 2019

From distinct cuts and colors to fun slogans and witty messaging, today’s womenswear niche isn’t slowing down. And some industry insiders say the trail is blazing hot as the past comes full circle.

“It’s pretty much guaranteed in fashion that certain trends will come back around again,” says Summer Barry, creative and marketing director for BELLA+CANVAS. “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.”

These trending-again garments come in many shapes, lengths and forms, with cropped tees and fleece items reigning supreme. The gravitation toward this style is the flattering fit, Barry says. “They all have looser fits and, when paired with high-waisted jeans, they show just the right amount of skin,” she says.

As always, design trends come down to versatility, functionality and comfort across all product categories. “Iconic styling and throwback looks are prevalent as brands go to their archives for design inspiration,” says Lauren Cocco, director of merchandising for Vantage Apparel. “Think power suits, bold colors and ’90s influences. We’re also seeing streetwear and workwear influences in outerwear.”

In the workplace, businesses are continuing a trend toward relaxed dress codes to appeal to and keep younger employees. Quarter-zips, fleece crews and tees in premium fabrics are key, giving decorators an opportunity to brand for business wear. For womenswear, fits are loose and flowy, with a relaxed, boyfriend style continuing to dominate — but the trends don’t stop there.

“Women’s choices have exploded in the market, with fits ranging from classic and more flowy to a slimmer, shaped tee,” says Jeanene Edwards, vice president of Fruit of the Loom/JERZEES Activewear. “Let’s not forget shorter or longer. The boyfriend crop tee pairs well with the denim trend in high-rise jeans. If a women’s tee is layered under another garment, a slim fit or even flowy fit will work, while fit and silhouette options expand if it’s the primary top they’re wearing.”

Indeed, layering is a foundation of womenswear, and a cropped fleece is preferred for such a role. “Some people hear the word ‘cropped’ and think it’s just for younger demographics or a slim body type, when that couldn’t be further from the truth,” Barry says. “We see our cropped fleece layered with form-fitting or flowy tops for varying looks, and it’s such a cool urban, forward look.”

With classic-fit tees, customers can diversify with under- and over-style layers. This means having the flexibility to throw on a chunky, ribbed cardigan, or dress it up with accessories, such as a scarf and jacket.

“You can never go wrong with a classic tee and a cute little print in front to express ‘Wine is my favorite color’ on a maroon tee, which will always be a conversation starter,” Edwards says.

Staying Versatile
The importance of versatility cannot be overstated. “Versatility is a key trend, and consumers are demanding clothes that multi-task and look good all day long, especially in the outerwear/layering category,” Cocco says. “Vantage introduced several new styles that work with professional dress and casual outfits, and gym-studio apparel.”

For a brand to be successful, it must remain versatile. Whether it’s the younger Millennial or Gen-Z consumer, understanding that shopping behaviors are different from previous generations is paramount.

“[Younger consumers] tend to be more practical and conscious of spending habits, so every purchase is carefully evaluated,” Edwards says. “This means that apparel also has to span multiple usage occasions, and versatility is critical. Basic styles in premium fabrics can really be worn anywhere, and even a black tee can be worn with just about anything, from jeans to under a suit.”

Edwards says that while Millennials and the Gen-Z population do share some values, they also can behave quite differently. “For instance, Millennials focus spending on experiences and adventure, while Gen Z has more affinity for cool products,” she says. “Both groups share an appreciation for design and a desire to showcase their uniqueness or individual point of view.”

This presents an opportunity for women’s T-shirts with text-centric designs featuring witty slogans, fun phrases and ironic sayings in 2019. Nostalgic road-trip graphics, as well as graphical treatments and fonts from the ’70s and ’80s, will be prominent.

Shaping Up
Expanded choices in styles and silhouettes are expected this year. Classic T-shirts still have a place in womenswear, but the boyfriend tee has come on strong. Cropped tees and fashion fleece tops are on trend and driving market volume.

“Classic, flowy fits and silhouettes with interesting hem treatments, like a high-low or asymmetrical hem, are becoming more mainstream,” Edwards says. “And while cut-outs or keyholes may make the decorator’s job a little harder, they can add pop to a retail assortment. Younger consumers, especially, are looking for styles that show their appreciation for design, as well as their individual style preference.”

Garment details include basics with interesting details that elevate them into a “better-basic” category. Among these are fleece tops with classic, retro bound collars, raglan sleeves and V notches. T-shirts must offer multiple neckline options, such as crew-, scoop-, sweetheart- and U-necks. V-necks always will be popular with women because they better accommodate jewelry.

For the foreseeable future, athleisure will remain a staple for womenswear. “People want [comfortable] clothes that take them from day to night,” Barry says. “Almost every piece in our Fast Fashion collection caters to the athleisure trend. Our joggers, which are now in our full line, are crazy popular.”

Fabric staples will include anything soft and lightweight, and this includes fashion fleece. “We have even seen collaborations between streetwear and luxury brands, like Louis Vuitton, and off-white, which speaks to the significance of streetwear in apparel today,” Barry says.

Edwards adds that knits will be significant, and blends will continue to be strong, as they can create outstanding heathered and textured looks that can upgrade a basic tee’s appearance. Stretch is another trending feature, whether mechanical via textile construction,or through the addition of spandex.

Color Me Trendy
In womenswear, a return to color has been noticeable in the past few years, with designers shunning black in favor of zingy pastels and primary hues, says Barry, who points to shades of lilac and pink; autumn reds and oranges; and yellows.

“You’re probably aware of the Millennial pink craze, with soft shades of pink — along with hues like peach and mauve — taking over,” she says. “It’s not just for women, as pinks are huge for men and can be seen everywhere in streetwear.”

Barry says bright colors are back — particularly yellows. “Whether you’re looking for something light and airy, or a shade that packs more punch, we’ve introduced yellow hues across heather CVC and tri-blend. If you’re after a cooler version of this pop shade, go for our mustard.”

Cocco says to look for floral prints in 2019, while leaf greens and cobalt blues also will be trending colors, according to Edwards.

“The explosion in black or gray heathers, along with shades of taupe, oatmeal and military green, are all great examples of sustainable trendiness,” Edwards says. “Tie-dye will also be stronger in 2019. Luxury brands showed it on the runway for this year as its nostalgic, retro-classic appeal speaks to today’s younger consumers. Tie-dye can take most decorating techniques very well, depending on the fabric and the process.”

Jennifer Morrell is an award-winning writer who has written for a number of national consumer and trade publications. For more information or to comment on this article, email Jennifer at