Coastal customers continue to value comfort when purchasing casual apparel and activewear.

Sept. 21, 2023

When it comes to casual apparel, comfort reigns supreme in 2023. Although the pandemic has been over for a while, people continue to don casual styles at home and in the workplace. People also haven’t dropped their outdoor hobbies that developed during the pandemic, so activewear and athleisure remain popular styles.

B&B Department Stores has offered casual beach apparel at its five New Jersey locations since 1974. The company has stores in Seaside Park, Lavallette, Beach Haven, Ship Bottom and Ocean City, New Jersey. Jeff Davidson, executive vice president of B&B Department Stores, says casual apparel has been selling particularly well at his stores in the last few years.

“We’ve always been casual, and the world has caught up to us,” says Davidson. “Even in big companies, people are wearing casual clothing. If you live in an urban area like New York City, workplaces have casual Fridays. There’s a massive casual trend.”

Avery Smith, co-owner of Islands Mercantile in Johns Island, South Carolina, says a lot of customers prefer fashion-forward casual apparel to appear professional and comfortable at the same time, seeking cozy yet fashionable outfits to offer the best of both worlds.

“In the last few years, people want fashion-driven clothing,” she says. “They want soft and high-quality apparel.”

Rebecca Fordham, president of Boca Raton, Florida-based Caloosa WaterWear, says people developed new perspectives on apparel during the pandemic. She says those perspectives haven’t changed much since the pandemic ended.

“I think after the pandemic, people have really decided they are going to be comfortable,” she says. “The pandemic has really given consumers a new perspective on everything. There’s no reason you should have to walk around and feel uncomfortable if you don’t have to.”

Fordham notes that many people work from home or in hybrid settings today, which allows them to wear casual apparel more often. “You can wear something on the top for your Zoom meeting with sweatpants or shorts,” she says. “It’s changed the way we live going forward, and it’s an interesting time to observe.”

Lightweight fabrics help customers beat the heat at Imagine Gift Store.

Coastal retailers and wholesalers alike don’t suspect the appeal of casual apparel will wane in the near-term future. With more people wanting casual apparel, coastal retailers should be sure to offer a variety of comfortable T-shirts, hoodies, sweatpants and shorts.

Styles that sell

With casual apparel, soft fabrics work really well to offer a cozy feel. Fordham suggests retailers should stock performance shirts that are 100% polyester or shirts in a cotton-poly-rayon blend to offer softer feels.
“The rayon adds that nice, soft feel for cotton,” she says. “It makes it very drapey and feels comfortable, like you can sleep in it.”

Mike Sidders, who manages marketing and digital leadership at Detroit Lakes, Minnesota-based Lakeshirts, says the basic cotton T-shirt also remains a staple in many wardrobes.

“Nothing beats cotton for its softness and breathability,” says Sidders. “It’s both comfortable and stylish, and it’s a really popular way to commemorate a vacation experience.”

Customers also want to beat the heat with casual apparel. This July marked the world’s hottest month on record. Although it’s tough to predict future weather patterns, Fordham advises retailers to offer casual apparel with sun protection to help them on scorching summer days. She adds that Caloosa WaterWear has received a lot of requests for its sun-protective performance tops this year due to the heat.

In addition to sun-protective apparel, lightweight fabrics can also help people beat the heat in warmer climates.

“When people come to Florida, they want colorful, lightweight fabrics,” says Gene Oberhauser, owner of Imagine Gift Store in Naples, Florida.

Davidson adds that just about anything “cropped” has sold well among teen girls and young women at B&B Department Stores this year, likely helping to keep those customers cool. Although few older women go for the cropped look, Davidson notes that skimmer and capris shorts sell well with that demographic.

Despite the heat, coastal retailers say sweatshirts and hoodies somehow sell well all year round.
“We sell sweatshirts even in July at 105 degrees here,” says Smith.

She suspects those customers are taking the sweatshirts and hoodies home to cooler climates or plan to wear them inside air-conditioned venues.

Think pink and patriotic

Colors go in and out of style, often driven by fashion featured in pop culture. Fordham says pink has been trending all summer long thanks to the popularity of the Barbie movie. People across the U.S. decked out in all things pink after the movie debuted in July.

“Pink is the hottest thing, stemming from the Barbie movie coming out,” she says. “Trend analysts out there are calling it, ‘Barbie core.’ A lot of retailers know this, and they made their buys for the season for that.”
While pink’s popularity may start to fade in the future, Fordham thinks it will likely stay a prominent pick among consumers for at least another year. She says, “Pink is not going away anytime soon; it’s gained the mass appeal.”

Casual apparel sales have picked up at B&B Department Stores the last few years.

Similar to Barbie pink, “Viva Magenta” was named Pantone Color of the Year in 2023. Fordham says she suspects pinks and reds could be a hit in the next year as a result of that announcement.

“Red is very empowering,” she says. “It’s a very optimistic color as well. It also gives hope for the future in terms of what’s going on with the economy. It’s a very hopeful color.”

2024 also marks a presidential election year, and Oberhauser says patriotic colors — red, white and blue — are likely to sell well on casual apparel at Imagine Gift Shop. He notes that his shop has historically done well selling more patriotic colors and themes on apparel during presidential election years, including 2016 and 2020.

Blue tones never seem to go out of style, particularly for men’s casual apparel. Coastal retailers say navy, gray tones and powder blue shirts have sold well this year for men’s apparel.

“Blue seems to never die,” says Smith, adding that pink, white and lilac T-shirts are doing well for women’s apparel.

Among young kids, shark imagery tends to sell well thanks in part to the ongoing popularity of Baby Shark. Davidson says sharks have been a hit at B&B Department Stores for both boys and girls.

Fordham adds that mermaids seemed to peak in popularity on girl clothing about two years ago, but she says there was a slight resurgence in popularity this summer after Disney released its live-action version of The Little Mermaid in May.

“I have definitely started to see an uptick in sales of my mermaid items again,” she notes. “This actually makes sense because people tend to look toward fantastical creatures and other feel-good themes when there is a lot of conflict in society. It kind of gives people an escape, even if just for a minute. The Disney movie I’m sure has played a part in this as well and was most likely remade for the same reasons.”

Name-drop casual apparel is always a hit at Islands Merchantile.

Sidders says applique and embroidery decoration techniques have also been trending this year.

“Applique and embroidery decoration techniques are absolutely on fire right now, not only on sweatshirts (where they’re more traditionally seen), but on tees,” he says.

Coastal retailers also should not neglect to offer a variety of name-dropped casual apparel. Oberhauser says over 90% of the T-shirts and sweatshirts at Imagine Gift Store feature the Naples name drop.

Smith says name-dropped apparel with a simple arch design often sells well at her store. She says Islands Mercantile sells name-dropped apparel for both islands nearby, including Kiawah Island and Seabrook Island.
She also ensures name-dropped T-shirts come in at least five to six color options for customers who are looking for a variety.

“Name-dropped shirts sell every day all day long,” says Smith.

Pricing it right

Lower price points also have helped to boost casual apparel’s popularity in 2023, particularly with inflation on the rise.

“We were worried people would resist the increases, but we haven’t noticed too much complaint,” says Smith. “People have sort of understood that’s the way things are going. But it was challenging to keep getting price increases.”

She says Islands Mercantile tries to stock casual apparel at varying price points to appeal for customers from different socioeconomic backgrounds and provide something for everyone.

“Quality, price and selection rule in 2023. When in doubt, stick to the basics.” — Gene Oberhauser, Imagine Gift Store

“We try to get some higher end casual apparel but also give people variety to where they’re not all $65 sweatshirts,” she says. “We want some lower price-point items since not everyone will spend that. You try to balance out higher-end items with some lower-priced options.”

Davidson says he has noticed customers are more conscious of price as they come to B&B Department Stores.

“People’s choices change; people are being more careful,” he says. “They look at prices, and everybody loves a deal.”

Sidders notes that coastal retailers might see customers scale back a little on their spending now and in the near-term future. “Leisure travel is very expensive, and it may be impacting how much travelers spend when on holiday.”

Come wintertime, Fordham doesn’t think customers will buy attire specific to Christmas or Thanksgiving like they used to in the past.

“With the economy the way that it is, people are not going to be buying things for specific holidays,” she says. “They will buy things that maybe look holiday — red and green in them — but will use the entire winter. They’ll want something to last longer than the holiday timeframe. People are watching what they are spending right now.”

She notes that Caloosa WaterWear plans to sell apparel with plaid patterns or navy tones this winter that will work for customers all season long.

Oberhauser says he also has noticed customers spending a little less this year, particularly in Naples. Imagine Gift Store, along with many businesses in Naples, were hit hard last fall by Hurricane Ian, and he says that has caused locals and seasonal tourists to spend a little less on apparel and gifts this year as the city rebuilds.

“A lot of residents have a second home or condo here, and they are avoiding spending much time here since Ian until things get squared away,” he says. “Those that are permanent are struggling with inflation and Ian repairs.”

As the city and businesses in Naples make repairs this year, Oberhauser says he wants to continue to focus on offering gifts that provide both value and quality to reflect the interests of a wide variety of people who frequent the shop.

“At Imagine, there’s always plenty of everything for everyone,” he says. “Quality, price and selection rule in 2023. When in doubt, stick to the basics.”