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Dynamic dress shirts: New supplier offerings in wovens can help you clean up the often too-sloppy look of corporate casual – Cover Story

Dynamic dress shirts: New supplier offerings in wovens can help you clean up the often too-sloppy look of corporate casual – Cover Story – Educational Focus: Dress shirts

Kim Mitchell

In apparel, as in life, things always seem to am in cycles. After several years of encouraging employees to dress more comfortably. Corporate America is deciding it wants to see more decorum at work. That doesn’t mean knit plackets and khakis will be relegated to the office dustbin, next to typewriters and stenographer pads. It simply means that we’re going to start seeing less T-shirts and sneakers in the workplace, coupled with a greater demand for dress shirts.

In this time of widespread layoffs, employers again have the upper hand in determining how they want employees to dress. They no longer have to offer enticements like wear-whatever-you-want work environments t attract and keep good talent.

Yes, yes. We know It is a rather drastic sea change from what we’ve all been focused on in recent times. While true dress shirts were introduced to the promotional products industry just a few years ago, they seemed to languish in the wake of all that casual-Friday-turned-casual-everyday culture.

But now, as the economy tightens and businesses seek to offer customers a more professional image, the demand for dress shirts is showing growth. In addition to service companies and offices, airlines, hotels, retail outlets, supermarkets and security firms all are looking for employees to sport a neater look.

“Employers and employees alike have grown tired of the khakis and pique polo shirt “cloning” and wish to express some individuality, as well as professionalism in the way they dress for work, points out Bob Horwitz, president of Idea Workshop, Inc. the brand management company responsible for managing the Bill Blass Premium line.

“While many have expressed an interest in still staying away from sints and ties, they want to look puttled together with coordinated items that appears professional, he adds. Kim D. Wiggins, director of marketing for Monroe, N. C. -based Chesterfield Manufacturing agrees. “In the corporate world today, people are talking advantage of the opportunity to be casual and relaxed, but at the same time look neat and professional.

So, think in terms or it being a transition from “casual wear” to business appropriate wear,” Dress shirts can bridge the transition because they look great under a sport coat or sweater, or tucked into a pair of khakis.

Look sharp

There is no queation that the look is changing to a cleaner, dresser look,” says Eric Rubin president of Blue Generation. “The image one projects at the workplace is often judged by the clothes they wear, Even though someone can dress casual, they should look neat.”

Rubin says his inventory reflects the changing tide “When we started the Blue Generation Division of M Rubin & Sons just over four years ago, we started with two men’s denim shirts in the woven category. That’s what the Market considered casual wear for the corporate/promotional market. Today, in reaction to the changing preferences of the customers, we offer 30 colors in denim and twill in men’s and ladies’ sizes and oxford dress shifts in four colors,” he says.

The smart promotional products distributor will be ahead of this latest trend, offering clients a wide array of choices. And keep in mind that as demand grows, do expectations.

A good dress shirt needs to be made of a fabric woven with finer yams than the typical twill, says Erwin Schiowitz, senior vice president of Phillips Van Heusen Career Apparel. “Quality control for dress shirt fabrics is much tougher than for sportswear,” he says. ” There is no tolerance for flaws, as there might be in sports wear.”

And here’s some more food for thought. Three things come into play when guiding end users toward appropriate corporate casual wear, says Workshop’s Bob Horwitz:

* Comfort. “If the wearer doesn’t feel comfortable in the apparel you have defeated the whole purpose of offering corporate apparel.”

* Easy Care. “Something that requires a lot of care (such as hand washing or dry cleaning) becomes too cumbersome for the average corporate wearer. They don’t have the time or the inclination to have to worry about ‘How do I wash this?’ while they are on the road, or already time-starved at home.”

* Versatility. “Will this go with things I already own? Is it so specific in color or style that I have to go out and purchase specific items to coordinate with it?”

Overall what dictates the level of dress is really the fabric selected for the garment. But face it. When it comes to men’s shirts, well, there’s not a lot to play with in terms of style. Sleeves are long or they are short depending on the weather. They have pockets or not, depending on the end-user’s preference. They key elements a PPD is pitching are fabric, color and collars.

Building a better shirt

Most manufactures continue to concentrate on cotton or cotton-blend dress shirts rather than synthetics. But fashion designers and retailers have found favor with synthetic microfibers and they re gaining in popularity.

These shirts are popular-particularly with the younger market – because they require less fuss to look sharp.

“High-tech fabrics are appealing to this new desire in corporate casual wear,” says Horwitz. “The shirts are appropriate to be worn under jackets, vests and sweaters with, or without, ties, Not only can the PPD sell an upscale, fashionable dress shirt, but they can coordinate it with a vest, sweater or blazer for a multiple sale.”

These newer microfibers are usually a blend of polyester with polynosic, rayon or nylon Polynosic is the most expensive blend, with rayon and nylon blends fitting into the popular price category. Finishing the fabric with a sanded (or peached) finish continues to be important to the end-user as “hand-feel” leaves a lasting impression of comfort and makes the wearer want to reach for that item more often.

Again, synthetic fabrics have the added advantage of being easy to care for. They are virtually stain resistant and come out of the wash needing little if any ironing.

At the most casual level, 100 percent cotton twill is used to produce durable, every day fashions. Chemical and mechanical processes that transform or alter the surface of cotton (or other fabrics) provide sporty and technical fabrics this spring. Enzyme treatments and garment washes are very popular for denim and twill shirts. Sueding or sanding techniques can also be used to turn out garments that are especially soft to the touch.

The micro- sanded Fine Line Twill Shirt from Vantage (style 1925) is a perfect exmple of how fabric can dress up a basic twill shirt, says Gina Barreca, marketing communications manager for Vantage.

Oxford cloth, yarn-dyes, and broadcloth, all in the cotton family, are used to raise the level of sophistication in Vantage’s most popular category of dress twills. In this mid range price category, a variety of weaves add interest to the styles such as the Houndstooth Woven Shirt (style 1940) and End-op-End Woven Shirt (style 1930). “Vantage designs all of its button-front wovens with a button-down collar so adding a tie becomes an easy way to formalize the look of the shirts,” Barreca adds. “One exception is our Women’s End-on-End Shirt (style 1931) where a spread-collar is used for a more feminine look.”

On the high end of fashion, watch for fabric blends such as the Vantage Fine-Line Polynosic Shirt (style 1955) where polynosic rayon and polyester are combined for a technical dress shirt that breathes. “This luxurious fabric has the look and feel of silk, but is machine washable and dryable for easy care,” she says. “With comfort as a key focus, you’ll also find fabrics that incorporate Lycra, a unique stretchable fiber, which provides extra comfort and an expanded range of motion. Vantage’s new Stretch Denim Shirt (style 1995) in deep, rich indigo is another example of a dressed-up twill woven shirt,” she adds.

“As in all apparel you can’t build a good product without good fabric and you can’t get good fabric without good yarns,” says Paul Rogers, president of Pageland S.C.-based Jonathan Corey “We start with fine yarns and make the best fabric that we can.”

At Jonathan Corey, nothing beats a twill. Rogers says. “Our twills are our most popular items. We offer them XS-3XL in long and short sleeves, so company can keep their employees comfortable year-round no matter what part of the country they live in.”

“We call our twill fabric ‘luxury twill’ because we use fine yarns to make the fabric soft and to give it an upscale or corporate appeal. This promotes it to being used in an office with a tie or blazer, or in a restaurant as a uniform,” Rogers said.

With an eye toward the new year, Jonathan Corey is adding two new colors, red and royal, to its long and short twill shirts, styles 618 and 619 respectively. “We offer both styles in 13 colors and in sizes from XS-3XL.” says Rogers. “This enables us to service a program that has men and women in it.”

A twill shirt, says Blue Generation’s Rubin, is the perfect way to casually dress up employees looks. “It is crisp-looking without a tie, as well as with one,” he says. “It can be wom in the mail room as well as the board room. It is extremely versatile.”

Blue Generation also offers a selection of oxford shirts that have a slightly dressier look than a twill shirt. They are a cotton-enriched fabric which keeps them crisp throughout the day. They can be wom with or without a tie, and still look dressy. These shirts offered in white, blue, maize and stripes, are a more structured shirt than the high-tech touch.

At Weatherproof/MV Sport, four styles of dress shirts are being offered in polynosic, stretch poplin, oxford microfiber, and microsuede. “We went in a different direction from twills.” Says Byron Reed, director of marketing. “We want to give an alternative to the twill dress shirt with new fabrics that wear well, look great, and offer easy care.”

Reed notes that all the shirts are kept very affordable, in the $20. Range. “Our shirts work well because they can dress up or be worn casually. I think having a more versatile product gives you a more marketable item,” he notes.

Certainly, cost is a key factor in dress shirts. The apparel industry is working hard to hold prices down as they come under tremendous competition for consume dollars from other areas such as electronics or new, innovative accessories,” says Idea Workshop’s Horwitz. “As prices may have risen for the cost of fabrics manufacturing are working hard to keep shirt prices in line by finding more affordable factories to make the shirts.”

Horwitz notes that while cotton remains tops among woven shirts, many customers are looking for something other than twills. “This can be in oxford cloth or poplin, if they are looking for cotton-rich fabrics,” he says, adding that these are also the most popularity priced shirts.

Horwitz says Bill Blass Premium introduced 14 new styles for 2001 and “in an effort to allow these new styles to gain acceptance through our wholesale distributor partners we will have only two new items for 2002 nerther of which will be dress shirts.

At Phillips Van Heusen, several new dress shirts have been added to the company sline. PVH has seen renewed interest in traditional office dress. Still, there is a demand for shirts with a casual flair that can be worn with sport coats or s weaters rather than formal suitngs.

‘The most interesting is the group of three shirts we call ‘dress blues,” says Schiowitz. “we have added to our successful French Blue end on-end cloth, a complimentary minicheck and pinstripe. We felt this enables people to wear a group of different shirts that clearly belong to each other,”

The company also has added English blue oxfords, both long – and short-sleved, in men’s and ladies styles, to complete the oxford package of blended and 100 percent cotton pinpoints.

“To me, the most versatile dress shirt is our denim, dress shirt, the lightest weight in the industry al 4.25 ounces,” Schiowitz continues.

“It is a ringspun fabric sewn with dress shirt details and quality and can truly be worn with a sport coat and tie or open as a fine sport shirt.”

Diversity is the key for Chesterfield Manufacturing, whose labels under its new for 2002. “Apparel Central” umbrella (see related story on page 12) include Print Ons, Express Mark Work Wise and the new Capitol Wear Exchange.

The Express Mark line is offering a new stretch 98% cotton 12% Lyera poplin. Long sleeve shirt with single needle tailoring and a hidden button down collar, Express Mark new style 2822 is a long-sleeve 55% cotton/45% polyester shirt featuring double-needle topstitching, single button wrist plackers and adjustable cuffs.

“Twills are still holding their own here. However we are seeing an increase in poly-nosic microfiber,” says Apparel Central’s Kim Wiggins. With that in mind. Capitol Wear Exchange style 1131 is a 100% glen plaid microfiber featuring long sleeves, a point banded collar, with button under loops, a double faced back yoke, back pleats and two extra buttons stitched to the inside front opening.

button down basics

Collars continue to be a matter of taste. Traditionally, dress shirts have button-down collars because they work nicely with ties. And in the tradition-bound promotional products market, most dress shirts, even when they’re worn without ties, continue feature button-down collars.

But as trends in promotional wears continue to follow retail, spread collars are increasing in popularity. They look sleek and appeal to the younger market. Spread collars also work better for women’s shirts.

Certainly, spread collars are gaining popularity, but classics prevail. “The button-down collar will always be a good seller,” says Wiggins.

“Button-downs are not losing favor,” says Idea Work shop’s Horwitz. “However everyone continues to look for something new and different from what they have been offering in the past. This is why it is important to offer variety in collar models and fabrics.”

At Philips Van Heusen, the button-down collar is still the Most popular choice for both men’s and women’s shirts. “We’ve added a women’s point and spread collar,” Schiowitz says. “Women want the same look as men, but softened up a bit.”

Collaring the women’s market

Do women want to wear dress shirts? The answer is yes, with a caveat or two. We don’t want to wear a small men’s shirt with shudder…buttons on the wrong side. We like a little tailoring so that we don’t look like we’re wearing a flour sack or Ralph Kramden’s bowing shirt. We’d like a ligher, softer fabric so that we’re comfortable. And unless we’re in an Annie Hall frame of mind we’re not inclined toward ties, so nix those button-down collars.

“For this reason, we have chosen to make our women’s shirts in spread collar model,” says Horwitz. He agrees that women also prefer lighter weight fabrics for dress and woven shirts. “They are more conscious of drape and bulk when it comes to fabric and prefer fabrics that can easily tuck into pants or skirts and that won’t bunch or bulk. Tapered shirts with higher armholes are also important.”

Amen.

Pinpoint oxfords have really taken off in the women’s market, as well as end-on-end cloth, says Schiowitz. “We utilize the same attention to detail for women’s shirtings and in tact make them in the same factories as out men’s dress shirts” he explains. “While there is some feminizing of the shirt the look is still tailored for our women’s line.”

“For so long, women have had to wear a men’s shirt in a small size,” agrees Blue Generation’s Rubin. “This meant that the shoulders were hanging off and the sleeves were too long Well not anymore. We were one of the first companies to offer a style mate to our men’s shirt in a true ladies cut, fit and style.”

“For example, our biggest selling shirt is our bg8213 100% cotton twill shirt. The men’s version is a button down collar with a patch pocket. The ladies version bg6213 is offered in a true ladies fit without the pocket, which women prefer and button on the correct side for women. It makes all the difference in the world when a women can get it shirt that first.”

Kim Mitchell is a Denver-based journalist and frequent contributor to Wearables Business.

Classy shirts need classy logos

It should be obvious to any promotional products distributor who sells wearables that a dress shirt is no place for big, loud logos. Subtle treatments such as tonal embroidery or small, above the cuff logos are generally preferred by end users.

Left-chest placement remains the dominant location, although some end-users are opting for logos on unconventional locations such as the collar or even behind the collar on the back of the shirt – which is fine if your embroiderer can do it at a reasonable cost. Please note that women are reluctant to wear a billboard on their chest. Placing a logo, product name or Website address on the sleeves, just above the cuff, is another option that is growing in popularity.

“Decorating should be small and tonal, the left chest, sleeve or cuff,” says Weatherproof’s Byron Reed.

“Most embroideries are above the pocket, but more and more are on the cuff,” says Erwin Schiowitz of Phillips Van Housen. “The embroideries are smaller and less intricate than on knits and more tonal.”

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