All Together Now

Double the sales and twice the versatility? Just look to the rising demand for layered looks.

Consider the volunteer. When the local Chamber of Commerce hosts the town's annual 5K race, who welcomes the thousands of visitors? Who directs them through the sprawling grassy knoll that's been designated the spectator parking lot? Who is expected to stay out all day, from the first car eagerly pulling in to the last minivan trundling home?

And don't forget about the weather. One spring will be in the upper 70s with a baking sun; the next, flurries while the thermometer hovers in the low 40s. That dedicated volunteer, who participates every year, alternately freezing or roasting, or even both in the span of a single day. Surely that basic cotton T-shirt giveaway won't get the job done.

The best solution? A functional outfit which consists of a crew-neck tee as a base layer, a quarter-zip pullover mid-layer and a water-resistant, hooded shell layer, all branded with the event and Chamber logos on the back and left chest. The volunteer and the rest of the staff get much-needed versatility with the changing temperatures by the year, and even by the hour.

The phenomenon at work is called layering, and it is earning the spotlight precisely for this kind of application – granting the wishes of wearers who want versatility, flexibility, comfort and freedom of movement for different settings and activities. "The layered style of dress involves multiple garments worn at the same time," says Danny Tsai, vice president of merchandising at Tri-Mountain (asi/92125). "It allows the wearer to make quick adjustments based on changes in temperature, weather and activity level."

Suppliers, recognizing the value and demand for layered items, now offer myriad options to choose from, including long-sleeve tees, quarter-zips, vests, soft-shells and much more. "People want comfort and freedom of movement, and layering offers that," says Gina Barreca, director of marketing at Vantage Apparel (asi/93390). "You can go with a more formal look, like a quilted vest under a dress coat, but it can also be more casual and activewear-inspired, such as performance tees paired with quarter-zip polyester pullovers."

In the promotional space, layered programs bring a significant intrinsic benefit: Several complementary pieces, each one embellished with the client's logo, have the potential to increase impressions tremendously

"We're giving them additional opportunities to promote their brand."
Ashley Mauldin, The Icebox (asi/229395)

By Popular Demand

Anytime one garment is worn on top of another, it can be considered layering. But the notion of layering as it applies to industry is something more purposeful: pairing garments that give the wearer much-needed flexibility, no matter the situation.

Elson Yeung, director of private label design & merchandising at alphabroder (asi/34063), sees the most practical applications in "functional layering." "Layering for warmth includes fleece and insulated pieces," he explains, "whereas layering for climates involves water-resistant or waterproof outer layers. We've seen huge momentum behind layering as three-piece suits have resurfaced, and pro golfers regularly layer on the course for both weather and style."

Trends in retail strongly influence styles available in the promotional market, so it makes sense that this also includes apparel suitable for layering. "Layering is big at retail because it caters to different temperatures, climate changes and unpredictable weather," says Barreca. "If it's going to warm up by 20 or 30 degrees, you want items that will take you through the day. People are looking for fabrics that are thinner and lightweight so they can be worn comfortably together."

Lest it's tempting to compartmentalize layering as a look only suitable for outdoor applications, consider professional layering for the office, which has also proven appealing to consumers. "Workplace environments now welcome a business casual style, as opposed to requiring suits and ties," says Carla Dabiero, account executive at Lasting Impressions (asi/249926). "The right layered look allows the wearer to look professional, yet keeps them stylish and comfortable."

In addition to style, versatility and comfort, layered branded items add yet another advantage: increased impressions with multiple logo locations. "We look at layering as an opportunity to add some fashionable choices for our customers," says Ashley Mauldin, key account executive/outside sales at The Icebox (asi/229395). "At the same time, we're giving them additional opportunities to promote their brand."

Levels of Layering We asked suppliers and distributors to give us examples of popular layered outfits. Here's what they suggested:

Button-Down Shirt + Performance Quarter-Zip + Soft-Shell = Business Casual Officewear


Tech Tee + Twill Shirt + Fleece Jacket = Entertainment Event Staff Uniform


Tech Tee + Performance Quarter-Zip + Quilted Jacket = Sporting Event Staff Uniform


Button-Down Shirt + Performance Quarter-Zip + Soft-Shell Vest = Trade Show Ensemble


Take Your Pick

An ideal layering program features functional apparel pieces that complement each other, whether it's an outdoor fitness event or a day at the trade show booth. "A good base layer, especially for sports, is something like a polyester moisture-wicking compression top," says Tsai. "It's designed to wick perspiration away from the skin, dispersing it on the outer surface where it evaporates. The wearer stays drier even when they sweat, and the shirt dries faster afterwards." Tsai adds that an insulating layer, such as a mid-weight microfleece jacket, is often placed on top of the base layer, because "they're lightweight, breathable and insulate even when wet. Finish it off with a lightweight shell layer that protects from wind and water."

Quilted vests and jackets in particular are coming into their own as a prevalent choice for layering. "They're great as either an under or overlayer," Barreca says, "and they're often packable. Consider the younger generation too for performance-inspired pieces, because they don't do jackets anymore. Sometimes it's just a long-sleeve shirt and a sweatshirt on top. Activewear-inspired looks have really changed things."

When a corporate team is in the market for a trade show or sales meeting ensemble, think quality items that feature fitted silhouettes and comfortable, easy-care fabrics. "Some of the most popular garments for a business casual look are quarter-zip pullovers with an open-collar button-down shirt underneath," Dabiero explains. "Often, it's finished off with a tie. This look creates a professional style that transitions from formal to business casual when the pullover replaces a sport or suit coat."

If a client requires uniforms or employs multifunctional staff, they could potentially benefit from several-piece outfits as well. "Customers looking for uniforms often require a whole ensemble," explains Yeung, "and companies with multiple departments often want layering options so their employees can represent the company at the office, warehouse or on the road. Insurance companies, for instance, have office support staff, a sales force and claims adjusters that represent them in various settings."

The options for creating versatile layered outfits are legion, but the question remains: How much does a quality ensemble cost? Barreca approximates possible price using a popular example: a bonded vest paired with either a plaid woven shirt or a quarter-zip performance pullover. "The estimated cost for two of these three pieces is around $48 net," she says, "so the buyer would pay around $96 for the outfit." Another go-to combination is a quarter-zip performance pullover under a compressible jacket, an estimated $65 for the distributor and about $125 to $130 for the end-user. "In both situations, the price for two pieces is either a little less or equal to the cost of a bulky, heavier jacket, which can be around $150," she says, "and the end-user ends up with double the items that they can also wear separately."

"Layering is going to play a role in almost every presentation we do this year."
Gina Barreca, Vantage Apparel (asi/93390)

Send a Message

The promotional benefit of layering is directly tied to the multiple garments available for embellishment, which allow for several impressions with just one ensemble. "Ideally, each piece of the layered look can be traded out at any time as needed," says Tsai, "so it's important to decorate every garment so the customer's brand is always represented."

With the number of possible placements, planning optimal embellishment locations can seem daunting. However, consider variation an opportunity to keep the client's brand engaging and front-of-mind rather than a task to be feared. Yeung, for instance, recommends pairing a long-sleeve base layer with a vest, and decorating the sleeve and the vest's left chest for double brand exposure. "It's important to know how the coordinated garments will be used," he adds. "If it's for customer-facing staff, the traditional chest location is always a great go-to. But if it's for a charity run or event, a cross-back decoration would help participants identify support staff."

Perhaps a customer is in construction and looking for new on-the-job garments for their road or building crew; Dabiero suggests a logoed T-shirt, a zip-sweatshirt embellished on the left chest, and a bonded or quilted vest with a full-back logo. "An executive would benefit from a button-up with a logo on the collar or wrist, paired with a quarter-zip with the logo on the back yoke, sleeve or chest," she adds. "You can't pigeon-hole matching ensembles as appropriate for just one industry or another. It's an ideal look for anyone looking to advertise a logo."

As layering gains increased popularity, it's becoming more important for distributors to distinguish themselves from the competition. "Anyone who wants fashionable options, along with multiple brand opportunities, should be open to it," says Mauldin. "But I always try to pitch ideas that are outside of the box. You could suggest a ringspun cotton piece with a distressed screen-print as the base layer, for instance."

While layering offers the opportunity to show off a brand in unexpected places on a garment, it's important to maintain balance, according to Barreca. "People don't want to feel like a billboard or race car, unless it's a sponsorship opportunity," she explains. "Consider a quarter-zip with a tonal etch on the sleeve underneath a vest with left chest embroidery. You could also put left chest embroidery on that quarter-zip so it's branded twice. And don't forget backs, collars and cuffs. The goal when designing an ensemble is to make sure no logos are fighting for attention, but the client isn't losing any opportunity for branding."

Make the Sale

You've spent hours diligently poring over catalogs, finally selecting the perfect layered ensemble for your client with logos in all the right places. Now, how do you convince the buyer to go for it? Fortunately, it might not be as challenging as you think – as long as the presentation is planned strategically.

Once the wearer's needs have been assessed and garment options chosen accordingly, make sure that the client will be impressed by matching each layering piece to their brand. "It's important to ensure there's color coordination and consistency, especially in corporate outfitting," says Yeung. "This could be either matching colors to tie into the corporate logo, or creating a layered outfit with complementary colors to create a professional appearance."

When it comes time to present ideas to clients, the manner in which the samples are physically presented can make the difference between wowing customers and missing the sale. If a distributor fears the client will balk at buying three items presented individually, says Dabiero, they should plan to reveal them simultaneously on one hanger. "Make sure the garments look as if they're meant to go together, and that they really show off their company colors and logo," she says. "Many suppliers have garment lines with similar colorblocking or palettes that are meant to be paired together. These are great to present as one piece, or separately if necessary."

Pitching one item at a time might prove overwhelming for the buyer, says Barreca, who echoes Dabiero's suggestion that compiling garments on a hanger is the best way to unveil an outfit. "You don't want to show one item at a time and then say, 'Now, buy all three'," she says. "When they're together, they're already merchandised and buyers like the look. They say, 'Wow, I never would have thought of that'. Try to start with three and only go down if you have to. That's easier than starting with one and trying to work your way up. Budget always comes into play, but again, remind them that two lightweight items might be about the same cost as one heavier jacket from their promotion the year before."

As apparel suppliers continue to expand the already wide breadth of potential layering items up for grabs, the versatility, functionality and affordability of ensembles, not to mention the multiple impressions per outfit, make layering a sure bet for distributors. "It's everywhere right now," says Barreca. "Layering is going to play a role in almost every presentation we do this year."

Sara Lavenduski is an assistant editor for Wearables. Contact her at and follow her on Twitter at @SaraLav_ASI.