Promotional Apparel Trends for 2017

Style insights to help fuel your sales in the new year.

When it comes to apparel, style counts.

More than any other product category in the branded merchandise business, apparel requires distributors to stay on top of trends to best advise clients. Naturally, you’re probably wondering what’s hot for the year ahead. Well, if 2017 had a fashion theme, it would be this: what’s old is new again.

As you’ll see, retro and vintage pieces are clearly making a catwalk comeback, with a number of top trends taking inspiration from patterns of the past. From “dad hats” to heritage tees, colorblocked tops to denim and flannel wovens, the so-called “has-beens” are once again the must-haves of fashion.

1. The Dad Hat Is Back
The “dad hat” is an unstructured cotton or canvas baseball cap that has a slightly curved bill and, most characteristically, a strap back. The term was originally pejorative – a way fashion-forward millennials who liked flat-bill caps could mock uncool, outdated hats dads wore to Little League games and barbecues.

Well, now it seems the dad hat is getting the last laugh. From counter-culture hipsters to college kids, skateboarders to major celebrities, a cross-section of fashion-conscious people are donning the formerly unhip hats. Indeed, style luminary Lebron James even sported one during the Cleveland Cavaliers NBA championship victory parade.

For distributors, the dad hat trend means that clients targeting a younger demographic can use the caps to appeal to end-users. Potential buyers include schools, universities, fraternities, sororities, musical acts, drink brands, concert venues and more. Plus, the dad hat is likely to carry continued appeal to the people who unwittingly gave the accessory its name: Dads and other adults north of 30.

2. The Hegemony of Heather

Garments that feature heathered fabric may just be the hottest trend of 2017.

Heather refers to interwoven yarns of mixed colors producing flecks of an alternate color. Often, heathered fabrications involve multiple shades of gray or gray with another color to produce a muted shade. However, any colors – including bright ones – can be mixed in heathered arrangements.

Heading into next year, expect heathered fabrics to populate categories that include polos, T-shirts and fleece. Tri-Mountain (asi/92125) anticipates heavy interest in heathered fleece pieces for both men and women. “The heathered pattern is a great way to step up and add interest to fleece apparel, but in a subtle way,” says Danny Tsai, VP of merchandising at Tri-Mountain.

If you’re a football fan, you may have already seen a key heathered trend on the sidelines: Coaches have worn polo shirts that feature heathered elements in colorblocked designs. During warmer weather games this fall, Notre Dame coaches frequently had on polos that included heathered fabric at the shoulder, collar and sleeves. See the look here

Highlighting the heathered trend in T-shirts is the Hanes X-Temp Triblend collection. Moisture-wicking and odor control performance features are enhanced by a fabric blend that creates a soft, heathered look. “Textures will be very important in 2017,” says John Spivey, marketing manager for Hanes/Champion (asi/59528). “It’s all about adding visual interest and making the garment look unique.”

3. Short-Sleeve Sweatshirts

Short-sleeve sweatshirts will carry a cool cachet in 2017, especially with women. “From basic fleece to short cropped tops, the fleece short-sleeve sweatshirt is an item every girl should have in her closet,” says Jamie Henry, product development manager at Boxercraft (asi/41325).

4. Harkening to the Tee’s Heritage

In the T-shirt space, heritage styles that are popular at retail will be in high demand among logoed apparel buyers, says John Spivey, marketing manager for Hanes/Champion (asi/59528). “Ringer tees, baseball tees and varsity tees are transitioning smoothly into the promotional apparel market,” Spivey says.

While the retro look of these shirts is enticing, end-users also want contemporary performance features. That’s why Hanes added moisture-wicking and cooling attributes to its Hanes X-Temp Baseball T-shirt (shown here;

5. Blocks of Color

Colorblocking will add pizzazz to polos and T-shirts. The Sport-Tek CamoHex Colorblock Tee (ST371) from SanMar (asi/84863; is a good example of the trend as it pertains to performance T-shirts.

6. Polo 2017: Trad Patterns, Blues & Neon Touches

Traditional menswear prints associated with wovens have expanded into the polo shirt category. “Gingham, checks and tattersall provide a break from the norm,” says Gina Barreca, director of marketing at Vantage Apparel (asi/93390). And on the subject of polos: Popular colors at retail include saturated shades of navy, blue and indigo, so expect those hues to figure prominently in the promo marketplace. Designers are also using bright neon sport colors in blocks and tipping in next year’s polo shirt collections. Lastly, it should go without saying that performance features – like moisture wicking and odor control – will remain on buyers’ wish lists.

7. Sporty Scuba Necks

When brands like Lululemon and Under Armour feature a style, you know it’s huge. Such is the case with scuba necks on hooded sweatshirts. Adding practical warmth and sharp zipped-up style, scuba necks are now adorning performance hoodies in the promotional products industry. An example is the Augusta Sportswear (asi/37461; Zeal Hooded Pullover; styles 4762 for men (shown here) and 4812 for women are available from S&S Activewear (asi/84358;

8. Pleats

“Designers are using pleats in different ways to create interest and dimension,” says Jennifer Tsai, VP of operations at Tri-Mountain (asi/92125). “From side pleats to barely-there pleats, this is a great way to dress up a style or staple.” Check out how simple pleating elevates elegance in Tri-Mountain’s LB708 Elle blouse (shown here; The Elle features a scoop neck and pleated cap sleeves.

9. Insect-Repelling Apparel

Performance wear is evolving with fresh innovations that aim to go beyond moisture wicking and antimicrobial. Expert Brand (asi/53404), for example, recently partnered with Nobitech ( to offer revolutionary clothing that repels ticks, ants, flies, fleas, chiggers, midges and mosquitoes, including the one that carries the Zika virus.

The bug-battling garments feature Skintex technology, which uses permethrin, a contact insecticide that damages the nervous systems of insects and kills them. “From our water-resistant jackets to hoodies to performance tees and pants, you’ll see a lot of familiar Expert Brand pieces within this technologically advanced Nobitech collection,” says Sion Shaman, VP of sales at Expert Brand.

10. Slub Chic

For several years, buyer interest in T-shirts featuring slub fabrications has been growing. Suppliers believe the trend will take off in both the men’s and women’s categories in 2017, especially on campuses and at schools, and with fashion-forward clients. At their best, slub fabrics present an organic image that’s rich with an element of vintage Americana.

11. The Return of Pink

For women’s apparel colors in 2017, trend spotters are expecting a return to femininity – and that translates to many manifestations of pink. “Pink has been a strong feature on the Fall/Winter 2016-2017 catwalks,” says Jennifer Tsai, VP of operations at Tri-Mountain (asi/92125). “This quintessentially feminine color is everywhere. It ranges from pale pink, to blush rose and bright magenta.” Distributors would be wise to have a number of pink product suggestions to present to clients well in advance of October breast cancer initiatives.

12. Olive Green Activewear

“I see olive green being a more predominant color in activewear,” says Leah Hulon, designer at Expert Brand (asi/53404). “Also, there will be a big push for indigo; an offshoot of this will be different variations of teal and jade.”

13. Woven in Denim and Flannel

Cotton-based denim and flannel woven shirts are important components of many retail collections headed into 2017. Industry suppliers expect the trend will continue expanding in the branded apparel space. Artsy brands keen to convey a hip image may be particularly interested in the styles, says Gina Barreca, director of marketing at Vantage Apparel (asi/93390). Think startup technology companies, organic food purveyors and makers of eco-friendly products.

Of course, denim and flannel wovens – especially lighter-weight, sleeker styles – can be a sound brand investment for any client interested in projecting a youthful image or courting a millennial generation audience.

14. Buttoned-Down Performance

While denim and flannel wovens are making inroads, they’re not about to supplant more corporate-image button-downs in the branded apparel realm. Bet on it that performance wovens featuring moisture-wicking fabrics and stretchy materials will remain in high demand. Gingham, tattersall and Bengal stripe are among the patterned looks that, along with crisp solids, will resonate with buyers.

15. Accented With Camo

Camouflage-patterned apparel is hardly an emerging trend, but it is one that is likely to stay strong in 2017, conveying an outdoorsy image with country-cool appeal. In addition to full-coverage camo patterns, anticipate that designers will use camo as an accent in caps, fleeces and shirts. Caps, for example, will feature mesh backs and camouflage fronts. Camo will also certainly be accenting women’s pieces, as shown by the pictured Port Authority Ladies Camouflage Microfleece Full-Zip Jacket (L230C) from SanMar (asi/84863),

16. Oversized Is In

The craze for oversized T-shirts, jerseys and sweatshirts is reaching a fever pitch at retail. The mania will continue growing in the promo industry, too, especially within the education and hospitality markets. “Oversized creates extra comfort for all while being extremely on trend,” says Jamie Henry, product development manager at Boxercraft (asi/41325).

17. Puffed Up, Slimmed Down, Retro-Inspired

In the arena of corporate outerwear, several distinct styles will be among the most sought-after looks. They include puffer jackets and soft-shell bonded jackets that deliver warmth without bulk. These jackets provide a polished, retail-inspired appearance that is perfect for executives, sales professionals, engineers, construction managers and more. That said, there’s also an element of old-school running through the outerwear category, with retro-style windbreakers and coaches jackets back in the limelight.

Christopher Ruvo is senior writer for Advantages. Tweet: @ChrisR_ASI. Contact: