Design preferences may vary depending on location, but destination retailers are noticing some trending styles with T-shirts and sweatshirts.

Feb. 4, 2024

Aleksandra’s Gift Shop in Savannah, Georgia, has always offered a variety of sweatshirt colors and designs for its customers to remind visitors of their time in the city. Many of the sweatshirts feature a simple Savannah name drop on it, which seems to appeal best to customers.

Co-owner Jason Newcomb says he likes to stock higher-quality looking sweatshirts at affordable prices. “Having something that looks higher end doesn’t necessarily mean higher price,” he explains. “You can go to a place with a regular sweatshirt, and they want $50. Most of our sweatshirts are $34.99. It makes a big difference in sales, and you still get a large margin on it.”

For a while, Newcomb says he would showcase the store’s different sweatshirt options on walls for customers to browse. The store would typically sell one or two sweatshirts a day, but Newcomb wondered if moving some of the sweatshirts to floor racks could make a difference in sales.

A&F Souvenir creates name-drop hoodies and T-shirts with various icons and imagery to match specific locations.

So, about two years ago, he says he moved some sweatshirts off the wall and mismatched them on floor racks so customers would have to pick through them to find the perfect fit. The new setup was a hit with customers, who generally enjoy browsing the different sweatshirts on the racks. Newcomb says sweatshirts became a top-selling product.

“Sweatshirts are our No. 2 seller all year round now,” he says, adding that T-shirts also sell particularly well for the Savannah retailer.

For many destination retailers, T-shirts and sweatshirts are top-selling souvenirs. Tourists love collecting shirts and hoodies from destinations they visit. They are not only practical in that they can be worn well after someone’s trip, but they are also a form of advertising a destination.

Destination-specific preferences

Although T-shirts and sweatshirts can be top sellers for destination retailers across the U.S., the colors, icons and sayings that work on these souvenirs are as varied as the locations they are sold.

“Preferences vary a lot by type of customer and location, to be quite honest,” says Kip Zsupnik Jr., CEO of A&F Souvenir.

The wholesaler has created a variety of T-shirt and hoodie designs for customers, many of which feature a name drop and various icons and imagery that match specific destinations — mountain scenery, sea turtles, Bigfoot and various zoo animals. Zsupnik explains that A&F Souvenir relies on retailers to help the company figure out what icons or colors will work best for their stores.

Jourdain Foster, sales and customer service manager at Simply Southern, notes that colors and graphic preferences vary by region among most retailers. To give retailers styles that work in their location, she says Simply Southern provides a range of designs inspired by lakes, beaches, turtles, mountains and more to accommodate different destination retailers.

Town Pride uses soft materials that are important for baby and children’s items.

“As a company based in North Carolina, we recognize the importance of catering to the preferences of mountain enthusiasts, coastal lovers and various regions,” she says. “Our diverse designs reflect this understanding. Our customers in the eastern region tend to favor vibrant designs featuring turtles and beach scenes whereas those in the Midwest prefer catchy sayings or outdoor-themed designs on darker colored products.”

Customers visiting Sasquatch Outpost in Bailey, Colorado, enjoy the fun, colorful Bigfoot-themed T-shirts hanging on the store’s back wall. Inventory Manager Karine Myers says the store has a lot of returning customers, so she likes to update the designs offered every other year.

Currently, a bubblegum pink T-shirt that says, “Believe in Yourself, Even if No One Else Does” and features Bigfoot hiking in front of a sunset is a big hit with customers.

All ages in mind

While design preferences vary depending on the location and attraction, destination retailers also need to keep in mind that preferences will vary depending on age and gender.

Lately, younger women tend to prefer either less or more with their T-shirts and hoodies: they go for the crop-top look or extremely oversized and baggy T-shirts and hoodies.

“A notable distinction in purchasing preferences is that women tend to seek a more generous, oversized fit in their hoodies,” says Foster of Simply Southern. “Their priority is comfort and a cozy, snug feeling when wearing them.”

Brian Lynch, owner of Only in Clev gift shop, has noticed a similar trend among younger customers in Cleveland, Ohio.

“The new fad with the younger people, they like oversized hoodies,” he says. “With women, crops are becoming very popular and the boxy-type cuts.”

On the other hand, Lynch says older women go for a more traditional and relaxed style of shirt.

At Driftwood Mercantile in Pawleys Island, South Carolina, Manager Stephanie Haak says women of all ages often like their T-shirts to be a little bit longer so they can pair them with leggings.

For men, destination retailers can’t go wrong offering a variety of crew necks. “Crew necks are big again, and I’ve been getting a lot of requests for crew necks this year,” says Haak, adding that the style tends to be more popular with men than with women.

Foster says Simply Southern’s straightforward knitted hoodies also have been popular among men lately. These hoodies offer men a balance of thickness, mobility and breathability.

In general, men prefer T-shirts and hoodies in darker, neutral color palettes. Although Aleksandra’s customers tend to be women, Newcomb says he stocks some darker colored T-shirts to appeal to men as well.

In contrast, vibrant colors do best with babies and kids. “Kids have a strong preference for vibrant, eye-catching designs,” Foster explains.

She adds that animal-themed designs perform well with children and babies.

“Kids want something cute,” says Haak. “Mermaids, sharks, pirates — your typical [theme].”

Softer material is important among the youngest customers, too.

“For babies, super soft material is important,” says Tamara Moran, president of Town Pride. “Durable fabric is more important for toddlers and kids.”

Trending styles

Regardless of destination or demographic, some T-shirt and hoodie styles have been trending across the board this year.

Aleksandra’s Gift Shop in Savannah, Georgia aims for affordability for more profitability.

Haak has noticed that waffle-pattern shirts are starting to trend in popularity. “It’s almost like old thermal shirts,” she says, adding that her customers like both short- and long-sleeve waffle-pattern shirts.

Haak says the waffle-pattern T-shirt style grew in popularity for her store in the fall, so she made sure to stock up on this style for the 2024 season.

With sweatshirts and hoodies, some customers prefer the zip-up style to traditional pullover sweatshirts lately. Myers of Sasquatch Outpost says zip-up hoodies are a hit at her shop this year, especially if they feature a soft, wool-like texture on the inside.

“Zipper hoodies are back in,” she says. “I’m not positive why, but from what I’ve heard, people don’t like the feel of pulling a hoodie over their head.”

Certain brands of shirts are also a hit for some destination retailers. Newcomb says Comfort Colors shirts are trending at Aleksandra’s Gift Shop. He explains that customers appreciate that the material doesn’t shrink and that many younger customers know the brand.

Lynch also has noticed the popularity of Comfort Colors among his customers in Cleveland. He says the brand offers shirts that are easy to print on and don’t shrink after washing.

“It’s the biggest sensation this year,” says Lynch. “We’ve found they’re extremely popular. Comfort Colors have a real nice fit — they’re well-made, sturdy and don’t shrink.”

A more timeless trend is that customers want T-shirts and sweatshirts to be comfortable. Moran notes that comfort and fit are always important when it comes to T-shirts.

“The fabric content has to be soft and feel good,” she says.

Zsupnik has noticed that customers are paying more attention to the fabric. He says 100% cotton shirts often have the soft feel customers want.

“It comes down to the feel of the T-shirt for us,” he says. “People want a higher-end garment. They don’t want something that feels like cardboard. So we’ve been selling a lot of products that are price conscious but have a good feel.”