Fashion Forward
What’s In, Out, and New for Independent Stores

By Natalie Hope McDonald

There seems to be a lot more rule breaking each season when it comes to fashion. What was taboo yesterday is in today, say the most progressive social media influencers. For customers, that means there are even more ways to express individuality with a variety of exciting colors, designs, patterns and price ranges. But for boutiques, it means keeping up with the most formidable trends while still knowing one’s customer base.

Apparel for winter on display at Florodora. Offering well-designed pants are a key to meeting a demand for non-skinny jeans, the owner said.

This New Year’s fashion forecast is no exception. In fact, as the spring season warms up, many of the newest looks will actual hark back to 1990s style (think grunge) which is inspired, in part, by trends in both music and film.

This year, critics also expect to see a new appreciation for men’s and women’s suits again, as well as a noticeable leap from the ever-present skinny jeans, with more cuts and styles adding to the denim mix for a range of body types. Even the once mocked “mom jeans” have become an unexpected hit with teens and twenty-somethings thanks, in part, to their comfort and, well, irony.

Mixes and Matches
At Florodora, a boutique in Chicago’s historic Moondock building on the Loop, it’s all about comfort. Owner Michael Blossom said that harsh Midwest winter has inspired customers to cozy up in lush, soft (and stylish) materials in the New Year.

“It’s been a great season for cozy sweaters of all kinds, not quite chunky knits, but anything with color that looks substantial and cozy and comfortable,” he explained. “These pair well with the various silhouettes of pants, as well as all the midi skirts.”  

Another trend he’s seeing is people mixing dressy tops with casual bottoms, and vice versa. “The influence of activewear on fashion is continuing,” said Blossom, “with details like exposed zippers and sport stripes being added to pieces that would have been more traditional in the past.”

The sales floor at Florodora, a Chicago, Ill., boutique. Colorful apparel is trending currently, according to the owner.

Brands being sold include Yoana Baraschi, Twinkle, Nougat, Feral Childe, Sita murt and Tsuyumi.

For those who like a pop of color rather than more traditional black or grey, the good news is color is in again. “We are having good response to oranges and reds lately,” said Blossom. But while bright primaries aren’t necessarily making a comeback quite yet at this boutique, he said, “Off-reds, for example, are big, and that will continue into this year.”  

And while animal prints aren’t typically sold at the shop, he admitted that there is also always a strong market for them out there, though they tend to be more of a winter look. Brace yourself because cow prints are actually becoming a thing.  “We do better with abstract prints,” he said.

When it comes to jeans, a staple for every man and woman, skinny jeans may still be in, but they aren’t alone by any means. “Skinny is still a staple,” said Blossom. “However, I think we’re at a point where every woman has a closet full of skinnies, so there is more demand now for trousers, boot cuts and wide legs. Wide-leg jeans (not necessarily in blue) have been doing especially well, but with wide leg the details of fit and proportion are so important, so it depends on them being well designed.”

A view of the street from a Florodora window. Mixing dressy tops with casual bottoms is a trend, the owner said.

As part of the move toward more inclusive fashion overall, the fresher styles seem to be a lot more accommodating to a wider variety of body types. “I think that will sustain the trend,” he said. “Also, skirts are gradually making a comeback as an alternative bottom.”

But much like fashion trends that seem to wane and ebb, customers can be just as finicky about accessories. “It seems people are all over the map these days with accessories,” Blossom said. “Some are going strictly for statement jewelry; some only for dainty or minimal; some only for necklaces; some only for earrings.”

He sees the gamut when it comes to handbags, as well: “Some want a large bag that will carry everything and some want to carry as small a bag as possible to simplify. I think women are really choosing their accessories carefully these days to align with the image they want to project.”

Hair Bling, Soft Fabrics and Pastels
At Never Too Spoiled, a boutique in Philadelphia’s historic Old City, Owner Rene Galvin is always looking for fun news ways to excite customers each season. One way she does this is with her ever-changing Boho chic décor both in and outside the shop. She’s done everything from showcase knitted bicycles and repurposed bathtubs as planters to create a recent Christmas wonderland.

Inside the shop, her attention to detail is as on point. This winter, she agrees that it’s all about being cozy. “Our hands-down bigger sellers this season are cozy and comfy sweaters and fluffy Teddy Bear Coats,” explained Galvin. “Anything that gives comfort, including blanket scarves, are the biggest trend for us.”

Colors are also evolving a bit into a lighter palette at the shop. “This season we have found the most popular colors to be the creams, whites, pinks and pretty pastels,” she said. “Animal prints were very big for a while, but seemed to have quieted down.”

Interestingly, even though jeans seem to sell well across the board year round (yep, torn is still in), Galvin doesn’t focus too much on them in winter. “Our customers go for the comfy torn sweats and any soft-feeling two-piece sets with comfy leggings or pants.” In fact, jeans are more popular in spring and summer for the shop.

Knowing her customer base, which includes locals and lots of tourists, means that she’s also discovered a new accessories trend. “Everyone wants hair bling,” she said. “Whether it be a hair clip (or a few) or headband, hair accessories continue to be extremely popular. We even set up a special station with mirrors and seats, so our customers can play and try with a few before buying.”

Metallics, Animal Prints and Seasonal Accessories
Also in Philadelphia, KIN Boutique is a standout for its high-end fashion from brands like Stateside, Keepsake, Sir the Label, The Fifth Label Project and Senso.

Delise Barron, one of the owners of the chic Pine Street boutique with Josephine Clark, said it’s all about bright colors and mixing metallics. “Try layering both gold and silver jewelry over a simple turtleneck with a bright pencil skirt for a casual winter hang out with friends or a work holiday party,” she said. Two of the items in the shop that can be versatile are the Sanctuary Everyday Midi Skirts in party red and Sau Lee Genevive Gown in mustard.

“Black and grey are always in and staples in any wardrobe,” said Barron. “But pops of color help to break up an outfit.” She recommends that customers consider pairing colored denim, like Citizens of Humanity velvet jeans in midnight green, with dark tops, or even using a pop of color with a pair of brightly colored mules to brighten up a look. 

Barron also still loves animal print. She always tells her customers that it can be used like a bright color to complement what they’re wearing already, or make it the main focus of an outfit. The shop carries a Chelsea ankle boot in snakeskin style to help kick up an outfit a few notches.

Both Barron and Clark actually spend a lot of time making recommendations for customers looking to spruce up their looks, especially for special events. As such, they must keep on top of trends while still maintaining the look of the shop, which is young, classic and always on fleek.

A good rule of thumb at KIN is to wear what you like and to own it. For example, when it comes to jeans, she said, “We’re of the camp: wear what you want, as long as they fit correctly. Cropped flares with a sock bootie is a clean look, but skinny jeans are great when you need to tuck them into something taller.” A high-rise skinny ankle jean by Farrow is her pick for the season.

Barron also considers the weather when she’s buying for the busy boutique. In Philly, that means hats and gloves are always in fashion come winter. Her solution to staying both warm and stylish is pairing fingerless gloves with a cashmere beanie. The best-sellers this season are fingerless gloves by Margret O’Leary.

Apparel Trends to Watch in 2020

A window display of apparel at Florodora in Chicago, Ill. Lush and soft styles are available for 2020 at the store.

1. Nostalgia: The old adage that everything old is new again rings very true for fashion. Not only are younger consumers looking to older trends for style cues (it’s all about the 1990s right now) but retro twists are going to become even more pronounced this year. Don’t be surprised to see looks from the 1970s and 1980s making yet another return too

2. Sustainability: As more consumers become conscious of the environmental impact of what they buy, you’ll also see more companies creating apparel that’s eco-friendly. Shoe designers, for example, are already making sneakers from recycled bottles and Wal-Mart has its own line of recycled clothing at affordable price points.

3. Tech: Couture designers are getting a lot of inspiration from high-tech materials and experiences, but even in the mainstream we are seeing interesting uses of high-tech materials in fitness apparel, as well as smart ways of incorporating tech gear into hoodies, jackets, shoes and shirts.

4. Leisurewear: Exercise and fitness fashions are only getting more popular. Expect to see designs being implemented into a lot of new looks and styles, with apparel that can go from work to workout effortlessly. The same goes for comfort. Comfortable, breathable fabrics are very much here to stay.

5. Street: The street style phenomenon isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, especially as more partnerships are made between hip-hop superstars (hello, Travis Scott) and clothing and shoe companies. Look for even more limited-edition sneakers and hoodies, as well as apparel that draws its inspiration from graffiti, graphic design and urban culture. It’s not just for kids anymore.

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