America’s beach resorts are gearing up for what might be their best summer ever, as pandemic-weary Americans head to the shore. From sundresses to T-shirts, casual apparel fits the pandemic lifestyle.
In Chincoteague, Va., Sunsations is ready with brightly colored shirts to match the summer mood. “Vibrant colors, that’s what people want,” observed Manager Jay Beaule. “Bright blue, bright yellow, bright orange.” Nearly every colorful tee, for both men and women, is printed with logo graphics at Sunsations, which has 35 East Coast locations from Maryland to Florida.
Interviewed in April, Beaule said it was still early to predict which styles would sell best this summer. But along with brightly colored shirts, he expects sunglasses, hats and other beach gear to do well with Sunsations’ vacationing clientele. “We’re just getting started for this season, and last year was the pandemic, so we’ll see what’s popular,” Beaule said.
Bright colors like fuchsia and turquoise, along with marine motifs and artsy prints, are the signature look at Funky Closet, also in Chincoteague. Owners Barbara Limmen and Kathryn Graham curate a distinctive selection of flowy tunics, dresses, tops and scarves that appeal to shoppers looking for something different. “We go to the shows and look for items that are unique — things you won’t see at all the other beach shops around here,” Limmen said.

It will be bright, hot colors for a hot summer.

Jewelry is a best-selling category for the boutique. At Funky Closet, nearly every display outfit is accessorized with a bold, chunky necklace in brightly colored beads, and there are bracelets to match. Many tops and accessories feature flamingo motifs or starfish graphics, bringing the coastal theme home.
Other resort stores succeed by offering an alternative to beach themed merchandise. The Gatehouse, a Southport, N.C., boutique, eschews coastal motifs in favor of a French-inspired retro aesthetic. “Our look is very romantic, very feminine,” said Owner Meesha, who uses a single name. “I do a lot of online searching for unique items, and I have particular vendors whose quality I trust.”
Gatehouse customers favor dresses and tops rather than bottoms. And they are less driven by trends, Meesha said. “I have no idea,” she said when asked which pieces will be hot this season. “It’s random, every year.”
At Tonya’s Treasures in Jekyll Island, Ga., Southern lifestyle brands are always winners. They include Southern Marsh, which produces graphic T-shirts, hoodies and dresses, all with a faded-cotton, beach-casual vibe. “I feel like we’ll always sell Southern Marsh well here,” said Manager Megan Wells. Another favorite is Old Row, which makes what it calls party wear aimed at college men. “It’s really big with frat boys down South,” said Wells of T-shirts featuring slogans like “Admit Nothing” or an image of Forrest Gump alongside the word “legend.” “Guys like the graphics.”
For women, Buddy Love is a hit with on-trend styles like maxi dresses, cut out shoulder tops, strappy sundresses and swim tunics. Summery colors like white, pink and aqua and tie-dye t-shirts with slogans like “Good Vibes” are perfect for vacation. Another top-selling, boho-inspired line, Peach Love, combines California beach style with what it calls “Southern charm.” To find new vendors with that relaxed, island feel, Store Owner Tonya Brown scours the Atlanta Apparel Market and other trade fairs.

Blues and greens and floppy hats are mainstays for summer.

This year has brought a more casual lifestyle for many Americans — and coastal styles are a perfect fit. At Enjewel, a Fort Myers, Fla., boutique, sundresses and jumpsuits are best-sellers for their versatility. “Many of these dresses and onesies that look like dresses function for both work and going out,” explained Manager Amy Bennett. “And I’ve noticed that retro prints have been big this spring.”
Since buying the shop last October, Bennett’s father-in-law, Tim Ferguson, has mostly relied on existing vendors for the styles that customers love. “This will be our first summer with the store,” Bennett noted. “We don’t know yet what will do well this year, but dresses will probably still be popular.”