Stepping Out in Style

By Carimé Lane

What’s currently selling at apparel boutiques across the country? And how are these retailers helping men and women step out with style? Read on for the answers to these questions–and more–about apparel trends at apparel boutiques. 

Alex Robertson Madden, co-owner of the Favorite Sisters Boutique in Shreveport, La., said things have changed in their 2,200-square-feet of sales space since last year. Then, if it was cozy and casual, you could count it sold said Robertson Madden. Currently, Robertson Madden has been surprised to find customers have been proud to buy more of their specialty and pricier items.

Alex Robertson Madden, co-owner, Favorite Sisters Boutique in Shreveport, La.,
said specialty and pricier items are currently selling.

If you make it easy for them, customers will buy complete outfits, said Robertson Madden. 

“For my staff and I, it is important that when the customer is going to an event, we make sure we dress them for the entire thing,” said Robertson Madden. For instance, even if a customer doesn’t need shoes, they give the customer a pair of shoes to try on to give them a feel for it.

Many customers come into the store and barely browse the racks, said Robertson Madden. At Favorite Sisters, staff know their merchandise well enough to gather items to make up complete outfits for customers. This often involves handing customers 8-10 items to try on in the fitting room, explained Robertson Madden. 

Gary Flynn, president, CEO and co-owner of M Dumas and Sons in Charleston, S.C., has noted a few trends of the moment.

Left, Alex Robertson Madden, and right, Carri Jo Robertson, owners and mother/daughter team, Favorite Sisters Boutique. Customers can get help at the store on buying outfits for specific events.

Technical fabrics are one of these, including shorts, pants, shirts, polo’s and jackets. 

“People have really bought into the benefits of these fabrications. Easy care, stretch and comfort are all big things right now,” said Flynn. “This trend was happening already, but the Covid year really accelerated this.”

“Soft, unconstructed, lightweight sport coats are also on fire,” added Flynn. “It’s hot in the South and this is an easy way to sell a jacket that a guy probably doesn’t have in his wardrobe.”

Athletic/Athleisure brands, including Vuori and Tasc are also trending. Covid and spending more time at home helped to boost this trend as well, but trends were already pointing in this direction Flynn said.

The majority of their customers are purchasing complete outfits in their 9,000-square-feet of selling space.

“Some people have changed sizes this last year. Some gained; some lost,” explained Flynn. They are needing new clothes that fit properly.”

Favorite Sisters Sales Associate Kristina Morris, left, with Owner Alex Robertson Madden, middle, and Sales Associate Elizabeth Phillips. Staff know the merchandise well at the store, and sometimes can give a customer 8-10 items to try on at a time.

Listening is key to assisting customers with creating their own looks, said Flynn. You’ll want to understand their lifestyle and needs to help narrow in on a look that suits them, he added.

“We are a big store, we carry a lot of product, but not all of it is right for everyone,” elaborated Flynn. “That’s part of the plan here at M Dumas: We can’t cater to everyone for all occasions, but we do this better than most. Understanding their needs and pairing that with trends allows us to update a customer’s look while pushing their comfort zone just a little bit.”

Dress sales are going strong, said Rachel Lutz, owner of two locations of The Peacock Room–which mainly sells dresses–and two other boutiques in the Detroit area: Frida and Yama – which mainly sells separates. 

Rhinestone tiaras have been a surprise hit seller. “I think what’s strongly trending right now is dopamine,” commented Lutz. “Customers have been through a really tough year and are indulging in what they consider self-care.”

According to Lutz, customers are interested in purchasing complete outfits to accommodate recent size fluctuations. They’re also enamored with the ability to shop tactilely again, which often results in customers purchasing more than intended. 

Staff watch for verbal and non-verbal cues to help customers create looks in all of Lutz’s shops, which are a combined square footage of 6,800-square-feet, with an annual revenue of over one million dollars. They also aren’t afraid to suggest something slightly outside a customer’s comfort zone. 

She believes boutique customers expect skilled stylists and customer service. “They want that leadership and guidance of what we think will make them look and feel their best,” Lutz said.

Sales Associate Hannah Ogle of Favorite Sisters Boutique. One of the store’s owners said customers will buy complete outfits if doing so is made easy for them.

Accordingly, in hiring, Lutz looks for staff with personal passions and good listening skills. “I think if you’re a very passionate person, you’re a good listener,” said Lutz. “That’s all you really need to be very helpful to people in retailing.” Background isn’t as relevant, said Lutz. She hires staff with backgrounds ranging from the political field to the auto glass repair industry. 

Maxi dresses in summer and sweaters and ponchos in the fall are the main best-sellers at Sassy Fashion Couture in downtown Detroit. Owner Kristina Kado said she has also ramped up her selection of plus size fashions since opening to cater to customer demand. 

Roughly 70 percent of Kado’s customers buy complete outfits for themselves, but this only occurs when she picks the outfit out for them. Customers also gravitate towards outfits–accessories included–displayed on store mannequins. 

Kado’s regulars are used to asking her to pick their outfits for them. If they’re new, she’ll note what colors customers are gravitating towards in her 660-square-foot shop. She’ll usually also ask to see pictures of outfits they wear when they go out and ask them questions including whether they like bling or plain and simple fashions. 

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