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Boho and 70s' Styles Still Hold Sway in Midwest Fashion Sector

Slower to embrace change than the East or West Coast, the Midwest fashion market favours several industry staples – notably denim and T-shirts – with a hint of reserve its hallmark, according to exhibitors at the Chicago StyleMax event.

Photo: StyleMax: All that’s modish in Midwest modern and contemporary wear.
StyleMax: All that's modish in Midwest modern and contemporary wear.
Photo: StyleMax: All that’s modish in Midwest modern and contemporary wear.
StyleMax: All that's modish in Midwest modern and contemporary wear.

The bohemian look continues to sell well, while 'cold shoulder', 'mom' jeans and band-branded T-shirts remain popular with the predominantly Midwestern buyers attending Chicago's StyleMax event.

Assessing the styles currently in demand, Kristi Churchvara, a Sales Representative with Maggy London, a New York City-based women's outfitter, said: "Cute embellishments are very much on trend, particularly the more three-dimensional ones, such as print on top of lace. It's a little forward thinking for the Midwest, though. We've only just started showing it here and they're just beginning to warm to it.

"The bohemian vibe is still working, though, especially anything with a 70s' feel, complete with tassels and the like. The cold shoulder is also huge right now, as are floral prints."

Another to spot the abiding appeal of the styles of the 70s for Midwest shoppers was Adrian Bolanos, a Supervisor at Hyfve, a Los Angeles-based supplier of contemporary womenswear. Summarising the current mood, he said: "Right now the style is definitely more bohemian."

Keen to champion the popularity of the cold shoulder cut top, however, was Scout Showroom's Tori Loevner, with the Chicago-based Sales Director saying: "There's a lot of off-the-shoulder tops and dresses on offer at the moment. Denim will be really big for spring and summer, while you'll also see a lot of blue and a lot of grey.

"While colour is important, white comes into its own in spring and summer, with people wanting clean slates and clean pallets after the holiday period. They really want something that will grab attention."

Jodi Kovler, a Sales Manager with New York's 525 America, was also seeing robust demand for open-shoulder tops. Outlining the variety on offer within the sector, she said: "We can be very on trend with some really great cropped shaker sweaters. Off-the-shoulder, open shoulder – they're all doing great.

"We also do classic v-necks, classic crews and some turtlenecks. In the contemporary market, younger customers are coming in and wanting these really great basics to add to their wardrobes."

A staple of US fashion is, of course, denim, with numerous jeans lines always on show at any apparel event. At StyleMax, one company keen to make an impression in this particular sector was Istanbul's Mavi Jeans. Assessing the changing demands within the sector, Sara Sosa, the company's Midwest Account Executive, said: "In America right now, we are still seeing the skinny jean – I don't think that is ever going to go away for women.

"You are, however, going to see the resurgence of the 'mom' jean – high-waisted, a little more baggy in the leg and with a bit more 'destruction' to it. The destruction will take the shape of minor abrasions or rips. Uneven hemlines will also feature and, if it's an ankle pant, it's going to have a frayed bottom of some sort."

Photo: Hyfve: Bespokely boho.
Hyfve: Bespokely boho.
Photo: Hyfve: Bespokely boho.
Hyfve: Bespokely boho.
Photo: Subtle Luxury: Captivating cashmere.
Subtle Luxury: Captivating cashmere.
Photo: Subtle Luxury: Captivating cashmere.
Subtle Luxury: Captivating cashmere.

Overall, demand for women's fashion still far exceeds that for menswear, with Sosa noting a less trend-driven men's jeans market, albeit one with a number of fashion variations. Expanding on this, she said: "When it comes to men's fashion, it's definitely more of a replacement trade. They buy their core styles and washes."

Apart from denim, another staple of US fashion shows is the T-shirt, especially those emblazoned with bold graphics or slogans. Exemplifying this long-standing trend was TWNZ Showroom, a New York-based multi-line women's fashion retailer. Explaining the popularity of its extensive T-shirt range, Niki Henzel, an Associate Sales Representative with the company, said: "Graphic T-shirts work really well in Chicago. Band T-shirts, in particular, are definitely coming back."

A number of exhibitors at the show also noted that many Midwest buyers and consumers tend to lag behind the East and West Coast US markets, typically being slower to pick up trends and tending to favour more understated styles.

Highlighting these regional differences, Churchvara said: "Bows are very on trend in New York right now. They're seen as hot and they're seen as cute. In the Midwest, though, they think a bow is dated, largely because they're just not that fashionable.

"Overall, the Midwest does tend to be behind when it comes to trends. When we started showing lace three or four years ago, for instance, it was a young look and the East Coast and West Coast got that. The ladies in the Midwest are just getting that now.

"One store here just bought a simple lace outfit, but anyone wearing it locally would be the dressiest at any wedding. In New York, by comparison, the same dress would be normal officewear. That's the difference."

Loevner, too, sees the local fashion sense as distinctly less daring, saying: "The Midwest girl doesn't mind taking risks, but always wants to be a little more understated. While the coasts adopt the trends, here it happens in a subtler way."

Largely on account of this more conservative sensibility, certain Midwest clothing lines have been able to maintain a more or less unchanged range for a number of years. Acknowledging this, Robyn Halpern, a Sales Representative for Subtle Luxury, a California-based fashion wholesaler, said: "We've been in the business for 25 years and, for the past 10 years, we have dealt largely in basic cashmere."

While Middle America's fashion sector may be seen as slower to embrace change than its counterparts elsewhere in the country, that does bestow some benefits in terms of customer retention. Picking up on this, Bolanos said: "Customers in the Midwest are very loyal. When they come to events like this, they do tend to visit their usual vendors."

Choosing the right time to sell seasonal collections in the Midwest is also something of a challenge according to several attendees, including Mavi Jeans' Sosa. Explaining the problem, she said "Weather plays a hugely significant role in the Midwest. I sell to some stores, for instance, that are still getting snow in April and May, a time when we are shipping shorts."

Citing a similar experience, Churchvara said: "When it comes to spring dresses, the ladies here won't start shopping until May. In New York, spring shopping starts in February."

In terms of the overall mood, the majority of show attendees were somewhat downbeat, frequently less than enthusiastic about the current state of the business. Channelling the sentiments of many, Halpern said: "Business is definitely tougher than it has ever been, almost entirely because of the state of our economy."

Churchvara, however, struck a slightly more optimistic note, saying: "It is slowly starting to build, especially for stores that have been around for a while and know how to manage the changing stages of the economic cycle."

Photo: Mavi: Designer denim fresh from Istanbul.
Mavi: Designer denim fresh from Istanbul.
Photo: Mavi: Designer denim fresh from Istanbul.
Mavi: Designer denim fresh from Istanbul.

StyleMax Chicago was held at the Merchandise Mart exhibition space. The event featured some 2,000 different fashion lines and attracted buyers from across the US.

James O'Donnell, Special Correspondent, Chicago

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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