How To Engage Your Senses

August 28, 2023

I’m writing this on one of the hottest days of the year in Seattle and even so, I know that we’ve had it relatively easy during a summer that is breaking records for heat across the world.

Still, I’m looking forward to fall right now even more than I usually do. And that’s kind of saying something. It’s always easy to get myself into the headspace for fall.

Engaging the SensesWhat I love most about autumn is how it speaks to all the senses. Colors start changing and temperatures start dropping and it seems like you can smell more in the air than any other time of year. The crunching of the leaves under your feet lets you know exactly what time of year it is. And let’s not even talk about all the delicious flavors of fall! (Well, if you insist — fall is the season of comfort food and I am here for it.)

Engaging more fully with sensory experiences is something that’s all around us right now. Traveling art exhibits like the immersive Vincent Van Gogh experience and Frida Kahlo exhibit present two-dimensional artistic masterpieces in a three-dimensional space, with added music and audio to further enhance the experience. Seattle’s Utopian Garden presents an audio-visual landscape while giving viewers the ability to interact with it through touch, creating shapes and making each experience unique. The artist collective Meow Wolf has spent years creating expansive physical playgrounds that give virtual reality a run for its creative money.

The reason that these experiences are so important is a simple one: connection. The more of our senses we use to experience something, the more we connect to that experience and the more memorable it becomes.

Creative consultancy Wunderman-Thompson calls this “re-enchantment” and has put actual numbers to these ideas, showing that brands can attract customers by connecting them to feelings of joy and delight. Their trend report tells us that 63% of customers want those multi-sensory experiences that inspire discovery, and 72% are looking for engagement through all the senses.

New PerspectivesOf course, this is about more than where we go or what we interact with — these trends show up in what we wear too. Clothing designed with unique textures and patterns give the senses something extra that appeals to the desire for connection. Sensorial design forges a deeper bond that goes beyond function, color and price — one that is more likely to last.

This creates a bit of a conundrum for promotional apparel. It’s easiest to decorate on a smooth surface while rough, uneven, tactile surfaces make for tougher places to add logos and artwork. Because customers are looking for these experiences with their clothing, we adapt and learn and find a way.

Ridges and ribs might be the first thing you might have thought of when we start talking about texture. The Corduroy Dad Cap uses a 100% cotton fabric with a texture with a very tactile feeling, and also catches the light differently than a smooth fabric when seen and photographed. New Era’s Pom Beanies bring together a soft and fuzzy texture in the pom with a more ridged texture in the body of the hat.

Soft and drapey fabrics have been important for a long time, but now they’ve become non-negotiable. The Long Weekend Crew from TravisMathew evokes the relaxing feeling of extra days off with a super-soft tri-blend fabric, and the recently-improved Perfect Blend CVC makes a perfectly soft shirt even more perfect for this trend.

Thermal and waffle textures often tie in with the workwear trend, where you need apparel that will stand up to the test of time (and frequent washing). The Revive Hoodie from OGIO is a win-win that performs beautifully with a textured material. It also includes extra tactile details like a grippy drawcord pull.

True ColorsPuffy fabrics are a timeless staple that continues to show up when we talk about appealing to the senses, with variety in the length and the quilting and other details. The surface of a puffy fabric might have a matte finish, as you see in TravisMathew’s Cold Bay Vest, or more of a sheen like the Horizon Puffy Jacket.

Fuzzy and cuddly fabrics have always done well in the promotional apparel space — who doesn’t love that warm fuzzy feeling? Recent arrivals include the soft, plush knit fabric of the Coveside 1/4-Zip, made to feel like the ultimate comfort zone, and Port Authority’s Arc Sweater Fleece collection with all the comfort of your favorite sweater.

When it comes to engaging with the senses in our clothing, it’s natural to think of the visual aspects first — how does it look? Does this color work? But that’s just one way we connect with our clothing. How something feels against our skin when we wear it creates an even more lasting impression. We may not see it all day, but we definitely feel it. Maybe the most important question isn’t how it looks…but how it feels.

But I’ll admit, I think how something looks is pretty critical too. That’s why we’ll be circling back to one of my favorite subjects next month: COLOR! We’ll continue our exploration of autumn and all the ways colors bring our wardrobe to life. I look forward to connecting with you again on this always on-trend subject.