NEW YORK -- A walk through a couple of nearby Caldor and Kmart units the other day revealed not only plenty of budget-priced summer apparel, but clothes that reflect a surprising number of current fashion trends.

Both stores -- off Route 22 in central New Jersey -- offer selections ranging from knit tunics and flippy skirts to rayon baby-doll dresses and palazzo pants, with an emphasis on textured fabrics.

Each store, though, appeared to have a different focus. Caldor's women's apparel department seemed to emphasize more casual wear, particularly plenty of bondage fashions like tube skirts and cotton and spandex bodysuits. Kmart, on the other hand, appeared to cater to a career woman and was heavier on career separates and dresses while offering its share of casual wear. At the Caldor's unit at the Blue Star Shopping Center in Watchung, N.J., the women's apparel department was directly to the right of the entrance. The walls were clearly used as a merchandising prop. Denim jeans, with labels like Lee and Chic, were displayed in neatly arranged bins against the wall. Other merchandise against the walls were $14.99 cotton crinkled skirts in such colors as black and green by Short Circuit. There were also lots of dresses, including $12.99 rayon baby-doll designs by Pellini and Anegada's, as well as palazzo pants in rayon by Sarah Morgan.

But the fashion items seemed to emphasize form-fitting casual wear, offering racks of $7.88 cotton bodysuits and $9.88 short black cotton and spandex skirts, both by Flying Colors. The store was doing a heavy promotion with solid-color and floral print leggings, offering two for $15, as well as cotton and spandex bike shorts for $5.99, marked down from $7.88, advertised with mesh tunic tops that were marked down to $7.99.

A few miles away, at Kmart in North Plainfield, N.J., the environment was more cluttered, even though the bold red signs marking the merchandise was very clear. The Kmart unit, which featured its women's apparel near the accessories department close to the middle of the store, was doing a heavy promotion on swimwear, offering such labels as Kathy Ireland. However, the swimsuits did not look that appealing, as they were squashed on racks. Kmart also featured denim jeans, with such labels as Chic, Sasoon, Jordache and Bonjour, though they were not as neatly displayed as the ones at Caldor. On the casual front, there were plenty of crop tops, like $7.99 cotton/acrylic shirts by Miss Juli, and Kmart's own Jaclyn Smith line, which offered such items as $10.99 cotton shirts.The store's main emphasis, however, was on career wear such as rayon blouses with patchwork bodices and matching skirts by Ann Hill, each about $17. Also offered were skirts and rayon blouses by Jessica Scott, with outfits retailing for about $30. There were racks of rayon dresses, with labels like Positive Influence and Betsy's Things, all for less than $40. The store also offered a heavy assortment of Basic Edition merchandise, from $19.99 flippy rayon skirts to rayon camp shirts and skorts.

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