Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg

NEW YORK--Daytime dresses and suits were high on the lists of buyers attending two hotel trade shows here last week.
Both categories were checking well at the Designers at the Essex House and at the American International Designers at the Waldorf-Astoria, although some retailers said they need more options. The Essex House show opened April 8 and closed last Thursday. The Waldorf event also began on April 8, but will continue through April 25.
While social-occasion is still the strength for many of the vendors at these upscale ready-to-wear shows, day dresses and suits are gaining in importance, executives said.
In the past year, dress sales have increased dramatically at Octavio in Baltimore, where business is expected to increase by 30 percent this year, said Betsy Wendell, head buyer.
Having ordered silk dresses from Stanley Sherman, Gene Roy, Claire's Collection and Helga, Wendell said the category should continue to be strong through the fall.
Octavio is planning for a 20 percent increase in suits, "a really important part of the business," she said, adding that Algo of Switzerland, Lane Davis and Marisa Minicucci are key vendors.
This season, unlike previous ones, customers are asking for dresses at Littler in Seattle, according to buyer Theresa Graff. With an increased show budget, Graff ordered dresses in lightweight wool or silk from Travilla and David Hayes. She was also pleased that Travilla and other show resources have placed a greater emphasis on suits, which is also a growth area.
"The suit is the prettiest thing out there," said Yvonne Nelson, owner of Yvonne's, Camp Hill, Pa. "Customers are more price-conscious than they've ever been. Some people think of it as more of a value."
Nelson said she was planning to increase her suit orders this season, including more from David Hayes and Travilla. However, aside from William Pearson, Nelson said, she wasn't pleased with the dress offerings.
Barbara Racich, owner of Merrick's in Princeton, N.J., said business is off by 5 percent compared to a year ago, citing a lack of proper product.
"We have a huge open-to-buy in daytime dresses," she said. "We have to turn customers away left and right. It's hard to find a good-looking dress that will retail for $300. We still haven't found a replacement for the old Albert Nipon dress customer."
Shopping at the Waldorf show, Racich said she was also in the market for career suits.
"A lot of suits have gotten rather dressy. They're more appropriate for special occasion dressing," she said. "Our customers are mostly professional women--doctors and lawyers. They're buying suits from St. John and Fabrikant knits because they can't find regular suits."
Troa Cho, a ready-to-wear resource showing at the Waldorf for the first time this season, had a strong reaction to its suits and day-to-dinner dresses, according to Brenda Alosio, director of sales.
A belted wool jacket with a silk and wool small check skirt and a velvet jacket with a silk skirt were among the bestsellers, she said. A wool melton tank dress and a tapered jacket and a belted wool and silk sleeveless jacket dress were also well received.

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