DALLAS--Soft dresses and relaxed knitwear and sportswear in bright and pastel colors were the hits of spring market week here. The five-day show at the International Apparel Mart ended last Monday.
A positive outlook prevailed among buyers and sales representatives, though there were some reports of stagnant business from both quarters. Spotty traffic was attributed to the severe weather--heavy rain and tornado warnings along with delayed flights.
Retailers shopped with budgets ranging from flat to up 15 percent. Sales representatives reported, however, that buyers were more likely to take their orders home with them this season for further study before confirming.
"I think we all thought it would be a huge market, and it wasn't a huge market, but it wasn't bad," said Federico Mariel, who represents contemporary lines.
Despite the abundance of glamour shown on the runway during the Group III bridge trend show Friday night, a lot of retailers were talking about a move to more casual apparel in their stores.
"We're trying to carry a sophisticated casual look because that's what our customer wants, though we still offer some suits," noted Greer Grace, an owner of Barbara Jean specialty store in Little Rock, Ark. She planned to order Gispa white and beige knitwear, pink and mango sportswear by Randy Kemper, shorts from This is Not a Hat, casual sportswear from Piano Piano and suits from Citi By Yansi Fugel.
Dresses, retailers added, were an important aspect of the trend toward easy wardrobing since they are a one-piece solution for women in a fashion quandary. Popular silhouettes included bias cuts, Sixties-inspired shifts with dart and seaming details, floaty tiered chiffon dresses, jacket dresses and long, soft, romantic styles.
One complaint from buyers was the lack of appealing looks for updated misses' customers. "It's hard to find something in between a contemporary look and a 90-year-old," lamented Nan Napier, owner of Tres Mariposas in El Paso, Tex. "If you don't want a jumper, you're pretty much dead in the water."
Color is always important in the Southwest, and buyers were thrilled to see a variety of hues after last spring's overwhelming neutrality. Best-selling colors included pink, fuchsia, hot pink paired with bright orange, mauve, rose, ice blue, lettuce, butter yellow and taupe, plus basic navy, black, white and plenty of vanilla and cream.
Sales representatives reported pastels sold well, but some buyers steered clear.
"Pale pastels are really difficult because so many people are conscious of color coding," said Ann Walton, owner of Ann Walton's moderate-price shop in Little Rock, referring to the services that dictate which hues work best with a person's skin and hair color. "It's been a blond's world all year," she added.
Napier of Tres Mariposas also skipped pastels in favor of brights and clear sherbets. Sales at her better-to-designer shop near the Mexican border were up 13 percent and so was her spring budget.
"Our American customer has gone to more relaxed and comfortable styles than our Mexican customer, who still prefers tight, body-conscious clothing," Napier noted. "People want to be real relaxed or costumey. There's not much in between."
She picked up pink knit dresses trimmed with black by Item, a crochet spiderweb suit by Lulu Bravo and bright silk looks by Dunnington.
Business was also strong for Shirley Arnold, owner of S.A. & Co. in Roanoke, a suburb of Dallas. Her sales were up 15 to 20 percent this year, along with her spring budget.
"I love all the fresh new colors this spring and the fabrics--the rayons, Tencel, textures and stretchy knits," Arnold said. "I'm always looking for pastels, and my customer loves brights, black, chocolate and toast."
She favored Forties and Fifties-inspired one and two-piece dresses by Karen Alexander and Carla Freeman, plus drawstring pants, a tunic top and a long slim skirt in a washable rayon knit by Joan Vass U.S.A.
"I'm looking for more comfortable, easy clothing and fabrics that my customers can take care of by themselves without dry cleaning," Arnold pointed out.
Cheryl Dean, a former buyer with Neiman Marcus, was shopping for career and eveningwear for her new store, Signature Dressing in Bryan College Station, Tex. "I'm filling in holes for spring, like more petites," she explained. "I'm staying with suits, like raw silk shantung styles in teal, fuchsia and yellow by George Simonton and Alex de Bolzan. I'm not buying pastels because Bryan College Station isn't a trend-setting community, and we are tired of muddy colors."
Karen Blackburn was shopping for Karen & Co., the new store she plans to open in January in Mountain Home, Ark.
"I'm going with better knits and casual lines like CP Shades, Avalon Knits and Joan Vass," Blackburn said. "We're in a resort area, and I'd like for the women who think young to have a store that thinks young, too."

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