By  on January 11, 1994

DALLAS -- A number of Southwest vendors are studying the classics.

They're expanding their offerings of traditional styles in a bid to broaden their appeal and to attract cautious, conservative consumers.

The firms include those that once offered only embellished Southwestern looks, dress houses that have spun off traditional styles via sportswear lines and young companies that have taken the tack from the start.

Firms interviewed projected total sales up 15 to 25 percent this year, partially propelled by the classics.

"Customers started talking to us about non-Southwest looks about six months ago," said Penny Hays, co-owner of Gerard here, a better separates maker. "We needed to broaden our base."

The four-year-old firm, known for upscale Southwestern looks, answered the call with a capsule collection of traditional looks, including body-conscious denim and linen dresses.

"We're trying to streamline the collection to make it more appealing across the country," Hays said. "This helps us reach more country classic stores and regular women's boutiques, too."

About 30 percent of Gerard's summer styles will take the traditional approach. In this group are pima cotton or linen sundresses, tropical wool handembroidered cropped jackets and slim cotton twill trousers, among other looks.

Wholesale prices for January range from $36 for cotton twill shorts to $295 for a handcrocheted cotton skirt.

"Offering classic, traditional styles is a way to diversify," said Hays, clarifying that Southwestern looks will still abound at Gerard. "For fall and winter, western and Southwestern silhouettes will dominate. For spring and summer, though, traditional may eventually get more emphasis."

Gerard is anticipating a 15 percent sales jump this year, partly attributed to the infusion of traditional styles.

"We heard that traditional looks were popular in the Northwest," said Hays. "And the business that we get out of Los Angeles as well as Chicago is all traditional. We can show anything in those two cities as long as it doesn't have a western hat." The company also shows in Atlanta and Denver.

"The appeal of traditional clothing is the casual elegance," said Mike Ferguson, owner of Focus Apparel, a dress and sportswear firm here. "It's an enduring, conservative look."

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