By  on January 30, 1996

NEW YORK -- The daytime dress and suit market isn't on the ropes just yet, but the loosening of corporate dress codes and an increase in workers who can do their jobs at home are causing some better and bridge makers to rethink their approach to growth.

To meet the new options in dressing today, some of the strategies ready-to-wear companies are employing include:

* Focusing on eveningwear. Women still have special-occasions and evening events, and if they are dressing down during the day, they will still splurge on something new for evening.

* Maintaining prices to capitalize on value.

* Making tailored apparel with more comfort and better fit.

The work-at-home universe expanded by three million households to 39 million between the second quarters of 1994 and 1995 -- a 7.6 percent rise, according to IDC/LINK, a market research division of International Data Corp.

The firm projects that telecommuters will be the fastest-growing segment of at-home workers. This group includes employees of outside companies who work at home at least part-time during normal business hours.

The shift in work styles is one reason some women are reevaluating their overall purchasing plans.

Marie Drum Beninati, a partner in the retail practice of CSC, a consulting firm, said there has been a "Europeanization" of the American woman's wardrobe and her attitude about buying.

"People are finding that they don't need 20 of anything, they need one or two really good things," she said. "Europeans will spend a month's salary on a fine designer outfit, and wear it a lot."

There is still a need for a more serious, professional look Monday through Thursday, especially at an executive level. Consequently, dresses and suits continue to do all right, even in these difficult times.

Another plus for the market is that dress-down for women has not been well defined, resulting in as much confusion about the right thing to wear on casual days as there has been about hemlines that see-saw up and down. If women don't know what to wear, they don't know what to buy, so they stick with the old reliables, according to some observers.

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