By  on January 10, 2002

INSPIRED BY THE POPULARITY OF THE FEMININE AESTHETIC, MANUFACTURERS ARE TROTTING OUT MORE HIP DRESSES FOR CASUAL DAYTIME WEAR.

Fabulous fetes and glitzy black-tie affairs are not the only suitable venues for dresses.

Fueled in part by the popularity of feminine looks, manufacturers -- most of which hail from the contemporary world -- this spring are increasing offerings of dresses designed for casual, daytime use.

"I think people are just tired of pants with the little top look -- It's been popular for so long," said Michelle Smith, co-founder and designer of New York-based bridge-priced collection Milly, which is increasing its dress offerings for spring-summer.

Spring-summer looks include fuller skirts with fabric belts, twist bra fronts, sweetheart necklines and ruched busts with bows. On the fabric front, Smith uses chiffon and floral chintz in shiny finishes. She said the most sought-after looks include the peasant aesthetic, lace trim, piping, flouncy ruffles and strapless styles.

"The collection is very much about fabric textures and finishes," said Smith. "It's pretty and vintage a la Sarah Jessica Parker in 'Sex and the City."'

Looking into her crystal ball, she added, "For holiday 2002, I plan to pair chiffon pieces with cozy sweaters."

Smith said the popularity of dresses stems from their versatility. "I love wearing dresses to work and then into evening," she said.

Angela Taylor George, principal and design director of New York-based contemporary firm Alice & Trixie, agreed that dresses are suitable for a variety of occasions.

"The great thing about dresses is you can throw on a pair of flip-flops or platforms and go," George said. "Plus, they're cool for hot weather, comfortable, and guys like to see legs."

Alice & Trixie's dresses, which for spring-summer will account for 50 percent of the line, include flutter sleeves, fabric strips that look like streamers, tank styles with ruched fronts, lace-ups and ruffles.

Tired of silk chiffon, the company instead is opting in the spring for silk crepe de chine. "It's easier and more appropriate for daywear," she said.

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