By and  on July 18, 2006

NEW YORK — The dress has been pronounced dead more times than Dracula, only to bounce back to a promising, albeit brief, life.

But this fall, retailers say, the rebirth is for real. After a major comeback this spring/summer season, dresses are expected to keep up the momentum.

Several factors are contributing to the rejuvenation, store executives said. For starters, consumers are tired of casual attire and seem eager to present a more polished image. In addition, shoppers are taking to more streamlined silhouettes after several seasons of flowing separates. They're also gravitating toward layering dresses over pants or skinny jeans, which stores have singled out as an important fall trend.

And after so many years of sportswear separates taking up the primary position in women's wardrobes, retailers say women don't have enough dresses in their lives. They're viewed as a fresh and desirable option for work, casual events and, of course, social occasions.

"This is the season of the dress," said Frank Doroff, senior executive vice president and general merchandise manager for ready-to-wear at Bloomingdale's. "I think the dress business is probably our best business this spring and summer."

Dresses should be a big category for fall, he said, "but they'll be worn a little differently with leggings and jackets."

Women are seeking more reasons to dress up, and dresses play right into that, said Dana Telsey, chief executive and chief research officer at Telsey Advisory Group.

"There have been "a lot of dresses this season — dresses being very formal or dresses being casual, it's almost a little bit of mix and match…I think we're going to see this trend continue."

Retail analyst and consultant Emanuel Weintraub takes a more contrarian view. "People are dressing up more, absolutely. Men and women are going to work in more stylized clothes and with more tailored looks." But, he cautioned, "We're at the peak of the cycle."

This past spring, stores reported that dresses at all price points — from halters to trapeze, wraps to shirtdresses — were selling briskly and were seen as an easy spring/summer option for work and weekend parties. Jersey dresses were cited as leading the trend.

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