Since the talk of a return to a more tailored wardrobe didn’t occur in 2002, dress and suit firms are looking for new ways to maintain their career position. According to an NPDFashionworld Consumer survey, tailored clothing purchases for the first nine months of the year fell 18.4 percent in dollars to $10.2 billion and 21 percent in units.

One way rtw makers are addressing the downturn is to take to path pioneered by the late Bill Blass, who reacted to more casual dressing in the early Nineties by designing his collections around dressy separates. Diane Von Furstenberg, known for her dresses, has evolved her line to nearly 50 percent separates.

The separates movement is seen by retailers as a more modern approach to dressing and has carried through into other sectors, such as eveningwear. While a head-to-toe look from a designer might just be out of fashion for the moment, there is a sense of self expression when a woman mixes and matches through items she has collected, retailers noted.

Robert Burke, vice president and senior fashion director at Bergdorf Goodman, recently said: "Women are more confident about mixing clothes right now and that’s evolved over the past few years. They’re doing it in daytime, which is more eclectic and bohemian, and that’s translated into evening. Whether it’s a corset top with pants or a skirt or an evening sweater set, evening separates are more creative."

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