CHICAGO — Snow, ice and cold combined to put a chill on traffic at the women’s and children’s summer market at the Chicago Apparel Center this past weekend, but those who braved the sub-zero temperatures warmed up sufficiently to write some healthy orders, sales firms said.

Soft dressing continued to be the dominant trend for summer, with ethnic and natural looks the strong themes for accessories. Buyers said they welcomed a return of colors to many collections after several seasons that focused on neutrals.

Most retailers reported budgets even with last year and seemed to be in an upbeat mood. While some said they were buying closer to season, others were using the market to check out early fall merchandise.

For the first time, the market opened a day earlier, on Friday. The move got a good response, said Susan McCullough, vice president of marketing, for the apparel center.

“We had a good front end of market, but due to the weather I expect we will be down slightly overall when the numbers come in,” she said.

The closure of some major roads in Michigan and Indiana caused travel problems later in the weekend, she noted. The five-day market closed Tuesday.

The poor weather caused problems across the board, with showrooms suffering canceled appointments and buyers worrying about how they would get home.

“It was a freeze market,” said Marshall Stewart, a multiline rep. “We had several cancellations from people who couldn’t make it in, but a better percentage of orders were written by those who did come.”

He said casual, easy looks continued to be popular and noted a strong demand for color.

“Any time they could pick up some color, they did,” said Steven Jacobson, another multiline rep, noting that soft palettes featuring colors such as apricot and pistachio were particularly popular.

“People asked for color,” said Beverly Simon, a partner in the Karin Berger showroom, “but they did buy neutrals.”

She said the demand for color was strongest in early fall merchandise.

Those buyers that did make it to the market came looking for at-once items, as well as to buy and preview summer and early fall.

Wendy Oberlin, buyer for Lucky Duck, a moderate-to-better women’s specialty store in Auburn, Ind., said, “Early things were so neutral, I’m glad to see some color.”

With an even budget, she said she was looking for casual, loose styles in luxury fabrics, such as silk T-shirts, silver jewelry and handbags in woven leather and print fabrics. Oberlin said she left paper with Out of the Blue for silk T-shirts, and for jersey knits from Mill Valley.

“Silhouettes are fluid and floaty and pretty. They remind me of what my mother and aunt wore in the Thirties,” said Eugenia Sullivan, women’s buyer for Sullivans Inc., a Bloomington, Ind., moderate-to-better men’s and women’s apparel store. “If you ever sell dresses, summer is the time of year to do it.”

Sullivan, who was cutting the number of units she buys by about 10 percent because business was down due to local job cuts, said she left paper with Color Me Cotton for washable cotton dresses and sportswear and would probably write orders later with California Designs, DW3 Dresses and Wild Rose for dresses.

Finding special-occasion dresses and brighter colors was a problem for Joanne Blachly, an owner of Seasons on the Square, a moderate-to-better women’s specialty store in Valparaiso, Ind.

She said she was buying easy-fitting sportswear in wrinkle-free cottons and rayons, and vests, for immediate delivery and summer. Keeping her open-to-buy unchanged, she said she would probably order lines from Marisa Christina Classics, IB Diffusion and Gotcha Covered, which all do well in her store. She said she was also shopping for colorful, ethnic accessories.

Pat Jones, buyer for The Clothes Peddler, a better-to-bridge women’s specialty store in Spirit Lake, Iowa, was also on a mission for ethnic accessories, especially long strands of beads and hats.

Jones, who was buying equal amounts of summer and early fall merchandise, said she noted “a lot of softening” in apparel, and liked swingy clothes, full pants with drawstrings, vests and sheer fabrics.