Byline: Rusty Williamson

DALLAS — Are comfort and glamour mutually exclusive?
Retailers longing for a return to dressier fashions that retain a comfort margin are hoping the answer is no as they prepare for October’s spring market here.
But they’re not envisioning aggressive power suits and over-the-top eveningwear.
Look-good and feel-good clothing would suit stores just fine as they seek a realistic antidote to the overly loose, laid-back and sometimes sloppy styles that they claim are making women look bad — not to mention hurting business. Anyone can buy a jogging suit or cotton weekend ensemble at Wal-Mart or Target, they reasoned.
By dressing up their merchandise mixes, stores also hope to lure shoppers back from department stores and discounters that buy in volume and slash prices to win business.
On stores’ shopping lists are wearable runway fashion items, modern and softly defined ensembles, suits and dresses with taped seams instead of several angles and subtly opulent eveningwear that whispers glamour instead of shouting it.
With flexible budgets designed to allow quick response to unexpected or late-breaking trends, stores also are searching for bright colors, trend-driven contemporary collections that target women over 40, petite sportswear and dresses in small sizes.
“Fashion is just too casual,” lamented Starla Collier, owner of Starla’s Fashion Galaxy, Symsonia, Ken., a women’s specialty store that will open in October and put the accent on dressed-up lifestyles.
“I did lots of research before deciding to open my store, and women told me repeatedly that they don’t want sloppy clothes. I know loose and oversized has been hot for teens, but adults want to be neat, glamorous — and comfortable. There’s a place for casual, but there’s definitely also a place for dressy.”
Collier, a retired schoolteacher pursuing a full-time love of fashion, will merchandise her 1,500-square-foot store by lifestyle, from juniors to contemporary to misses’.
At market, she plans to check out sportswear from Jones New York, dresses from Donna Morgan and Rena Rowen and accessories from Brighton.
Susie Buckey, owner of Monkey’s, a Richmond, Va., women’s specialty store, is hoping mart showrooms will offer lots of sophisticated eveningwear, updated mother-of-the-bride styles and silk print dresses in bright colors.
“We’ve a very dressy store, and women ask for the unusual and beautiful — they want something that’s not available all over the place,” explained Buckey, who will shop Dallas with an even budget.
She plans to look at sportswear from Poleci, Dana Buchman, Jax Studio and Iris Singer and cocktail dresses from David Hayes and William Pierson.
Easy-care fabrics and comfort are important to Sally Hawthorne, owner of Sally’s Town and Country, a women’s specialty business with stores in Dayton, Ohio; Sarasota, Fla., and Martha’s Vineyard, Mass.
“Casual and loose is great if its interesting, pretty and has an edge,” said Hawthorne.
At market, she plans to review novelty jackets from Emil Rutenberg, dressy separates from Vera Christina, tailored suits from Renfrew and Linda Richards and easy dresses from DKNY.
Her budget is even with last year’s.
Benjamin’s, a five-unit women’s and men’s chain based in Morgantown, N.C., plans to accent fashion items for spring, said Ben Belton, owner.
“I’m going to market for merchandise that’s edgy and unique — interesting color combinations, unusual embroidery and mirrored appliques — I look to the fashion leaders like Gucci and Prada to set the pace. I try to interpret it for my stores.”
Belton expects softer sportswear ensembles like that shown by Armani and Prada and Asian looks from Vivienne Tam to influence the spring market.
“The clean silhouettes are made interesting with special touches such as zippers and matte and pewter hardware,” he explained.
At market, Belton plans to check out Renfrew’s stretch suits, sportswear from Alex Garfield/Garfield and Marks and its Womyn division, and contemporary offerings from BCBG Max Azria, Laundry by Shelli Segal and Custo Barcelona, among others.