Byline: Nancy Brumback

CHICAGO — Color for spring and a variety of styles for the prom season impressed retailers at the combination women’s market and National Prom Market at the Chicago Apparel Center.
Women’s specialty retailers from the Midwest reported a strong summer. At the five-day market that ran through Aug. 31, they were generally previewing spring lines, with some fill-in buys.
Most said they had completed their holiday shopping, buying somewhat more than usual in anticipation of a strong party season to welcome the year 2000.
Retailers from bridal and special occasion dress shops were enthusiastic about the abundance of gowns manufacturers were showing.
“The choices are fantastic. There’s a look for every girl, and even a lot of flattering styles for fuller-figured girls,” said Teri Misener, owner of Universe Bridals, West Lafayette, Ohio.
She said she planned to buy “a little of everything,” from full skirts to fitted and beaded styles and two-piece prom dresses, and showcase her stock in prom shows.
Pastels, plus gold and silver, will be strong colors, she predicted, along with rhinestone tiaras.
“People are spending more,” she said. “I used to be afraid to buy dresses retailing for $400, but that price is no problem — and that’s not counting accessories.”
A number of retailers agreed that many parents and girls are willing to splurge these days on a prom dress, but the merchants also noted that $100 to $200 remains a popular range as well.
Traffic was sometimes said to be thin on the special occasion floor, with some showrooms closed for the event. More action is expected to be generated at the Apparel Center’s National Bridal Market in October.
Nevertheless, exhibitors noted that specialty stores were buying more heavily for the prom season, prompted by the array of looks available. Retailers often had their individual picks as to which silhouettes and colors would lead the prom parade.
For example, Brenda King and Sharon Boucher, co-owners of the Cosmopolitan Boutique on the south side of Chicago, predicted pastels, plus silver and champagne, will be the season’s popular colors, in fitted, bare styles.
“Most of the girls work out and they want to show off,” said Boucher. The store’s prom dresses generally run $250 to $350.
Fran Nolan, owner of Bridal Boutique in Hobart, Ind., said she expects to sell a lot of silver and gray dresses, along with sage green, pink, blue and lilac, in ballroom, strapless styles at prices around $350 to $400.
Nolan further noted her shop registers a gown when a girl purchases it and doesn’t sell the same gown to another girl from the same school.
Ruth Brunner and Jerra Pester, managers of The Boutique in Scotts Bluff, Neb., forecast beaded and strapless ballgown styles would be popular, particularly in dark colors like navy and in silver.
While gown prices in their store run up to $300, strongest sales are in the $150 to $170 range.
Meanwhile, shopping the center’s holiday, resort and spring preview market under its Chicago StyleShow banner, Howard Smith, owner of Trooping the Colour, a specialty shop in the upscale Chicago suburb of Winnetka, Ill., was as enthusiastic about spring lines as the prom retailers.
“There’s a lot of color and a lot of freshness. There are some really pretty clothes, not costumes. They’re wearable, fresh and easy to merchandise,” he said, citing pastel and bright pastel hues.
His summer business was strong, particularly in dresses, “and for fall there’s more color than usual,” with pinks, blues and sage green being featured to go with charcoal.
For the holidays, “we bought more and brought it in earlier for a longer selling season. With the millennium, we think people will see a reason to buy something different.”
“I’m buying fun,” commented Sue Johnson, owner of Susan’s in Fort Wayne, Ind. “For the holidays and cruise season, I want something different, not traditional, some novelty items.”
While she didn’t buy much more for the holidays, Johnson said she did buy a little on the dressier side, favoring metallics and iridescent looks.
Shirley Skinner, owner of Shirl’s Boutique in Lansing, Mich., also pointed out that, for spring, “things are prettier. There are more colors, soft greens and lavender.”
Skinner, too, is expecting a stronger holiday season, and noted her customers want “really sharp styles and dressy looks.”
In contrast to many buyers, Sandi Feller, owner of the Sandi B Boutique in Skokie, Ill., was concentrating on the holiday season at this market.
“I’m buying some different things, more embellished looks, retro themes, sequins. Things I never would have purchased before are going like crazy” she said.
Metallic, glitzy styles, including jeans with embroidery or rhinestones such as those from David Kahn Jeans, caught Feller’s eye.
“Business has been very good,” she noted, with strong sales of jewelry from Judith Jack and Bonita Ross along with Joseph A. sweaters.
Cathy and Terry McIntyre, owners of Washington Avenue Collections, a specialty store in Bedford, Ind.,
The McIntyres were also impressed with spring colors of tulip, lavender, oyster and a pale green, and expect cropped pants to continue strong in the spring.
“We’re not as sure about jackets with three-quarter length sleeves,” Cathy McIntyre added.
Valerie Chittick, owner of Domby, a specialty shop in Iowa City, Iowa, agreed that more colors, particularly pinks and blues, and cropped pants would be the look for spring.
Chittick reported her store is already “selling a lot of boots. It’s going to be a boot fall.”