Byline: Karyn Monget

NEW YORK — When it comes to daywear, retailers and vendors are beginning to see the light.
The classification is only a small slice of the total innerwear market and most recent figures indicate that, overall, daywear is in a bit of a slump this year.
But many agree the potential is there to build the volume, particularly now that fashion is giving the merchandise a new sizzle, and some stores claim the business is healthy. The focus on daywear of such designer name offerings as Calvin Klein Underwear by The Warnaco Group and Ralph Lauren Intimates by Sara Lee Corp. is giving the classification a new cachet, and vendors are featuring supermodels in ads and promotions, another plus.
Among the looks getting the nod from fashion-savvy consumers and retailers are dual-purpose items that can be worn with jeans and underneath jackets. Upscale items such as luscious slips in silk satin, and camis and scanty panties of suede-like microfiber are adding a new dimension to a business that traditionally has been basic and lackluster.
Cotton daywear also has gotten a newer twist in the last couple of years with Lycra spandex blends and textured treatment such as rib-patterns, embossed florals and honeycomb effects.
With the growing impact of dual-purpose styles, the name daywear is a misnomer. Items traditionally considered part of the classification can be worn day or night. In addition to unconstructed bras — or what is generally referred to as bralets, which are not cup-sized — the classification includes teddies, bodysuits, half-slips and full slips, camisoles and a variety of little stretch tops.
Panties play a big part in the daywear story, but they are regarded as a separate category, which can make it difficult to get a clear reading on the volume actually being racked up in daywear.
But it seems daywear faces a Herculean task grabbing attention in the face of the big sales racked up by bras and panties in intimate apparel departments. Commodity-type bras and panties are promoted constantly in off-price sales at major stores, serving as a Gibraltar-like foundation for many intimate apparel departments.
According to Fairchild Strategic Information Services, bras — fueled by bread-and-butter basics — pulled in $3.6 billion in sales last year as the top innerwear category and made up 36 percent of the $10 billion market. Panties — including styles that coordinate with bras in foundations departments — came in second with $1.7 billion in sales and accounted for about 17 percent of the market.
In contrast, sales of daywear were anemic at $671 million. In the first six months of 1997, dollar sales of daywear declined 4.9 percent, falling to $335 million against $353 million in the first half of 1996. In the same period, unit sales decreased to 31 million from 35 million.
Nevertheless, several merchants find daywear to be a vibrant category.
Victoria’s Secret — the specialty merchant that literally took intimate apparel out of the closet — has established a significant daywear business of updated cotton basics with its familiar spin on glamour and sex appeal. It has showcased the Underware label as a collection concept to include underwire bras as well as soft daywear bras, coordinating panties and tight-fitting tops.
Sales bearing the Underware label at the Victoria’s Secret store division of Intimate Brands Inc. grew to more than 10 percent of the retail chain’s total sales of $1.45 billion last year, according to Intimate Brands’ 1996 annual report.
“Underware sells as a collection, and it’s been selling very well in both basics and fashion colors,” said a Victoria’s Secret spokeswoman. “We have customers who come in and ask what the next new color will be. And our bands say Victoria’s Secret. It very hip, very status.”
Stephanie Zernik, vice president and divisional merchandise manager of intimate apparel at Bloomingdale’s, stated, “Collection concepts and fashion really are driving our daywear business.
“Our fashion daywear business has been pretty strong and has had some nice growth,” Zernik said. “A top-selling item has been little T tops, especially in mesh.”
Zernik noted brands that have had top sell-through in daywear include On Gossamer, Farr West and Olga Secret Shapers, which is done in microfiber Tactel nylon and Lycra spandex.
“Microfiber has been very important,” she added.
Lee Anne Christensen, buyer of daywear and panties at Milwaukee-based Carson Pirie Scott, said, “The fashion element has been huge this year.”
“The newest of the new is what consumers want right now — whether it’s a younger look by Guess with lots of color and texture, or an item by Bali that offers comfort and innovation of design,” she said.
She noted racier silhouettes, including G-string panties, high-cut tanga bikinis and boy-cut briefs — items that traditionally are not big sellers in the Midwest — have had strong sell-throughs this past spring and summer.
“Visuals are very important in getting across the message,” said Scarlet Schumacher, buyer of daywear, panties, sleepwear and loungewear at the Frederick’s of Hollywood Catalog Division.
Bestsellers feature strong color, texture and special detailing, Schumacher said, noting a top item for fall is a navy satin cami and coordinating tap pants that feature “bold” daisy embroidery around the pants legs and cleavage.
“It just makes it all more visually exciting,” she said, adding that a top-selling item for fall is a perforated black nylon teddy. “It’s really a hot seller. It’s got big holes all over the silhouette. It’s shown with a black bra underneath, and we photographed it on a model putting on a pair of jeans.”
“Over the past year, there’s definitely been more of an interest in daywear if it’s an innerwear-outerwear item,” Schumacher said.
Margaret Lupo, buyer and an owner of Isabel Eland, a two-unit specialty operation in Norwalk and Westport, Conn., said, “The show biz of Victoria’s Secret has brought lots of attention to lingerie. And daywear is very different now; it’s younger, updated. The daywear of yesteryear is gone — the basic slips, petticoats and pants liners.
“We are selling a great deal of camis to go with suits, and we’ve been selling many slips, from shoulder to knee and ankle styles, as liners for sheer dresses. Women just don’t want to walk around naked on the streets,” Lupo said.
Paul Cohen, manager of Ralph Lauren Intimates for women at Sara Lee, said, “What’s driving the daywear business right now at department stores is the collections business like Ralph Lauren Intimates.”
Cohen noted daywear tops and bottoms account for 45 percent of Ralph Lauren innerwear; panties that coordinate with bras account for 30 percent.