Byline: Nancy Brumback

CHICAGO — Brides are looking for clean, simple looks for spring and summer, according to retailers shopping the latest edition of the National Bridal Market at the Chicago Apparel Center.
And while varied sleeveless styles continue to sell well in their shops, the retailers expressed concern that the manufacturers might be overemphasizing sleeveless looks in their wedding gown collections.
“Girls are asking for a sleeve again,” noted Sarah Morris, owner and buyer of the Something Blue Shoppe, Hartselle, Ala.
“I think there’s too much sleeveless. We need some sleeves,” agreed Scott Gray, manager of Cinderella’s Bridal Salon, East Greenwich, R.I.
As for bridesmaid gowns, several retailers and exhibitors said they expect pastels to begin to make a comeback, while the jewel tones, especially hunter, burgundy and deep blue, remain popular.
Traffic was strong at the four-day show, which ran through Sept. 23. It marked the debut of an exclusive permanent bridal showroom floor on the 10th floor of the apparel center.
Although retailers frequently said they were holding their buying to last year’s levels, the orders appeared to be piling up nicely for exhibitors.
“We had a record paper day Saturday,” said Cindi Freeburn, design director at Alfred Angelo. “Orders have been up at every market this year.”
While jewel tones dominate bridesmaid lines, Freeburn noted interest in a satin line available in a variety of pastels, with ice blue strong.
“The show has been fabulous. The paper is great. We had our best Saturday in years,” said Kris Hanson, Midwest sales representative for Mori Lee Associates.
“We’ve been selling a lot of nontraditional styles, including tank tops, sleeveless and halter styles. Organza and tulle are popular,” Hanson said.
In the bridesmaid area, “pastels are back, particularly orchid and sand,” she said.
Most retailers said the average price of wedding dresses in their shops was running $500 to $600, though stores in urban areas or more affluent markets said brides were reaching over the $1,000 mark.
Denise Elfrink, bridal buyer for Mestads Wedding World, Rochester, Minn., said tank tops have been “very popular,” with brides either opting for traditional, full-skirted gowns with lots of detail or a plain and elegant look, but not gowns in the middle, with only a little beading.
Mestads has four stores in Minnesota and Wisconsin, and wedding gowns top out at $800 to $890, she said.
At Clarice’s Bridal Fashions in St. Louis, simple looks in sleeveless and A-line styles are popular and the top price is $1,000, said Susan Creech, store manager.
She noted some departure from the jewel tones for bridesmaids. “Silvers or browns are the hottest colors right now.”
Brides at Cinderella’s Bridal Salon in East Greenwich, R.I., are spending more, said Scott Gray, averaging $1,200 and going as high as $2,200.
“Brides are looking for better fabrics and quality with basic, classic design. Only 10 percent of our customers want the traditional beaded gowns,” he said.
Ivory, beige and earth tones are popular for bridesmaids’ dresses, Gray noted.
While Gray’s budget remains the same, he noted, “We are spending our money more carefully. We’re buying what we like, not what manufacturers are telling us to. And the manufacturers are getting better, getting away from the pressure for a huge order and more toward buying what the retailer can sell so we can come back.”
Kathy Dudley, owner of Brides Unlimited, Monroe, Mich., sees a trend “toward plainer gowns.”
“We’re selling a lot with no train.”
Ivory — sometimes with touches of rum pink — is becoming more popular, accounting for half the store’s wedding gown sales now, she said.
“Brides don’t quibble about price. A lot more will go over $1,000 than they did before,” though the average sale runs $600 to $800, Dudley said.
In the South, brides still want a fancier look, agreed Sarah Morris of Something Blue, and Diane Cheatham, owner of Diane’s Formal Affair, Jasper, Ala., putting the average price in their shops at $500 to $650.
“‘Plain’ down South means a little bit of beads here and there. Most brides are looking for a fair amount of beading, and we still have calls for super-long trains,” said Cheatham.
Strong lines in their shops are Mori Lee, Mon Cheri and Alfred Angelo, “who offers good styles and good value,” said Morris.
Bridesmaids’ dresses are going “toward pastels and more bareness on the shoulder.”
“They’re going back to the bridesmaid look, the dress you cannot wear again,” said Morris. Several other retailers agreed.
Cathleen Englebrecht, owner of Cajas Bridal Bower in Tinley Park, Ill., sees interest in halter styles and gowns with a little color. “Our two best sellers are A-line gowns with peach and ivory.”
The trend in her store is decidedly away from beaded gowns. “A year ago,” she added, “not one in 50 brides wanted a plain gown. Now it’s 10 or 15 out of 50.”
Englebrecht is also seeing a move toward pastels and somewhat fancier dresses for bridesmaids, with ivory, lavender and peach popular. “We’re also selling more red dresses than in the past for holiday weddings at Christmas, Valentine’s Day and the Fourth of July,” she said.
Caroline Flury-Kashmanian, an owner of Season’s Bridal in the Buffalo suburb of West Seneca, N.Y., said, “Our customers are buying a lot of white A-line gowns with sleeves, though everything at market is sleeveless.

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