Byline: Margaret Littman

CHICAGO — Moderate-price casualwear in basic slim shapes and subtle colors, including muted earth tones, paced the action at the spring market at the Chicago Apparel Center.
Retailers said they were finding the looks they needed, and while some exhibitors complained about slow traffic, orders were being written. The five-day show ran through Oct. 29.
Among the retailers coming to market with very specific ideas about what they wanted were Mary Hogan and Jennifer Lartz, who plan to open 207 East, a boutique in East Lansing, Mich., in February.
“We’re in a college town, and there are a lot of hippie-type stores around. They all carry the Guatemalan sweaters and stuff like that. So, we need to do something different, but still fashionable,” said Lartz.
On their market shopping list were a basic suit for graduating seniors, boot-cut pants and sophisticated knits.
“We found exactly what we came here for, which sort of surprised me, all in these earthy colors,” Hogan said. “We’re really glad to see black being pushed out. Instead, we found some great knits and boot-cut pants in apple green, navy and chocolate brown.”
Whether retailers were targeting the college crowd, like 207 East, or in areas where clothes run to the more practical, all agreed that price was a factor in their ordering decisions.
“Our customers aren’t interested in paying a lot for sportswear and casual clothes,” said Billie Schuett, owner of Billie’s, a small shop in Okosoboh, Iowa. “We’re leaning toward moderately priced pant and jacket sets, things that will work for a couple of different seasons.”
Schuett cited light cotton jackets as well as zippered tops and fitted vests as items she was considering because they could be used for layering, making them more versatile year-round.
The emphasis on price was evident to exhibitor Pat McFarlane, a Chicago designer introducing her line of hand-knit dresses under the Jojana Knits label at her first market. She said she had considerable response from European buyers, but that Midwestern retailers were more cautious about her higher prices. While McFarlane’s clean knit silhouette reflected much of what was being exhibited at the market, she noted her price points — with her dresses and sweater dresses in wool and nylon or acrylic and nylon tagged at $149 wholesale — may have kept them beyond the budgets of many of the retailers.
Meanwhile, the wide showing of earth tones — olive greens, tans and ivory, among them — was of interest to Tricia Flynn, a buyer for Pat’s Place in Leland, Mich., who saw this palette fitting in with what was already working well in her shop.
“The western wear is really taking off, not so much jeans, but in skirts, with a Santa Fe look,” she said. “I’m also considering jackets with leather in these [earth] colors.” What Flynn was avoiding were the brightly colored variations of the western theme.
The color direction was noted by exhibitor Rhonda Follrath, owner of Baju International, who specializes in vibrant batik wear in bright greens, fuchsia and royal blues, but found that her earth-tone versions, in brown, navy and blue, fared better at this market.
“In Miami everyone wanted brights, but not here,” she said.
At Eagle’s Eye, sales representative Dave Beck noted that orders were placed for casual knit separates designed to mix and match in navy, khaki and white. These striped, long-sleeved knit shirts which matched with full, long skirts and slim pants were indicative of the simple, practical lines retailers were favoring at the market.
Still, there was a taste for novelty. For example, Dorothy Pittman, owner of Pitt’s Exclusive in Elkhart, Ind., noted she had a taste for what she called “fun” items, a mixture of whimsical patterns shown on jumpers and jackets.
“I like a lot of the painted items I’ve seen,” she said, “That craft look is very popular for us.”