Byline: Kay Selle

DALLAS – From the romantic to the practical, dresses and suits are back in a big way in the Southwest.
Boosted by the seductive appeal of push-up bras and the charm of colorful, textured fabrics, manufacturers in Dallas say their sales are surging.
“Dresses and suits are focusing more on shape, on defining the feminine form,” said designer Victor Costa, whose eveningwear features plenty of what he calls, “across-the-table allure.”
“Buyers want glamour and color,” said Costa, “with an eye to value.”
The sensible side is especially evident in suits, which are selling well for a number of Dallas manufacturers. The twist for spring and summer: lots of pants.
“The dress business is really coming back,” said Ed Vierling, president of Jerell Inc., one of Dallas’s largest women’s apparel manufacturers. ‘Pantsuits are especially strong. And shorts are popular, because they seem to be more acceptaed in the workplace.”
In the Melissa collection, Jerell’s biggest dress line, vintage floral prints are finally losing steam. But checks, Forties-influenced spectator looks, textured goods and bright colors such as vivid florals are making up the difference.
“Our sales are up 9 percent, said Vierling, noting that Jerell’s revenues hit $55 million in 1994.
“We expect this summer to be a good dress season — better than last summer,” noted Rosemary Cantrell, merchandise manager for Jerell’s dress division. “There are a lot of items in the dress line that are fun to wear in summer.”
Some Melissa designs Jerell is betting on for spring and summer; a tropical rayon sundress with a red, rose and sage floral print, wholesaling for $47; a wrapfront skort, made of a polyester-rayon blend, in black and white mini-gingham check, with a black cotton T-shirt and red suspenders, $42; and a lined column dress in a polyester-rayon-line blend, with three antique gold brass hook closures for trim detail, $47,
At Julie & Leonard, sales have surged 50 percent — primarily because suits are selling so well, says co-designer and co-owner Leonard Steinberg. “We’re trying to create suits that flatter a woman beautifully,” said Steinberg. “We’ve found that suits are more flattering to more figures. They just seem to be appropriate for any occasion.”
The company’s focus for spring and summer is on fine fabrics, novelty buttons and a perfect cut.
“Our customer has become more and more sophisticated,” said Steinberg. “Proportion and dressmaker details have become very important.
Sales at Julie & Leonard were about $2.5 million in 1994, he said. The company’s suits and dresses wholesale from $155 to $295.
A perennial favorite: variations on the “unclassic tuxedo” suit in black, navy or red. Made of four-ply crepe, with satin lapels and a choice of pants or a long skirt, the tuxes wholesale for $295.
For spring, the firm is banking on a short-sleeved cotton pique suit in red or green with black accents for $175 and a three-piece suit with a black crepe sarong skirt, a white cotton sleeveless blouse and a baby pink bolero jacket for $265.
At Susan Apple here, dresses are the key theme for spring and summer; suits are expected to play a bigger role for fall. She has updated some traditional designs with new bodies and fabrics.
“Our customer really prefers the classics,” said Apple. “I got my inspiration from a military influence –designs with nice buttons.
Apple said a new rayon and a transitional linen in deep hues are her fabrics of choice. Also for spring: vivid colors, with plenty of trim, novelty buttons and contrasting braids.
Her customers are also looking for long jackets over long skirts, along with pantsuits. “They’re really doing well,” she said.
Apple’s best bets for spring and summer: a black rayon double-breasted pantsuit finished with gold buttons and a collar, wholesaling for $86; and a black rayon houndtooth suit, with a 32-inch skirt, framed with black and gold buttons for $92.
Apple said her traditional looks are generating steady growth. Sales increased 15 percent in 1994 , to $800,000, she said.
Ann Tobias, who operates an eponymous dress company, reported, “Everything with legs is hot. Our customers want garments for the real world and the working world. That’s what’s selling.”
Many of Tobias’s spring suits offer a pants option. She has long jackets with pants, short jackets with pants, vests with pants — even jumpsuits.
The sportswear influence prompted Tobias to stretch the dress category further, adding jackets and vests to make her dresses more versatile. “I call it the ‘sportswearization’ of the dress,” said Tobias.
Her silhouettes have become more form-fitting in ’95, she said, “but the real news is in color and texture.” Plaids, stripes and tiny checks are popular, especially on crinkled and textured fabric.
For spring, she expects strong sales from her pleated baby-doll dress with belt and button treatment in salmon acetate rayon crepe, wholesaling for $86; and a long white linen vest with black soutache trim and matching black cigarette pants, for $98. Tobias declined to disclose annual sales for her company, but claimed 1994 was its best year ever. The company did more private label work, and garments in large sizes and petites. Its flagship Ann Tobias line features dresses, pantsuits and jacket dresses for $60 to $100 wholesale. Its moderate line, Jennifer Jeffries, sells dresses and suits for $30 to $65.