NEW YORK — At discounters, dresses have traditionally been treated as an afterthought, given little attention by some and virtually ignored by others. But as mass merchants gain market share in women’s apparel and look to upgrade their assortments, dresses are getting more play.
According to an NPD Consumer Purchase Panel report on 1993 women’s apparel sales, the dollar market share held by discounters in dresses was the smallest of the 13 categories measured at these stores. Nevertheless, discounters gained in market share last year, moving up to 4.9 percent from 4.6 percent in 1992.
A visit to three stores in northern New Jersey — Bradlees, Caldor and Kmart — showed the stores are paying some attention to the latest trends. However, limited selections and lack of visual display hinder the overall image of the dress departments.
Even as some of these discounters look to develop their dress businesses, they appear to have a long way to go to match the offerings in the moderate-price chains, such as Sears, Roebuck and J.C. Penney.

The Bradlees store, a recently built replacement unit on Route 46 in Totowa, probably had the most contemporary-looking dresses, merchandised in a small department carrying misses’, petites, maternity and large sizes.
Rayon and polyester knit Empire dresses from All That Jazz sold for $39.99 and were getting the attention of several customers, as were printed rayon halter dresses, baby dolls and dusters from Equation, Pellini, and Zanoni by Jalate in prices ranging from $19.99 to $24.99.
Other selections included pastel T-shirt dresses from Juniors U.S.A., and two-piece dresses from T&J at $44.99. Located at the right of the main entrance, Bradlees’ dress area was across the aisle from a large casual sportswear department.

At Caldor, located about a mile away on the same highway in Little Falls, rounders of short rayon fit-and-flare dresses were on sale for $12.99 in an array of mini-floral prints from resources such as Avocado, Equation, Pellini and Anegadas Collection.
Short pastel cotton V-neck and T-shirt dresses from Energie by Current had their own rounder, as did long cotton jumpers from Erika & Co. The featured price point on both rounders was $15.99.
The rest of the department, similarly situated at the right of the main entrance next to the career sportswear department, consisted primarily of long rayon print dresses from a variety of resources and long-sleeved basic-looking shirtdresses in polyester and rayons blends.

Even though the Kmart, on River Road in Belleville, flags its selection with a sign that reads the Dress Boutique, the area carried mostly casual and career sportswear. Nevertheless, several rounders of summer dresses were prominently featured. The selection had been greater when the store was visited in May. During the July visit, a sales clerk acknowledged the stock was low, but said it would pick up in August when fall merchandise starts coming in.
The predominant look at the store was rayon floral print dresses, including labels such as Sunshine Starshine and Halmode Petites — two divisions of Halmode Apparel — Next Time, Positive Influence, Jessica Ryan, Earth Angel and S. Roberts. The dresses sold for $29.99 to $31.99.
In addition, a small rounder carried two-piece dresses featuring simple silhouettes with coordinating jackets or vests from Sunshine Starshine, Juniors U.S.A., Scarlett and Victoria Ashley. The two-piece looks sold for $38.99 and $39.99.

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