Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg

NEW YORK — Slender young women might get all the coverage in glossy fashion magazines, but older women with softer waistlines are getting more attention from specialty stores.
That was the consensus among buyers attending last weekend’s Style Industrie trade show, which wrapped up its four-day run Tuesday at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. They said they were looking for stylish, casual clothes to suit a variety of women. Retailers said they were also on the hunt for unusual items that make customers feel that they dress differently from the rest. Trendy sportswear and accessories — especially scarves and handbags — met that criterion. Casual dress codes have prompted some women to be more daring and to spend more for their accessories, a few buyers said.
“Casual is a very important area for us. We’ve been in this casual vein for some time,” said Cathy Demakakos, buyer for The Fashion Express, a buying office that caters to 40 specialty stores. “Now we’re seeing stores looking for something with a little more structure, or dressier, in handbags.”
In general, retailers said business was ahead of last year, due partially to shoppers’ eagerness to distinguish themselves with updated casual items from hard-to-find labels.
“If it’s going to be casual, it has to be different,” said Claudia Williams, owner of Dorothy Williams, a boutique in Providence, R.I. “We’re interested in anything that looks different. It doesn’t have to be a full line.”
Williams was among those who have been jazzing up their stores to encourage frequent visits. Renovating the interior as well as the exterior of the store, she said, has allowed more outfits to be displayed, with a more open floor space to simplify shopping.
“More wearable” sweaters, pants, dresses and skirts in a variety of lengths were on her list. She planned to check out UMI Collections, Bread Fish, Philip Dicaprio and Muse.
Stephanie Nevill, the owner of three-week-old Bellybuttons, a 1,000-square-foot store in Darien, Conn., was shopping for “more relaxed sportswear that’s not too formal or for business.” Cornell Trading and Sara Arizona were two of the lines she planned to take a look at for sweaters, pants and skirts, and accessories like shawls and beaded bags.
“I want to offer funky, last-minute things. Our whole community is like that,” she said. “The store is for women when they need something new, but don’t want to go to the mall.
Located in a shopping area near a pizza parlor and a gourmet supermarket, the store is set up with a couch, cats and a fish tank, to try to attract shoppers. Offering new merchandise and new vendors on a monthly basis is another way Nevill aims to build business.
Demakakos noted that many of her stores are looking for new resources. In general, most stores are even or ahead of last year, and stores that have “traded up” are doing better than most, she said.
By Taylor, C’est City, Cynthia Max, To the Max, O.Y.B. and Lauren Hansen are some of the labels at the show she recommends.
Paula Dennis, owner of Abigail & Magnolia’s in Tiverton, R.I., which makes a point of not following trends, said she was “staying away from the maddening crowd” in search of dresses, long skirts, coats, shoes and small collections that are “a little offbeat and versatile.” Flax was one of the show resources they planned to check out for textured, ethnic-inspired styles.
“We cater to the baby boomer who still wants style. There’s a lot of Mideastern influence right now,” she said. “They want things they can dress up.”
Listening to customers by spending most of her days on the sales floor is one of the most effective ways of understanding what they need, Dennis said. “We get the whole spiel right there,” she said. “We’re never off the floor, really.”
Tillie Camhi, buyer, and Elaine Siegal, owner, of Complaisant, a 2,000-square-foot store in West Bloomfield, Mich., said they were looking for scarves and larger-size tops. Many women are looking for alternatives to the skimpy styles that many sportswear firms offer.
“We’re going for a more sophisticated customer and we’re always trying to bring in new labels,” Camhi said.
They were also looking to cater to shoppers who generally do not get dressed up unless they are going to a special occasion.
Theresa Barry and Patrick Nellis, owners of Razz Barry, a store in Syracuse, N.Y., said they planned to stop by PA Company, P.J. Salvage, L.D.S. Designs and Lydell NYC for hats, scarves and cool knitwear. With annual sales running “slightly” ahead of last year, the retailer plans to offer more expensive items that wholesale up to $180.
One of their favorite finds at the show was a knitted tube that can be worn as a scarf or as a hood.
“People will get more funky with accessories than with clothing,” Barry said.
Nellis added, “They will spend more for holiday items and for more unusual items.”