NEW YORK — The squeeze from rising gas costs is starting to impact apparel vendors.

After a softer-than-anticipated holiday season, many vendors at the Nouveau Collective and Atelier trade shows agreed that retailers have cautiously bought for spring. Higher gas prices are challenging business further.

That said, both shows attracted a slew of buyers looking to round out their assortments for fall, and some said they were hoping to stock up on dresses, which have emerged as a key classification this year.

“I am looking for nice things that are salable,” said Darryl Gamble, owner of the Gamble’s boutiques in Manhattan and Rhinebeck, N.Y. “There has been a big push in the dress market, so I am looking for dresses. Trend-wise, things are moving into a more simple, easier-to-wear direction. People want versatility. They are looking for items that they can team with pieces they already have in their wardrobe.”

Ruth Stewart, a buyer for the Ocotillo’s boutique in Borrega Springs, Calif., found this season to be more of a challenge. “We are looking for a more classic look, with items that can be worn year-round,” she said. “We have a more mature client and everyone seems to be chasing the younger customer, or just offering smaller sizes.”

At Nouveau Collective, which was held from Friday to Monday at The New Yorker Hotel, Beyond Threads offered alpaca knit separates, some of which were adorned with crocheted flowers made by groups of mothers in Peru. Bestsellers in the collection, which wholesales from $65 to $100, included a godet cardigan and skirt and a top mixing a pinstriped knit and felt fabric. “Many stores want items,” said Cristina Dioguardi, owner of Beyond Threads.

Designer Ulf Andersson, at Nouveau Collective, showed a collection of silk velvet jackets and dresses in earthy tones, for immediate and fall deliveries. “Stores who sell earlier are usually the ones to succeed,” he noted. The line wholesales from about $45 to $149. Top sellers were a vintage-inspired polkadot dress, for $98 wholesale, and silk velvet jackets with ruffled sleeves, for $138.

Melly M.’s bestsellers included an Empire bandeau summer dress with ribbon, at $88 wholesale; a cotton bandeau dress, for $76, and a silk shantung dress with replaceable bows, for $122. Melly M.’s designer and owner Melissa Madden noted, “People keep telling me that they are looking for dresses. I will introduce six new dress styles next season.”

This story first appeared in the May 4, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Ravel, meanwhile, expanded its repertory of blouses to blazers and coats, which booked well at Nouveau Collective, said sales manager Sue Gasparre. “Right now, we are selling ruffled blouses in white and brown and blazers that can be worn with jeans,” she added. Ravel’s wholesale prices range from $20 to $39, and bestsellers included cotton stretch blouses for $24 to $29 and velvet blazers from $44 to $59.

The Atelier show ended its three-day run at the Doubletree Guest Suites Times Square on Monday. Designer Lorain Croft noted this edition of the show offered a way for buyers to complete their fall mixes. “It’s more about little items they fill in because they already did a lot of the buying at the last show,” Croft, whose wholesale prices ranged from $170 to $400, said. “I am seeing a trend emerge in earthy colors, which is a big shift because there was so much color last year. That said, I have also sold a lot of red because stores want something with a punch closer to the holidays.”

Glass Frog Studio showed scarves made from hand-felted mulberry silk, merino and cashmere in organic shapes based on cellular structures. Jean Patton, owner and designer of the scarf collection that wholesales from $69 to $175, concurred with many vendors that business has become more challenging because of rising energy and gas prices. “People are spending their money differently,” she noted. “They overextended themselves buying homes because mortgage rates were so low. Now they are spending money to increase the value of their homes, and not so much on personal things.

“This summer, in small towns, people won’t spend money to drive, or they’ll go to the mall once instead of four times to make their purchases,” she added.