Colorful preppie sportswear has been a bright spot in an otherwise challenging summer, according to buyers and vendors at the Men’s Show Dallas Collective. The trend is expected to continue next spring, said exhibitors, whose lines were awash in color — both clear brights and soft washed hues.

“Saturday it was 104 degrees, and I had four kids drive down over 100 miles from Oklahoma State University because I was the closest store that had Southern Proper,” noted Steve Humble, owner of The Squire Shop in Fort Worth. “They spent $600. That’s what’s driving the business.”

Other top performing preppie labels include Southern Tide, Vineyard Vines, Southern Marsh, Tailor Vintage, Lacoste, Peter Millar and Bill’s Khaki’s, merchants said. Many also cited Tommy Bahama as a key resource.

Inspired by skinny silhouettes in women’s fashion, men are ready for trimmer-fitting shirts, pants, jeans and jackets, buyers reported.

The market was scheduled for July 31 to Aug. 2, but representatives said appointments actually trailed over nine days ending Aug. 5.

“It’s been a very good show,” said Chuck Bush, who represents Tailor Vintage and other lines. “Everyone is having increases because last year was a disaster.”

Spring business was ahead at many stores before it fell off a cliff in June and July, according to buyers and sales representatives. However, early fall receipts are moving, and some retailers were hopeful that fall and spring will be up around 5 percent.

“I’m very optimistic about the future because we’ve been bouncing along the bottom for a while,” said Howard G. Thrash, owner of H.G. Thrash Clothier in Lubbock, Tex. “We all anticipate there is a pent-up demand.”

Despite the trend toward casual dressing, Thrash still does more than half his business in suits and furnishings, and he is grappling with how to convert younger men into customers for tailored clothing. His store is only blocks from massive Texas Tech University, where he sometimes presents fashion seminars.

“They don’t understand the nuances of style,” Thrash observed of students. “It is our job to educate them the best we can, but it’s hard to do without sounding like a sales pitch.”

Robbie Fowlkes, owner of Perlis Clothing Co. in New Orleans, said he is uncertain how last spring’s massive oil spill in the Gulf will affect his business. His spring business was up a bit, but he expects business will soften this fall and rebound next spring, when he’s planning an increase of about 6 percent.

“Clothing is still not what it was — it’s still declining,” Fowlkes said. “I’m doing well with five-pocket pants by Bill’s Khaki’s. The five-pocket model is taking over the men’s khaki pant. Men understand it’s like a jean and they can wear it with a sport coat and an open-collar sport shirt.”

Price remains an issue. Vendors said wholesale prices edged up due to rising costs of labor and materials, but they kept increases to a minimum, such as $1 to $3 per shirt in some cases.

“We get nosebleed at a $200 shirt,” Fowlkes said. “The guts of the sport shirt business is $95 to $125.”

Leland Olive, owner of Couture for Men in Hays, Kan., tops out his shirt price at $128.

“I just picked up a new shirt line called TailorByrd that has a Robert Graham look and retails for $98,” he noted. “I sell suits up to $525.”

Catering to a clientele in a stable economy based on agriculture, medicine and the local university, the bulk of Olive’s business is classic sportswear by Tommy Bahama, Izod, Nautica and Pendleton.

“We’re not glitzy at all,” he said.

Spring Trends
• Brights including coral, lime and sherbet hues
• Trimmer fits across sportswear and suits
• Stretch knit polos with a soft hand
• Linen shirts in solids, prints and plaids
• Five-pocket twill pants in olive, khaki, gray

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