Retailers report brisk business in a variety of evening looks, as women have dug into their pocketbooks for that special outfit to wear to their holiday parties. Gains have generally been in the moderate range, with some stores posting substantial increases hitting over 10 percent.
The trend seems to be toward the more casual side, as evening separates have been some of the bestsellers.
Retailers say women are often opting for separates over a more formal dress because they offer casual comfort and give them more options as they hit the party circuit. There’s still good action in party dresses, though, merchants say, particuarly easy cocktail dresses in blacks and pastels.
Ellin Saltzman, fashion director at Bergdorf Goodman here, said evening clothes have been selling well this season, especially what she calls “north-south dresses.”
“It’s the little dress that can be worn to a party down in Florida or under a fur coat up in New York,” Saltzman said. “This time of year should be strong for evening wear and cocktail clothes because of all the parties people attend. What’s made it good is that the vendors have sent new looks this month for resort. That’s really kept things going.”
Saltzman said the action in cocktail dresses and skirts has been in short lengths, while evening dresses are either above the knee or long to the ankle. She said the category has shown strength from vendors such as Chetta B in bridge, Oscar de la Renta in mid-range designer and Herve Leger in the higher end of designer.
“Of course, the little black dress is still a hot number,” she said. “I guess it’s the closest thing to a commodity in the dress business. It’s been a very happy season for party dresses.”
Louise MacKenzie, vice president and general merchandise manager at Henri Bendel here, said it has been a good holiday and resort season, although it started slowly.
“Business got stronger as we got into December,” MacKenzie said. “It’s another example of the customer buying closer to need.”
Evening separates have shown good action at Bendel’s particularly a group of Pamela Dennis straw silk charmeuse jackets over dresses, she said, and there has veen a strong response to illusion insets and layered illusion looks. A resort group of pastel print party dresses has sold well.
“It’s been a great December and a great Christmas in the eveningwear department,” MacKenzie said. “We’re doing a bigger business than last year, with some nice increases.”
Joan Kaner, senior vice president and fashion director for Neiman Marcus, said: “Holiday business has been strong. It actually started early and has picked up nicely in December.”
Evening separates, which Kaner said represent a more casual side of eveningwear, have led the way this season. Important looks include cut velvet tunics over silk chiffon or velvet pants and jackets over dresses or pants.
Kaner cited Han Feng’s signature crinkle silk and velvet outfits, which are being carried for the first time this season, as strong sellers.
“There’s a new individuality to eveningwear, a feeling that almost anything will go,” Kaner said.
Kaner said pants represent the long story at Neiman’s while short party dresses continue to be strong sellers.
“They take you a lot of places,” she said. “I have a feeling you’re going to be seeing a lot more of them, because its an easy look to put together.”
“Velvet has certainly been the story of the season,” said Lavelle Olexa, senior vice president for fashion merchandising at Lord & Taylor.
Olexa said strong items have included Tenay’s beaded T-shirt dress, Morton Myles’s hunter green velvet evening gown, Niteline’s sequined slip dress, Carmen Marc Valvo’s satin and velvet long party dress and Tom & Linda Platt’s short silk crepe tank dress and poncho.
Benny Lin, fashion director for the Macy’s East division of R.H. Macy & Co., said the best holiday looks have been short, flippy dresses such as baby dolls and slip dresses and “anything with illusion or lace.”
Lin said bright colors have been important in lightweight fabrics such as silk crepes and chiffons, citing key labels such.3 as Laundry, Tahari, Nicole Miller and Rex Lester.
“Evening separates, such as boleros over dresses and tunics over pajama pants, are emerging very strongly,” Lin said.
Sara Davies, fashion director at Nordstrom Inc., Seattle, said: “Anything velvet has sold very well. Evening separates have been very strong, particularly dressy jackets over pants and over dresses, and dressy sweaters and blouses.
Shelle Bagot, owner of The Gazebo, a Dallas-based upscale specialty store, said sales in the eveningwear and social occasion department are up 14 percent for fall and holiday compared to last year.
“Dallas is a very social city with lots of special events,” Bagot said. “A lot of women who didn’t spend money on new outfits the last couple of years have made nerw purchases. There definitely seems to be more consumer confidence and signs of a strong economic rebound in Dallas.”
Long, understated evening dresses in black velvet and white four-ply silk crepe are among the leading looks. Bagot said, with designers such as Pamela Dennis, Bonnie Strauss and Bradley Bayon among the top performers.
Bill Dobson, owner of Lilly Dobson, another Dallas-based upscale specialty shop, said he’s noticed a trend toward “opulent, but not decorated dressing,” using rich fabrics such as velvet, cashmere and four-ply silk in black and jewel tones.
He said palazzo pants and evening separates are hot because of the versatility they provide.
“The drama of Escada’s evening silhouettes” has made this featured collection successful for his operation, Dobson said. “Sales have almost doubled over last year.”
Lilly Dobson has added an instore boutique by Beverly Hills-based designer Fe Zandi, who specializes in opulent eveningwear using Lesage embroidery. Fe Zandi’s simple four-ply silk crepe dress, which is available in over 90 colors at $1,900 retail, has sold so well that it’s continually on special order, Dobson noted.
Another new dimension at Lilly Dobson is an atelier that was added in March, with inhouse designer Micheal Faircloth creating made-to-order special occasion dresses.