NEW YORK The hottest trend emerging from New York Fashion Week hasn't been bold neon colors or cutting-edge silhouettes but simply practical clothes designed to sell.
Runways were filled with useful separates, uncomplicated sheath dresses and comfortable trousers aimed to appeal to consumers, observers said at New York Fashion Week for Spring 2013, which wrapped up on Thursday.
Absent was a stand-out, must-have look, such as monochrome outfits, one-shoulder dresses or asymmetrical hem lines that emerged from fashion designers in prior years, said experts.
"People aren't looking to be peacocks this season," said Robert Burke, a retail consultant. "Anything too loud and specific is not going to feel right."
Consumers coping with a weak economic recovery and a wobbly jobs market are more likely to choose subdued and practical styles, he said.
So spring promises pretty floral print blouses, slouchy shorts and fluid trousers topped with motorcycle or bomber jackets in soft light leather.
"There's an awful lot of practicality in this season's collections," said Candace Corlett, president of WSL Strategic Retail. "There's a lot of pieces you could put together and mix and match."
Fashion forecaster David Wolfe, creative director at The Doneger Group, called the spring collections "one of the most attractive, one of the most commercial" seasons he has seen in a decade, marred by nothing outlandish or difficult to sell.
"It's a terrific season for people who want to look nice but not be made fools of by fashion," he said.
He pointed out the collection by retail giant J. Crew that was filled with silky pajama shirts, printed shorts and capris in cheerful lemon-lime, hot pink and tangerine.
"This is much more fun than a strange designer's malformed silhouette," Wolfe said.
The vast choices may be fun for consumers but a challenge for stores that will have to load up on a wide variety of inventory to suit such a free-for-all season, experts noted.
And the lack of a must-have item could mean consumers may feel no need to shop for anything new, they noted.
Wolfe said consumers are looking beyond clothing for must-have items. "They must have the new iPhone," he said.
But the rainbow of colors for spring, such as the vibrant hues shown by Michael Kors, should help entice consumers to spend on fashion, experts said.
"When there's a lot of color, it gives people a lot of reasons to buy more, because there might be a color they don't have," said Corlett.
Hem lines ranged from sweeping the floor to barely brushing the tops of thighs.
"I can't remember a season where there's such a wide range of style," said Burke. "There's a little bit for everyone."
Relaxed and casual set the tone. Nanette Lepore's dresses were loosely woven and breezy, while the ever-sophisticated Carolina Herrera showed silky cocktail shorts and Phillip Lim brought out pajama pants and overalls that he called "a push and pull tension between street and polish."
Even gown maker Naeem Khan, known for voluptuous ornamentation, seemed to pin on fewer crystals and beads this season, said Burke.
The shorts and trousers are examples of versatile separates easily dressed down or up, said Colleen Sherin, senior fashion director at Saks Fifth Avenue.
"The idea that you could wear a pair of shorts with a great pair of heels to go out, rather than a skirt or a dress, it's a little easier, little cooler kind of look," she said. "We're liking that."
Designer Tracy Reese said her sleeveless tunics and draped pants were looks that a woman could wear in a variety of ways.
"I want to create things that she can wear all day and then accessorize and wear at night," Reese said. "Most of us don't have time to go home and make changes."
With consumers wielding such freedom of choice, the power of designers to decide what is fashion is on the wane, said Wolfe.
"Fashion has become very much a democracy," he said.