NEW YORK What do you wear to a recession?
Women will pare down to essentials and make what they have go further, both in fashion and in their day-to-day spending, say trend-watchers and designers who unveil spring 2009 looks at New York's semi-annual Fashion Week starting on Friday.
Practical, tailored looks will prevail over frivolous frills, say designers who hope to lure women into buying something new, despite the prospect of recession by year's end.
Enticing U.S. consumers to splurge on fashion is not easy against a backdrop of lost jobs, home foreclosures, a battered stock market and U.S. dollar, and surging food and fuel prices.
Nor do the dark economic clouds look likely to lift next spring, said David A. Wolfe, creative director of trends forecaster The Doneger Group.
"These clothes for spring and summer of 2009 will hit when the economy is at the lowest of the low," he said.
Styles will reflect the times, as they did in the Great Depression and in World War Two, he said. The 1930s brought long somber hemlines, and the 1940s saw fitted women's suits.
"When times get tough, fashion gets more conservative, more tailored," Wolfe said, predicting that the slim, tailored sheath dress, to the knee, will be the hot item for spring.
HIPPER TO MIX AND MATCH
Tough times will bring more "cross-shopping," with consumers mixing a few high-end items with less costly apparel, said luxury consultant Robert Burke. The head-to-toe designer look is not only expensive, but dated, he said.
"When you're talking about designer outfits, you're talking about a minimum of $3,000 to $5,000 per outfit," Burke said. "It's hipper to mix and match."
Burke, who expects more understated styles, sees 2008 luxury sales up 5 percent after years of 10 percent gains.
Saks Inc, parent of high-end Saks Fifth Avenue, has forecast weak sales through the end of 2008 after it reported a quarterly loss in August.
Evening-gown designer Carmen Marc Valvo said he could see the impact of the weak dollar and strong euro in stores like Saks, which have been crowded with bargain-hunting Europeans.
"Saks says, 'Thank God for the Europeans. At least someone's buying.' And I always say, 'Thank God for weddings, bar mitzvahs and fund-raisers,'" Valvo told Reuters in an interview in his Seventh Avenue studio.
The latest economic news signals that fashion may not be able to count on Europe to keep it in the black. The dollar hit a seven-month high against the euro and the British pound slid to its lowest level since April 2006 on a sharp slide in oil prices and fears about Europe's economic outlook.
FRUGAL IS THE NEW BLACK
"Frugal is the new black," said author and blogger Kathryn Finney, known as "the Budget Fashionista."
"Why should I pay $50 for a pair of 'no-name' pants at Macy's when I can get Richard Chai for $29.99 at Target?"
The hit television show "Mad Men," set in a Madison Avenue advertising agency in the 1960s, will be a strong fashion influence for spring and summer, trend-watchers said.
Mixing old and new -- a pocketbook-friendly way of keeping in style -- will appear in looks of designers like Rebecca Taylor. She called her spring muse "a world traveler," mixing items from bazaars with "her mother's vintage Chanel."
And women will snap up accessories, especially necklaces that make a statement, trend experts say.
Designer Tracy Reese said her simple, structured collection reflects optimism about the U.S. presidential election.
"I'll have five to seven shades of green. It's about renewal and hope," she told Reuters.
Despite the shaky business climate and the estimated cost of $100,000 or more to do a runway show, it hasn't curbed the industry's participation in New York's Fashion Week with more than 200 shows scheduled from Friday to September 12.
(Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols and Martinne Geller; Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Mark Egan)