What to wear to a recession?

A model walks the runway at the Rubin Singer Fall 2008 fashion show during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Fall 2008 at The Promenade at Bryant Park on February 1, 2008 in New York City.

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KAI RYSSDAL: Fashion Week kicks off today in New York. Top designers, from Ralph Lauren to Zac Posen, will be sending their Fall 2008 lines down the runways. And retail buyers will be placing their bets on what consumers will be buying six months from now. Our New York Bureau Chief Jill Barshay reports on what the nation will be wearing to the Recession.


JILL BARSHAY: In one episode of "Sex and the City", a barely clad Carrie Bradshaw attempts to strut her stuff down the catwalk. For a few steps, at least, until the star trips and falls flat on her face.

"SEX AND THE CITY" CLIP: Oh my god, she's fashion roadkill!

This Fashion Week, retailers are worried they'll end up just like the "Sex and the City" star. Not just as fashion roadkill, but as business casualties too.

Mike Zack is the owner of Circa 2000 outside of Dallas. His menswear boutique caters to executives and entrepreneurs. He says he's already cut his orders back 15 percent this year. Right now he's buying cheaper fabric blends, less pure silk and less cashmere. Unlike last year, he's also buying shirts that will retail for less than $100.

MIKE ZACK: If things get tough, invariably people will lose their jobs and they're going to need interview clothes. So we get a little more conservative.

Zack says many designers haven't caught up with economic reality. The collections Tommy Hilfiger, Donna Karen and other designers are showing this week were created months ago, before the economic doom was clear.

ZACK: In Italy a couple weeks ago, they were showing a lot of vested suits. Well a vest in a suit today adds $250 to $300 to a suit. Well, I don't think that anybody that's going through a tough time wants to spend an extra $300.

Like many store owners, Zack plans to order less from Italy. He says the soaring euro makes too many of their designs too expensive.

Buyers for boutiques and big department stores are faced not just with what to buy for a recession, but how much. If they order too much, they'll get stuck with inventory and take losses. But if they order too little, they lose profits and customers.

Stacey Pecor is the owner of Olive and Bette's, a 15 year-old chain of four boutiques in Manhattan. Pecor caters to what she calls Upper West Side stroller moms and Upper East Side private school girls.

Pecor's business was growing 20 percent a year. Last year it grew just 3 percent. Impulse shoppers have closed their purses faster than Wall Street's private equity investors.

STACEY PECOR: Now, all of a sudden these women who have a closet full of clothes need something that really hits them emotionally that they want to buy.

So she's writing smaller orders from a larger group of designers to see what sells. She's trying bright colors, unusual weaves and new shapes.

PECOR: Instead of going to the vendors that we've gone to consistently, we're going out there and saying we need, because our customer's demanding it, newness and freshness and innovation.

Even though the economy is gloomy, that doesn't mean fashion has to be.

Arthur Zaczkiewicz is the senior financial editor at Women's Wear Daily. He says buyers bought bright colors and bold prints for spring, even after the markets started tumbling. And for fall, more than black will be back.

ARTHUR ZACKIEWICZ: There's a lot of color. And it's kind of a mood lifter, which I think everybody needs. We call that retail therapy, you know, when you're feeling down and out. You know, you're not going to stop shopping.

And this week, we'll find out how the designers think we should make a fashion statement during a recession.

In New York, I'm Jill Barshay for Marketplace.

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