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Muted tones to dress a dull economy

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Doug Krizner: The top fashion designers are in New York City this week showing their fall collections. America is getting its first look at what a recession looks like when it’s coming down the runway. Jill Barshay reports.

Jill Barshay: Usually, there’s a frivolous buzz surrounding fashion week, a twice a year extravaganza of celebrities and models on Fifth Avenue.

But this year, the city seems, well, consumed with Wall Street losses and dwindling bonus checks. Designers feel the gloom, too.

Jhane Barnes is a luxury men’s wear designer. For her Fall 2008 line, she’s toned down the colors so that men can get more wear out of their $300 shirt.

Jhane Barnes: So, yeah, I’ll be doing a lot of blue because that means he’ll have a lot to wear it with. So I work a lot of the collection around blue and around black during these times.

But in a strategic approach to the recession, Barnes is weaving a shirt with 48 muted colors.

Barnes: Cause we think that our customer has to say, “Oh, I have to have that. I must have that. You know, I can’t wait until times are better — it may not be here.”

Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus have asked Barnes to make more shirts under $200. So she’s using more cotton and less silk.

For women, designers this week are going back to the straight-laced 1950’s and early 1960’s. Think Jackie O and Grace Kelly, with their tailored suits and full skirts. Designer Michael Kors has jettisoned his babydoll mini dresses and platform shoes.

Some fashion critics are calling it comfort food for turbulent times. Others are saying that women are simply sick of the bohemian look.

Arthur Zaczkiewicz is the senior financial editor at Women’s Wear Daily. He says in the past, recessions have inspired fashion.

Zaczkiewicz: During the early 90’s, right, grunge hit the market. That was driven by kind of an economic downturn in the early 1990’s. It was a reaction to not only the economy, but the state of mind of the consumer.

But for now, a nostalgic sense of stability and prosperity is here again.

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

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