NEW YORK -- After a two-year buildup, longer lengths are sweeping through the outerwear market like a tidal wave. In short, long is everywhere.
And retailers, who spend their lives figuring out what the next trend will be, can't seem to figure out why. The best attempt so far was given by a buyer for a large discount chain. 'The baby boom generation is getting older. And fatter. We want our butts covered.'
Whatever the reason, the changes have been evolutionary. The longer lengths add a whole new category to men's outerwear departments, and lend themselves to myriad possibilities, especially with leather outerwear.
There are four other directions: microfiber coats, toggles, three-in-one jackets and field/barn coats.
Microfiber, the expensive but soft-to-the-touch fabric, is showing up in almost all lines, from Free Country, a small outerwear firm, to Members Only, one of the biggest.
And the toggle, a real juggernaut of a trend last year, continues to gain momentum. Note that the younger brother of the toggle -- the all-metal fireman's closure -- is already proving itself a winner at hipper stores around the country. Whatever happened to zippers?
The new kid on the block for '92 is the three-in-one jacket. It's been around the ski market for some time, and Columbia is a pioneer in the movement into specialty and department stores. Even leather makers are churning out versions of three-in-ones -- and many are nice-looking, quality jackets.
One thing not to get snowed about, however, is that these jackets are somehow tied to a recessionary consumer buying cycle. The theory many makers are touting is that the guy who is strapped for cash will prefer a heavy wool jacket, a leather vest and a fleece pullver with one purchase to 'just a coat.'
Many of these coats look trendy enough to spur a fashion sale. But it's disingenuous to be selling a line by arguing that a guy who's been laid off is going to run to the nearest men's department and drop $100 on a fashion coat, which is really what these are. More likely he'll keep his old jacket, fear some buyers.
The field/barn jacket is another strong comer, cropping up in countless lines. They come in leather with rustic buttons, canvas with corduroy collars and patch pockets and, all canvas, etc. They're easy, understandable, and as a plus, they offer Southern markets about as much jacket as anyone there needs.
The danger here is that this style is starting to be footballed, which means something similar is almost guaranteed to show up at discounters or off-price stores across the country. And since the bottom tier of the market is upping its outerwear selection, these chances are even more likely.
Ditto for the bomber jacket, unless it's bought in a new lambskin, or with hardware that differentiates it, somehow, from the rest of the pack.
Those are the major trends. There are other good bets, such as sports licensed jackets, dusters, motorcycle jackets and baseball jackets. But these haven't yet build the sales clout or commanded the manufacturer attention they need to become sweeping, major trends.
Aside from fashion, one good thing, at least from a retailer's point of view, has been that prices have largely been kept down. Buyers estimated that some prices had come down as much as 4 percent.
'We really worked hard to maintain prices as close to last year as possible, even though prices in Korea have been going up,' said Mike Holzberg, vice-president of Excelled Sheepskin & Leather, echoing what many said.
Like a few others, Holzberg also had another observation about the outerwear business: 'We're starting to see a loosening-up in the markets, an end to feeling that the world is shortly coming to an end. We're planning big things for MAGIC. I hope some pent-up demand for coats will finally be released.'
Other makers express similar optimism for the show. 'A lot of the buying is done, and most of the major business is in for us,' said Jim Baum, vice-president at Aberdeen.
'But buyers are still approaching us for things pretty much across-the-board. MAGIC is the most well-attended men's show today, so I do expect some serious buying to go on there or shortly thereafter.'