NEW YORK -- The chunky gray sweaters have moved out and the turquoise-colored caftans have moved in. Welcome to fashion's "resort" season.
Never mind that there are still post-holiday sales to be had, or that it just recently dipped to the freezing mark in some of the country's traditional snowbird spots. Stores and their shoppers want newness -- and resort is how they get it.
The clothes, with a cheerful color palette and lighter, easy-to-pack fabrics, arrive in December and fill the racks until spring merchandise takes over.
"Let's remember that fashion is all about change, moving forward and anticipating new moods in style," says Linda Fargo, senior vice president of Bergdorf Goodman.
Resort is the most transitional season of the year, she says, offering a mix of festive party clothes, a vacation wardrobe -- for sun and snow -- and a glimpse at what trends are coming in the new year.
"For me, it's the clothes I wear all year round," says designer Tory Burch. "The idea of layering is an important idea to resort -- and that's how people dress."
In her collection, the knitwear is the highlight, Burch says, because everyone, no matter climate nor occasion, always needs a sweater.
Shoppers like a wear-now mentality, and who can blame them, says Michael Kors, known for building collections on the favorite haunts of jet-setters. Resort, even with its unfortunate name, is full of smart investment pieces that can be worn on the holiday vacation to the Caribbean or the Alps, do year-round duty in Dallas, Los Angeles and even Singapore, and be the go-to piece for New Yorkers on those weird days with in-between weather, he says.
"These clothes are important for consumers, and a good chunk of these clothes, if you're a smart designer, is seasonless. Women realize these are the clothes that let you get on with your life. If you buy them now, you don't have to worry about it later," Kors says.
He adds, "It's a very hardworking season. It's a great place to invest your money."
Back in the day, the garment industry had its fall season, then holiday, full of all the jingle-bells trappings, and cruise, clothes for cold-weather people to wear on cruise ships when they'd be invited to dine at Capt. Stubing's table.
People don't want that fuss now, says Kors, and anyway, there are a lot of people who work in office buildings that either blast the heat or forget it's there, or they spend their holiday break skiing one year and sunning another.
Still, it's hard to shake the "resort" name. Both Fargo and Kors called it a "misnomer" since it implies a look that's much more tropical than it really is. Burch, for example, says she drew inspiration equally from recent trips to India and St. Moritz, Switzerland.
"It's one of my favorite collections we've done. You have silk linen and matte gold sequins on a jacket and a skirt, mixed with an Indian motif T-shirt and scarf, and you have apres-ski boots. ... It's warm and cold in one collection," Burch says.
A cashmere T-shirt dress, a longer-length skirt and a silk turtleneck are among this season's resort must-haves, according to Kors.
"We found numerous compelling trends and items such as crisp and jaunty stripes, nautical inspiration, clean slate-fresh start whites, urban safari, neutrals -- in khaki and sand tones -- and clothing with bohemian streaks," says Bergdorf's Fargo.
Even at Lilly Pulitzer, which boasts a long Palm Beach heritage, there's a more "universal" approach to resort than a hot-pink shift, explains design director Janie Schoenborn. "Our customer understands a 'resort' lifestyle, but resort has evolved into something incorporated into everyday life. ... It seems like resort collections are getting bigger, better and more universal."
An aqua tunic top pairs just as well with black dress pants as it does white jeans," says Schoenborn, but the hallmark of the season is still the splash of color. "We try to make it easier for our customer to wear coral or blue year-round."
Schoenborn says the roots of resort were rich socialites who'd come to Florida, as far back as the 1920s, and needed to buy clothes in what was the offseason in New York, Boston and Philadelphia for golf, tennis and boating. Now the business is spread throughout the country, taking a hint of its glamorous roots with it.
"It's a capsule for retailers, just like it gives designers, a chance to step out of the box a little," Schoenborn says. "It lets retailers have a little corner of the store that's bright and sunny, and gives a little zip to stores that have been full of autumnal or winter colors."
Burch agrees that there's more leeway in these looks. "I don't follow seasonal rules anyway -- I'll wear white after Labor Day. But this can be different, and you can take a few chances."
Kors, who is making it a habit to call attention to retail deliveries that don't get the big push on the fall and spring Fashion Week runways, notes the timing is good. "This is the busiest time of year in stores. More people are shopping, and you want them to see something new and fresh."