San Fernando-based Santana Formal Accessories Inc. has made cummerbunds, bow ties and vests to gussy up tuxedos for 27 years.
Once-in-a-millennium sales are making owner Dee Tennant feel as bubbly as the champagne glass designs on her special-issue Y2K tuxedos. Tennant said her revenue for the fourth quarter will double from the same period in 1998. And the rest of the formal-wear industry is following suit.
Holiday hoopla is expected to boost fur sales by 20%, according to the fur industry. Van Nuys-based Gary's Tux Shops, the area's biggest tuxedo chain, is projecting New Year's weekend rentals to approach--gasp--"prom levels."
Consumers have not shelled out for high-priced New Year's travel junkets or shows in the predicted droves, but they clearly plan to celebrate in style. Americans who dress down at work increasingly are marking special occasions by dressing up, observers say. And as a once-in-a-lifetime event, the millennium is leading the trend to dress to excess.
"This is going to be the biggest year I ever had," said Bob Bennett, president of Hackensack, N.J.-based Men's Apparel Group, the leading men's formal-wear maker. Holiday sales are up about 25% from last year, he said.
Men's formal-wear rental and sales revenue has increased steadily since 1992, growing from about $850 million a year to about $1.2 billion in 1998, said Paul Greenwald, who writes a monthly newsletter on the men's formal-wear industry. The millennium should propel those figures even higher--orders to manufacturers are up about 10% in 1999, he said.
For men, the black-tie crescendo is expected to start late this month, with rentals and sales reaching fever pitch in December. Men often leave tuxedo rentals until the last minute, but stores say they're ready--customers should expect lines but not shortages.
For women, of course, dressing to the nines is more complex than just leasing a penguin suit. Many began their search for The Dress by late summer, retailers said.
"Starting at the end of August, we have seen a healthy pick-up in evening wear and it just keeps going," said Joan Kaner, senior vice president and fashion director for Dallas-based Neiman Marcus, which offers billowing gowns, pencil-slim skirts, bustiers and beaded jackets.
The millennium's charisma seems to shred budgets into confetti.
"Most of [our] millennium evening collection is gone, sold out," said Renee Borsack, a spokeswoman for high-end women's clothier St. John Knits Inc. in Irvine. Among the items to evaporate: a $6,500 number embellished with Austrian crystals. "People had no resistance to price," Borsack said.
Even used evening wear is expected to be in extra demand.
Recycled Rags in Corona del Mar, which sells designer clothing passed along from area residents, projects a 40% spike in sales this holiday season over 1998, owner Audrey Patterson said.
A combination of consumer trends appears likely to sustain strong formal-wear sales even after the New Year's buzz wears off.
Thousands of couples deferred weddings until 2000, seeing romance in the unforgettable date. About 150,000 more weddings are expected next year than in 1998, Greenwald said.
Many companies and industry associations are making annual events more memorable in 2000 by upping the attire ante to black tie, said Dan McDearmid, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Gary's Group, the parent of Gary's Tux Shops.
Plus, as Americans dress more casually at work, they increasingly choose formal wear to mark important social milestones, industry experts say.
"Americans hate ties, they don't like suits," Bennett said. "Dressing down is what's happening. But because everything else is so casual, for special events, people will dress up."
To capitalize on millennial fervor to dress up, manufacturers and retailers also are showcasing themed accessories, from gem-studded clutch bags to men's embroidered vests to champagne glasses etched with 2000. There are millennium-themed Judith Leiber purses ranging from $3,800 to $5,500. And Tiffany & Co. has sterling silver horns, party hats and noisemakers priced between $250 and $350 and millennium champagne flutes at $27 a stem.
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Putting on the Ritz
With millennium celebrations, revenue from sales and rentals of men's tuxedos and accessoriesis expected to rise this year. Sales and rental revenue, in billions:
1999: $1.4 billion*
Source: International Formalwear Assn.