Retro a go-go

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Fall fashion's theme could be "Back to the Future." Retailers began pushing retro influences-from mod to punk and beyond-in their back-to-school looks and continuing through the fall.

Fall fashion includes antique/vintage looks, military and camouflage styles, and rock/punk-inspired looks, says Richard Jaffe, a retail analyst at UBS. In secret store visits during the back-to-school season, Mr. Jaffe's team found those themes and a few notable variations in most retailers. Denim looks are everywhere, in a variety of silhouettes and washes, as well as cargo looks in fabrics from fleece to satin, even cargo pajamas, he says.

The retro look even extends to some of the advertising. Gap's Old Navy unit continued its campaign spoofing old TV shows with parodies of "Soul Train" and "Leave It to Beaver" to promote its cargo pants, and American Eagle Outfitters hired Omnicom Group's Spike DDB, New York, to create a fall campaign tagged "What's old is new, and what's old is back" to launch its Reissue Collection, a line inspired by classic looks.

But so much retro only underscores a lack of exciting new merchandise styles for consumers, most retail observers agree.

There is nothing new to buy, warns Wendy Liebmann, president of consultancy WSL Retail."There's a lot of need for innovation," she says. The holiday shopping season is still unclear, but she was encouraged by retailers' recognition that holiday sales will depend on finding new ways to attract customers.

"Retailers-unlike last year-have realized what they offer has to be different, not just the same gift-with-purchase or cashmere sweaters at $99," Ms. Liebmann says.

Retailers are making some efforts, says Tom Holliday, president of the Retail Advertising & Marketing Association. Some retailers have mutated the gift-with-purchase into gift cards-with-purchase that give customers a break on future purchases, and others give discount cards or have started frequent buyer programs, he says.

While newspapers still do "the heavy lifting" in retail advertising, Mr. Holliday notes retailers are putting more creativity into e-mail marketing as well as in-store marketing and price promotions.

RAMA expects retail sales to increase 4% to 4.5% year-over-year between August and the end of December.

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