NEW YORK (Reuters) - Navy is likely to replace black on the catwalk when New York Fashion Week starts on Thursday, with experts expecting rich fabrics, waist-defining jackets and some 1920s-inspired styles sparked by movies like The Artist.
Dresses will continue to feature strongly among the 90 or so designers showing fall 2012 collections, experts say, because of the wide appeal to consumers who are more thoughtful and focused on value as the United States emerges from recession.
A dress is seen as more tempting because it allows women to skip the extra, and sometimes more costly, step of having to coordinate skirts or pants with a blouse or T-shirt.
"Dresses perform very well. Women love a dress," said Ken Downing, fashion director of luxury chain Neiman Marcus. "It's such an easy way to look amazing. It's effortlessly chic ... it goes from coffee to cocktails."
"Navy will be the neutral of the season," he said.
Downing said some designers will have drawn inspiration for a "modernized flapper" style from the silent film "The Artist" and Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris" - both nominated for several Academy Awards - and the pending release of director Baz Luhrmann's remake of "The Great Gatsby."
But he cautions this does not mean an immediate return to the dropped waist dresses that defined the 1920s era.
"Many designers really understand the importance of celebrating a woman's shape and clothes that are reflective of her curves are always the most popular," he said. "Women spend a lot of time at the gym ... they want credit for how they look."
Deep shades of green and rich fabrics such as brocades and jacquards are likely runway trends that could draw in customers, said Colleen Sherin, senior fashion director at Saks Fifth Avenue.
"When customers spend their money, they want to feel and see that they are truly getting something for what they paid," she said. "Any form of embellishment or decorative fabrication makes the consumer feel they getting something quite special, that's worth the money they have spent."
Designers were expected to show menswear-inspired tailored jackets sculpted to define a woman's waist and peplum dresses and other styles that show off the waist.
"I'm liking the masculine (inspiration), I like women that have a cool tailored jacket. Definitely I am heading in that direction, but we have a lot of great surprises," said designer Yigal Azrouel, whose collection will be shown on Friday.
But with consumers wary amid a slow U.S. recovery and a jittery global economy, designers are continuing a trend of growing their brands with cheaper collections.
Azrouel opened a first retail shop last week for his lower-end Cut25 label and Jason Wu -- best known for designing first lady Michelle Obama's inaugural ball gown -- released on Sunday a collection for Target with everything priced under $60.
"We're creating future Jason Wu customers," Wu said.
While unemployment dropped to a near three-year low of 8.3 percent and retailers posted a better-than-expected rise in sales for their traditionally slow month of January, retail sales in busy December rose at the weakest pace in seven months and consumer confidence unexpectedly fell in January.
"The consumer has become much more thoughtful in her purchases," said Sherin. "She's thinking about multiple usage, longevity of the garment, quality and that there's value."
When it comes to hemlines, there will be something to suit everyone, said Kibwe Chase Marshall, women's runway and trend editor for trend forecasting firm Stylesight.
"Maxi proportions, as well as the precarious 'midi' length have found footing as staples in ready-to-wear collections. On the horizon, A-line minis -- worn with hosiery -- complete the new length trio, creating myriad options," he said.
David Wolfe, creative director at trend forecasters The Doneger Group, said color would be the driving force at New York Fashion Week with rich jewel tones and bright accents and that the styles were becoming more accessible to women of all shapes.
"It's color that is moving fashion forward," he said.
He added that the sobering economic reality for consumers likely means fewer silly, unwearable trends in the fall collection. "I don't think we're going to have an identifiable look 'Oh God, it's the season of the Eskimo."
Fashion Week in New York is followed by events in London, Paris and Milan.
Editing by Doina Chiacu