NOTE: The following article originally appeared in the Thursday, Jan. 1, 1976, edition of the Albany Democrat-Herald.
"It's about the same as women's buying," says Mike Merrifield.
But not really.
Merrifield agrees buying women's fashions for retail sale is different in many respects than buying clothes to sell at retail to men.
Merrifield, manager of the Gay Blade, 2536 SE Santiam Hwy., says, "Buying for men is more stable. You don't have so many styles and trends to contend with."
And women don't have to buy so far in advance; women's fashions change faster than you can say mini- or maxi- or midi-.
And, too, women have several markets which they buy from at regular intervals.
Men's stores usually have two big markets a year, fall and spring, and fill in the interim with visits from traveling salesmen.
Merrifield, as one of 13 Gay Blade managers in Oregon, says he does his own buying in two seasons, either in Seattle or Portland, and sometimes in San Francisco. The biggest is fall-winter, which is ordered six to eight months in advance.
Merrifield says he goes to as many shows as he can. Collectively, the 13 managers go to 13 shows.
The way it works is this: Merrifield goes to the market held at, say, the Benson Hotel in Portland. He sees various styles in suits, shirts and sports clothes. There also are abundant swatches of material for him to choose from. Merrifield decides what he wants — and needs — and places an order against what the manufacturer has available. The order is recorded and from there it's mostly a matter of cutting, sewing and shipping the goods to Merrifield at his Gay Blade.
Merrifield says he buys many of a kind of just one thing, and buys from the major resources. In addition, salesmen also come to his Albany store, peddling everything from belts to undershirts.
At The Blaine Clothing Co., 224 W. First Ave., Max Rohrbough can remember when the sales would come by train, lugging huge trunks behind them.
"Now, many have motor homes and they bring it up to the curb and you go out and look it over."
Rohrbough and Lester Dye own the Blain, which celebrated its 110th birthday in 1975.
Rohrbough also places phone orders and generally goes to the fall show in April.
"Buying clothes varies from season to season. At the shows we go to look, to see what suits us in the middle of the Willamette Valley. We want to see what's new and the trends, but we're not faddish. We're a family-type store with clothes for boys, young men, all ages of men's clothing," Rohrbough says.
When salesmen come in, they usually bring a garment of everything they make and The Blain then buys from swatches, he says. In regular men's clothing, they try to keep their purchases down to three or four of one item.
"This is a comparatively small community and we don't want people walking around with similar clothes, or running into one another at the Elks Club dressed alike," Rohrbough says.
According to Rohrbough, the biggest change in men's fashions over the years has been in fabrics, and the introduction of so many new ones, such as double-knit.
As for style, he doesn't see any major changes over the next year or two, except that leisure suits should remain strong.
Elmer Kyle, owner of Phil Small Store for Men, 238 W. First Ave., uses both markets and traveling salesmen for his trade. He usually buys four or five different lines, all the while trying to anticipate requirements.
"You buy in October for what you need in the summer, and you buy in February for what will need next Christmas. Then you hope it will be delivered on time," Kyle says.
He especially enjoys the markets because of the interchange of ideas.
"Half the benefit of the market is talking to other Northwest buyers. You talk of trends or lines, and even if you don't spend a nickel it's worth it."
As for trends in men's clothing, Kyle wishes he had a crystal ball.
"Of course I'm concerned with fashion changes, but I don't go in for fads. Fashion is something that's around for a season or two. Fads are day-to-day," he says.
In demand right now are the leisure suits, and Kyle sees no near end in sight to their popularity. He also sees a return to the very classic look, such as suits with vests. More houndstooth clothes are being reintroduced.
Merrifield and Rohrbough agree with Kyle that men's clothing is becoming more conservative after the flamboyant period period of the 1960s and early '70s.
"The vested look is coming back strong. There was a lull in men's clothing, in sports coats especially and in suits, but not any more. Now the very classic look in suits is back, and I've even been getting calls for pinstripe suits," Merrifield says.
Ivan Smith, who with his father, Bert, owns and operates the Men's Suit Center, 410 W. Second Ave., agrees vested suits are "very, very popular."
He also thinks "leisure suits will be here for at least eight years, but they will be more tailored. People are looking for good value today, they're tired of not getting value, such as with the unstructured leisure suits.
"They are tired of 'dirty look' styles and are going for more dressy looks. he muted plaids are very much in style and people also are looking more for wools," Smith says.
His business, just one year old and expanded into new quarters last month, calls for market buying. But Smith conducts much of his business on the phone, talking "constantly" with factories throughout the country.
"They call and describe something they are building, and if it sounds interesting, I'll send for it. They pretty much know my taste, and I also have the option of sending it back on arrival or keeping it four months and then returning it."
Smith primarily carries dress clothes, mostly suits and especially leisure suits. He runs a budget-type operation and is "always looking at price. I always buy whenever the price is right."
Where does Oregon's fashion influence come from?
Just as men's styles differ, so, too, do the opinions of fashion buyers.
Merrifield thinks California is the most influential of all markets.
Rohrbough agrees that California styles have a great deal of influence here, but he thinks the European markets and New York's Seventh Avenue are strong leaders, too.
Smith says, "The European influence is most influential."
Kyle has a different idea: "The biggest fashion influence comes not from California or Europe, but from television. Everything is instantaneous, nationwide. There is no more living in the sticks. TV has made people very aware. They see an entertainer who has specially made costumes and clothes and who has a different look, and they come in and want to buy it."
The way the business goes — catering to the capricious whims of the male public — those TV costumes could become the craze of the future.