By Michelle Nichols
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The future of spring/summer fashion is looking bright -- fluorescent, neon bright.
Designers showing collections at New York Fashion Week, which starts on Thursday, will likely feature bright colors including neon pinks, greens and yellows and polished yet casual styles, say top U.S. department store buyers.
"Dressing up is the new cool, dressing down is old school," said Neiman Marcus Fashion Director Ken Downing.
Almost 100 designers are due to show collections for spring/summer 2012 to retail buyers, media and celebrities during New York Fashion Week, with dozens more showing at other venues around the city to coincide with the semi-annual event.
Amid fears that the United States could slip back into recession, department stores want to see fashion for the warmer months that will excite and entice consumers to spend when the collections hit the shops early next year.
"Designers are thinking about what does the customer not have and what ultimately will do well at retail, and customers respond to color," Downing said of what he expected to see at New York Fashion Week.
"I'm loving that contrast of neon, fluorescent color on top of bold, bright color," Downing said. "I hope that we do see more of it ... this accent of neon has a real newness."
While the U.S. economic recovery is wavering and consumer confidence wallows at a two-year low, people are still buying clothes. High-end department stores have earned the largest gains in sales and U.S. retail sales posted the biggest increase in four months in July.
Buyers from Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom are also expecting to see a sportswear influence on the New York runways. But Gregg Andrews, a Nordstrom fashion director, said that sportswear doesn't mean sweat pants and T-shirts.
"It really just means separates. It means separates that can be mixed and matched together," Andrews said. "Women no longer have separate wardrobes. ... They want pieces that do multiple things in their lives."
"We definitely think the whole idea of minimalism is going to continue with very clean streamlined pieces," he said.
Saks Senior Fashion Director Colleen Sherin said she was calling the sportswear trend "urban sport."
"It's this idea of clothes that fit a woman's more casual lifestyle, more active lifestyle, but that are still appropriate in an urban environment for city wear," she said.
When it comes to lengths, Sherin said there does not appear to be one "right length" and she said collections could have everything from mini to maxi lengths.
Runway looks will be "clean, sleek and modern," said Fashion expert Jill Martin, author of "I Have Nothing to Wear!"
"Designers are concentrating on the details of their lines to show the importance of cut as well as color and print," she said. "You'll see subtle hues, neutrals, earthy tones, and monochromatic looks with accents of vibrant colors."
Fashion Week in New York is followed by events in London, Paris and Milan.
(Editing by Mark Egan and Will Dunham)