It's often a very subtle detail. It might just be the shade of your stockings or the shape of your earrings, but even a slight misstep in your choice of accessories can outdate your fall ensemble.
Choose one of the most current accessories -- a pair of opaque hose or shoulder-dusting earrings -- and, suddenly, even last year's threads can take on new life.
Ethnic, sporty and '60s themes are among the greatest influences on accessories this season, and they often overlap for the most subtle result.
Dangling earrings, velvettights and tapestry fabricsare part of the ethnic,Eastern Europe di-rection fueled in part by the folkloric collections of Emanuel Ungaro, Yves Saint Laurent, Romeo Gigli and Oscar de la Renta.
Cropped boot shoes are the essential finishing touch to the slew of sporty stirrup pants and parkas flooding the market, inspired perhaps by L. L. Bean, but elaborated upon this fall by designers around the world.
Over-the-knee boots and psychedelic stockings are just a few of the flashes back to the '60s when miniskirts last put the legs so blatantly on display.
Drop earrings, especially those that fall to the shoulder, probably best define the fall '90 accessory season, especially for evening dressing.
The younger customers prefer multiple strands, while the more conservative are opting for understated strings with just a few small gold beads or tiny pearls.
Pendant drop necklaces on black leather ropes are also top sellers. "We've been carrying them for ages, but this month they've really taken off," says Michelle Melvin, assistant manager at Contempo Casual in the Gallery at Harborplace where amulet necklaces are most popular hanging with crosses, crystal or small glass bottles of bubbles.
Femme in Brown's Arcade is carrying pendants that are replicas of Egyptian kohl bottles with tops that unscrew to accommodate perfume.
Silver jewelry will always have its fans, but brushed or dull gold is considered most stylish for fall. Especially popular at Femme are brushed gold hoops and astrologically inspired jewelry that features moons and stars.
"For fashion watches, a really great look is one with a very large, oversized face," says Nancy Chistolini, vice president of fashion merchandising for Hecht's.
"The bootie classification is on fire because of all the stirrupants that require that kind of shoe," says Michael Azzolini, buyer for Hess Shoes.
The boots run the gamut from cowboy boots cropped above the ankle to above-the-knee boots to pair with miniskirts for the desirable leggy, monochromatic look. The high boot has proved so popular at Hess that it's already on reorder.
Somewhere in between are riding boots, a classic, but very stylish look that Joan Thomas, assistant general manager of merchandising at Saks Fifth Avenue, says has replaced the side-zipped boot of yesteryear.
The high life
In pumps, heels are getting just slightly higher, says Mr. Azzolini, and "more elegant, ladylike, feminine."
While pumps have been "choking up" or covering more and more of the foot over the past couple of years, the newest ones tend to be slightly more "shelled out."
Some of the most influential details, he says, are sling backs, pleated fabrics and the use of Lucite and velvet.
Suede, says Ms. Chistolini, is prevalent in both boots and vTC pumps, appearing in an expanding range of colors, from brown to gold to purple.
Getting a leg up
Legs are the major focus for accessories for fall as hemlines remain above the knee, which means an explosion not only in boots, but also in hosiery.
"Opaque stockings or tights are more important than ever," says Chistolini. This season the selection includes not only black, but also shades of brown, gold, forest green and navy that match the shoes and wild cards such as purple, red, gold and silver.
Ms. Thomas says that some of Donna Karan's newest textured stockings, described as "velvet melange," do not even come in black this time, just a variety of neutral shadings such as ivory.
Some of the thickest opaque stockings can sometimes be used in place of leggings.
Brown about town
Ecological shades tend to be the favorite new color, in shoes and handbags, although black remains No. 1, says Mr. Azzolini. No. 2, "are brown shades of rusts and cognac and No. 3 are the khakis and then purple and eggplants, which are doing very well," he says.
A bright color shoe such as a red or purple works well with the ubiquitous black stirrup pants that are often paired with a bright colored sweater, says Bob Hammann of Collections in Kenilworth Park.
No one handbag shape stands out, but pouches and hobo bags are reappearing. The small, structured bags remain popular, sometimes accompanied by oversized leather totes.
At the Express stores (formerly the Limited Express), they're having success around the country with cotton French country tote bags that feature the Express brand graphics and also their leather backpacks.
The folkloric influence is evident at Collections in tapestry bags, bags made of leather collages and items trimmed with fringe applique.
It's a cinch
"The wider the better," says Ms. Matthai of fall belts. In addition to wide suede belts, she's carrying metal belts with dangling tassels and charms.
A new option to the 4-inch suede belt with gold buckle, says Ms. Thomas, "is what Donna Karan did a lot with her unitards -- the contour belt with a covered buckle. It's more comfortable because it's smaller at the back and it looks even newer."
All wrapped up
Scarves remain influential, if slightly less so than last year. At Trillium in Greenspring Station, buyer Peggy Strott says, "We think the fun piece of the season is the ethnic challis scarf with dyed fringe from Oscar de la Renta. You hang it around the neck in front in a V and wrap the fringe behind and come back around."
She also carries oversized scarves in Russian prints that can be wrapped around bare shoulders.
At the Express stores, washed silk scarves are recommended as a stylish finishing touch.