Trendy yet practical: Consumers should keep longevity in mind while shopping for fall wardrobes Looking on the BRIGHT SIDE

THE BALTIMORE SUN

IT'S FUN TO KNOW WHAT'S HIP, what's hot, what's new. But what most of us really want to know about fashion is whether that wonderful fuchsia dress that caught our eye in the store window is worth investing in -- or is it going to be out of style by next fall?

And can anything be done with the old winter clothes hanging in our closet so they'll last another season?

We've compiled our fall trend report with an eye to longevity, but in the impulse-driven world of fashion, remember: There are no guarantees.

Who would have thought last fall's catsuit would survive? This all-in-one stretch unitard, which debuted a year ago to much criticism about its impractical construction -- it requires gymnastic ability to get out of in a restroom -- is back again this fall, in greater numbers than ever.

The trapeze dress also lives on. Rejected by many women as an unflattering joke reminiscent of maternity wear, it was purchased in sufficient numbers to encourage designers to send it out again for fall.

One would think it a safe bet that the all-in-one pant/boot launched this fall by Louis Del'Olio of Anne Klein is a one-season wonder. But who can tell?

Overall this fall is a fairly safe season that doesn't call for drastic wardrobe alterations. Hemlines aren't really going anywhere in a hurry -- they're still short -- and just about any color scheme is fair game.

Fall colors: The traditional color barriers have completely broken down this year. Summer brights hang next to jewel tones just over from racks of Easter egg pales.

Black, as always, is the most economic choice. It goes with everything this year and next and requires less dry-cleaning.

But for the past couple of years now and continuing forward, women whowant to make a fashion statement are injecting shots of bright color -- chrome yellow, hot pink, turquoise, pumpkin, whatever flatters most.

The tried but true approach is to invest in a jacket or skirt of interesting hue and wear it with black separates. Newer this fall is to combine similar shades, perhaps a red jacket, pink skirt and orange tights. You can save the most money by confining purchases to a few compatible colors that you can mix back and forth.

Join the clan: Stop by any shopping mall and you can't miss the message. The fashion world is mad about plaid once again. This time the twist is in the use of untraditional colors, such as . . . pastel pink and bright fuchsia. Also in vogue, plenty of houndstooth checks.

Keep in mind that patterns tend to have a shorter fashion life than solids -- think back to the Pucci-inspired prints that saturated the market last year.

If you just have to have that beguiling plaid suit, at least consider whether the pieces are of classic enough cut to be worn separately when the plaid fever begins to drop.

Many of the most sophisticated ensembles mix different size checks, so you might be able to get more mileage out of your patterns by mixing them up.

You might even have a few plaids left over in your wardrobe. If your old kilt happens to be hemmed above the knee, just add a long jacket, tights in a complementary color, matching flats and you've got a fall '91 look.

Jackets required: Once again, the jacket is considered the "must-have" of the season. A long, slightly boxy jacket is the safest new purchase, easily worn with skirts for the office and over leggings on the weekend. The very newest shapes -- with a less predictable future -- are the short, sleek-fitting, zip-front jackets reminiscent of scuba gear and motorcycle jackets, cut not only in basic black leather, but also in such diverse fabrics as gray flannel to gold lame.

The flip side: A short straight skirt remains a classic that will survive many seasons, but a lot more variety can be found this season as the silhouette loosens up via pleats, godets and floaty chiffon fabrics. One of these softer skirts would give a quick update to last year's jackets and tunic sweaters.

Hemlines still hover above the knee, but a drop is predicted for the future. Designers are no longer showing indecent thigh-high lengths on the runway and several are experimenting with longer skirts with front slits. So if in doubt about whether to buy that skirt that feels a little short, don't.

Wearing the pants: Blame it on the mini skirt, but pantsuits are starting to come back in style again. If they flatter your build and your workplace permits, they're worth the investment, especially they can be worn separately.

Those leggings and slim cut pants of seasons past can definitely hauled out once again, perhaps paired with a new colored jacket. While the super trendy in the streets of Milan are wearing the very wide pants, it's not a widespread import yet.

The shorts story: Who would have thought shorts would become so acceptable in the workplace. When they were first introduced a couple of years ago, they were labeled a fashion folly. This fall they're in nearly every store and make a rather playful look for evenings on the town. Their future is anyone's guess.

Turning Forties: A feeling for the '40s is starting to float through the air and a revival of the waist is forecast. If your waist is an asset, one of the new dresses or jackets that fit through the bodice and flare below the waist might well be worth the money. But there's still plenty of '60s styling around -- trapeze dresses, poorboy turtlenecks, hot pants and oversized zipper trim.

Going for cover: Coats continue to swing in full shapes, but renewed interest in the waist is bringing with it an avalanche of trench coats and princess styles. Last year's hooded anorak still looks current, but if you're looking for something fresh for the weekend -- it's the restyled peacoat.

Understatements: Evening wear is looking a lot more like lingerie these days. Minimalist slip dresses continue to dominate the party circuit and designers are making use of plenty of sheer fabrics and lace trims for the holidays. The sequined fabrics and metallic laces of seasons past are still stylish, but evening suits are changing and softening up with chiffon skirts.

The chain gang: A wise selection of accessories in any season can give new life to outdated garments. This season's instant updaters are the heavy gold chain with pendant and the baseball cap. The market has been too saturated with the latter, however, to ensure indefinite fashion longevity.

Pearls, on the other hand, keep coming back season after season. This fall they're oversized and often colored, but even the classic size remain stylish, especially worn with chunky chain-link belts, bracelets and necklaces.

Fancy footwork: With the continuation of short hemlines, the focus remains on legwear and footwear. Distinctive hosiery is an inexpensive way to freshen tired clothes, as are brightly colored suede shoes and boots chosen in a shade that works with a number of different outfits.

Over-the-knee boots are the latest word for those with the lifestyle and pocketbook. Cropped boots, however, are a more practical if less dramatic fashion choice.

Clockwise from left. Bootees by Jazz and flats by Liz Claiborne. Both at area department stores. Plaid suit by Mr. Jax from the line at John Sims and Miller Brothers. Trench coat and pink jacket from the A Line by Anne Klein collection at select Macy's stores and Saks Fifth Avenue. Print shirt at Express stores. Sketches from the Donna Karan line available at Ruth Shaw and Saks Fifth Avenue.

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