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The Choice Is Yours Stylish Options Abound for Spring

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Remember when women were ashamed to wear the same outfit twice and each season called for a new wardrobe? No longer. Today, women are proud of their ability to choose quality fashions that will last a number of years and can be updated with a new blouse or a stylish scarf.

Women are demanding flexible, long-lasting styles that can keep pace with their busy lifestyles.

"Women's priorities have changed in the '90s," says Eileen Abato, a Baltimore-based retail fashion consultant. "We're investing in stocks, bonds, travel or whatever and looking more toward the future. We're not just spending our money on our backs anymore."

And designers, anxious to lure women into their markets, are responding by offering plenty of combinations and options. As a matter of fact, that's the key word for fashion this spring -- options -- as styles run the gamut from ankle-length, billowy chiffon skirts to short, body-skimming nothings.

But, with all these wonderful choices come decisions. Which length, which colors and fabrics, which silhouettes are best? For help with these decisions, we turned to some of Baltimore's most stylish women to hear their ideas about fashion, find out what they are choosing from this spring's myriad of fashion options, what they are planning to wear again from last year's wardrobe.

Meadow Lark Washington, a Baltimore psychotherapist, says she's looking for more quality this spring, less quantity. "I'm watching what I spend and I want durable styles that have more than one purpose," she says.

"Women are buying more pieces, rather than whole wardrobes this year, so they are looking for items with pizazz to add a twist to their classic clothes," says Sally Wolf, owner of the Sally Wolf specialty store in Pikesville. "I never thought I'd like the Lurex tanks and T-shirts, but they really sparkle underneath an ordinary suit."

Ms. Wolf also likes Equipment silk shirts, in hot solids or checks, and she plans on buying basic pieces in classic colors such as black, navy or olive green. "I love olive green," she says. "Sometimes I look like the Jolly Green Giant!"

While several big-name designers are touting longer lengths for spring, most of the women we spoke with prefer the look of shorter styles; and let's face it, most of us have just finished having all our skirts and dresses shortened. Several, however, will include a longer skirt or two for a flowing, cool look as the weather warms up.

"I'll probably add a long, see-through chiffon shirt this spring," says Lola Jones, owner of the hair salon Lola Inc., in Mount Washington. "It will still give the illusion of being short, which is a better proportion for me because I'm short."

Elaine Suls, dress buyer at John Sims, likes the look of the long, full shirtwaists that have once again returned to fashion. "This year, women can wear the long, almost ankle-length, shirtwaists with a wide belt and unbuttoned to show a pair of crisp, cotton shorts," she says. "Both Donna Karan and Ralph Lauren are showing this new style in soft fabrics and denim."

Ms. Washington says she will probably add a little length to her spring wardrobe with a sarong skirt from Donna Karan's Resort line. "The sarong gives the illusion of showing some leg while having some length," she says. "I'm 5 feet 4, so short is better, and my preference is shorter styles, but sometimes a longer skirt is cooler and more comfortable."

Vicki Mabrey, a reporter for WBAL-TV, also prefers short styles, but says, "I have a long, full, Roland Park-Ruxton-type skirt that I love and that I'll wear again this season."

Many of those interviewed mentioned updating old favorites for evening by adding a touch of lingerie, such as a camisole beneath a jacket.

"I think more women will be showing their bosoms this year, especially wearing bustiers with jackets," says Ms. Mabrey, who loves to shop in the back room at Loehmann's in Timonium, Benetton and Jones and Jones at Cross Keys, Macy's and vintage clothing stores. "I wish I could wear something daring like that, but I must have tried on 30 bustiers and couldn't bring myself to buy one."

Many women share Ms. Mabrey's hesitancy, so don't look for extreme lingerie touches this spring. "I don't think we'll see the Madonna-type bustier and girdle look," says Ms. Abato.

But, Ms. Mabrey's tall, slim looks are perfect for the black lace catsuit she plans to wear with a sheer ballet skirt to her "big, blowout" birthday party in April. "I'm 36 and I don't worry about people knowing my age, because I just love my birthday party every year."

For special evenings out, Ms. Suls is going to add a fitted silk dinner dress that she can wear with a long, fingertip jacket in a bright yellow or fuchsia.

Ms. Washington has bought a simple Isaac Mizrahi dinner dress in yellow linen and a white cotton shirt with a cutout back for festive occasions. For casual dinners, she says she may wear a short, gingham Mizrahi dress with a set-in waist and a full skirt for a cool '50s look.

For on the job, most of the women we talked with prefer well-cut suits, pants and simple dresses that are comfortable and compatible with their work.

"I'm an interior designer and I don't want to compete with the fabric samples I show so I prefer classic styles and monochromatic looks in black, white, beige or reds," says Diane Weiss, of the Louis Mazor firm. "But I probably will add some navy this year, maybe a soft, fluid '30s- or '40s-type dress, because I think it's an important color this spring. I'll also probably buy another blazer in either a pale or a vibrant yellow."

Gail Kaplan, a principal with Classic Catering People, also sticks with conservative blazers and short skirts. "I need to look fashionable, but I don't want to compete with my clients," she says.

Ms. Kaplan often wears black for work, but this season she'll probably add a long navy blazer to go with a Donna Karan navy knit dress that she bought last year, and a big, white cotton or silk shirt. "Everybody needs at least one big, white shirt," she says.

"I think the white T-shirt is going to be even more popular this year, but it's just not a good style for me," says the diminutive Ms. Kaplan. "For more casual days, I may wear a khaki skirt with a lime green blouse. In general, I have to stay away from the popular earth tones because of my dark complexion."

"My first and foremost concern is to be comfortable," says Marsha Becker, a public relations executive who likes to shop at Ruth Shaw. "I wear a lot of rompers [short, fitted dresses that button up the front] with long jackets. I also bought a navy suit with a third piece, a pair of pants, because I think navy is a good investment color."

As Ms. Becker has discovered, pants are once again becoming a basic piece for many working women. And again, choice is the reigning word: Pants may be soft, flowing and feminine or baggy and pleated for a more masculine look. The shorts suit, which has been around for a few seasons, is also picking up more supporters because it's comfortable and easy to wear.

"I have a Katharine Hepburn-type look and I love baggy pants with an Isaac Mizrahi crunch turtleneck or a good, simple blouse with interesting collar details," says Ms. Weiss, who likes to shop at Ruth Shaw, Nan Duskin and Saks Fifth Avenue, and sometimes buys from the catalogs of New York stores. She finds pants a good choice in her work because she bends over a lot while showing samples.

Ms. Abato, who travels a great deal in her work, prefers easy pieces for on the job and is planning to buy a pair of soft, flowing pants in a check or dot print that she can wear with a wrap top. And, if she decides to buy a suit this year, it will most likely be one with a long jacket and a pair of walking shorts in a bright color, perhaps purple.

While the great diversity available this spring might seem daunting at first, the good news is that whatever you choose to wear -- long or short, romantic or masculine, denim or gingham -- rest assured, it's probably in style.

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