SPRINGTIME LINEUP As harsh winter yields to gentle breezes and warm sun, fashion flows to softness

The winds of change this spring are gentle flutters, but strong enough to rustle up enthusiasm for something new and fresh. The looks are pretty, and pretty sexy, even the suits that have been cloned from a banker's closet.

It's a reassuring shopping climate -- much that says new without screaming fashion victim. Women have become knowledgeable and comfortable about their fashion sense and they are not about to be lured by gimmicks. They have shortened their skirts and like the leggy freedom. They work hard at their wardrobes and are not ready to retire favorite things, but a new dress or suit is an undeniable tonic.


The new clothes move to softness -- in the bias flow of a skirt, a rounder hug of a jacket or a gathered, flowing sleeve.

Colors are fruity and bright when they're not black or white or navy.


And the women who occasionally love a fashion spoof will find plenty of flounces, frills and crinolines to liven up an evening.

The options look good.


Most designers trotted out some long skirts for the spring collections. Among the best were narrow columns hovering somewhere above the ankle and slashed or unbuttoned to reveal lots of leg. If the world's leanest, tallest models couldn't keep them from looking a tad dowdy, there's work ahead for the rest of us. The woman who wants to be ahead of the fashion pack can find a long look mixed in with the short skirts that prevail in the stores, but it will take another season for the eye to adjust. The new fuller pants can be a first step toward a covered leg.


The wide belt is seen everywhere in patent, saddle leather, gold kid or self fabric. It's a '50s spin that recalls feminity as diverse as Lucille Ball and Marilyn Monroe. Picture Lucy in a shirtwaist with turned-up collar, petticoat skirt and nipped waist. Marilyn accentuated the figure with a tight sweater cinched into a circle skirt. It works the same way today -- a full top and bottom belted tight or a spare top linked to a frisky, ballerina bottom.

Mambo lessons

Ruffles have taken a bad rap far too long. They're back and they're fun after years of clinging, stretch tanks. We can thank America's growing Hispanic population for this tropical punch. Michael Kors runs them in triple-tiered checks. Oscar de la Renta, the Dominican Republic's favorite son, celebrates ruffles in multiples, rippling around bare shoulders and bordering a front-slashed samba dress. It's a look that will capture the young dance club crowd this summer. And who knows, mummy may brave a flounce or two and dust of the cha-cha record from the honeymoon cruise.


Dames at sea

They call it navy blue, and it's a spring perennial. Ralph Lauren continues the best of the maritime tradition with his brass-buttoned blazers fitted to the waist and shown with a narrow mid-calf skirts or a fuller pant -- sophisticated and sleek. His breezy dresses with middie collars and contrast piping are young but knowing. Nautical inspirations run through many lines and at all price points. The look is classic and unsinkable because it works and is as easy to achieve as pairing a snug navy T-shirt with clean-cut white pants.

Marching orders

It's a small revolution but worth noting. Ralph Lauren and Oscar de la Renta are copying military tailors. Lauren runs a long drill of brass on a side-buttoned military dress parade jacket. De la Renta's tropical dictator suit is decorated with a cluster of showy faux medals. Uniforms do have an appeal.

The strong suit

Menswear has never looked so seductive. Ralph Lauren does exact copies of men's suits complete with dress shirts, ties and suspenders. He feminizes some with sheer, flared skirts and transparent organdy shirts. Donna Karan's navy pinstripe suits hint at a waist and are softened with pearls or shown with a man-tailored shirt unbuttoned to reveal a sexy, lace bra.


This Bugsy Siegel shops Victoria's secret look is fun but too brazen even for corporate raiders. Yet it's a look that can be adapted by today's working woman by substituting a lacy camisole for the bra, buttoning up a good white shirt or filling the neckline with a silky scarf. This is a smart time for women to shop retailers who specialize in career clothes. Look for suits in year-round fabrics and deeper colors that may be worn into fall.

Checks and balances

Old prints never die. Everyone has gone ga-ga for gingham and no wonder. It can be treated as sweetly as a pinafore or as racy as a push-up bra. The checks are seen from designer to dime store and are the summer signals of '92. Bleeding Madras plaids are also being resurrected but cut full and pretty and looking not at all like the Bermuda shorts favored by old Ivy Leaguers.

Western trails

Cowboy chic does best when it's reined in and kept to accessories. A western belt, a tooled leather sandal or some silver and turquoise jewelry are just enough touch of sagebrush for casual wear. Yet a flowing prairie skirt seems like a great summer alternative for weekend evenings.

The frostings


The bra has triumphed. The truly tasteful folks snickered when Madonna exposed her underwear. No more. The bustier is now as much of a wardrobe staple as a good black dress. The young flaunt it with bouncy little skirts or jeans; the mature use it as the anchor under sheer tops or plunging jackets.

Gold is still a good investment. Look for it in strappy sandals, belts and bags.

The high heel is making a mark. The women who have been living in flats may have to take an old pair out for a test drive if they want to be on the tottering edge of fashion.