Hemlines may be diving, but 'long' is likely to coexist with other styles

Expect to see more long skirts around this summer, especially soft and floaty ones.

Look forward to even more long clothes next fall, probably skinny, stretchy, ankle-grazing types.


But don't look for all hemlines to come crashing down, for longer lengths to dominate the fashion scene, for women to toss out everything they own for the sake of being in fashion with long skirts.

"There will never again be a 1947," says Nordstrom's corporate fashion director, Sarah Davies, referring to Christian Dior's revolutionary "New Look" that caused skirts to plunge almost overnight. "And there will never be a John T. Molloy issuing an edict to women," she continues passionately, in reference to the author's "Dress for Success" books that put millions of working women in floppy bow ties and nondescript suits.


Ms. Davies echoes the sentiments of major fashion mavens across the country: coexistence.

"Most designers are not going to go totally long. They'll offer short, pants, long," says Neiman Marcus senior vice president and fashion director Joan Kaner.

"When designers show their collections [for fall], there'll be more interest in long. But long will not out-date short, and long will not be the overriding message," forecasts Kal Ruttenstein, Bloomingdale's senior vice president-fashion direction.

"Long is not really significant for spring. Long will happen, but it will not happen alone. It will happen in conjunction with things we already have," says Joan Weinstein, president of Ultimo.

And so it goes from Saks Fifth Avenue, Henri Bendel, Marshall Field's and assorted designers whose favorite word to describe both current and coming fashion is "options."

What they are seeing now is an interest in and a testing of longer skirts by women who want to be first with something new, "by women who are just as tired of short skirts as designers are," says Bloomingdale's Mr. Ruttenstein.

Based on sales of early spring shipments and orders taken during trunk shows, there are two distinct silhouettes that are favorites of the fashion forward:

* Long and full, filmy, transparent, floaty and often showing a flash of leg by way of side slits or button fronts, specifically at Calvin Klein, as well as DKNY.


* Long and skinny, stretchy, body-hugging and often showing a flash of leg via slits or button fronts, backwraps or sidewraps, specifically at Chanel (whose designer Karl Lagerfeld is the major-domo of the long skirt), as well as at Isaac Mizrahi, Azzedine Alaia, DKNY, Tapemeasure and Lagerfeld's own line.

The consensus of these fashion retailing executives is that filmy/floaty will be more popular for summer because it is easy to wear, casual-looking and logical with bare legs and sandals. But skinny/stretchy is the more forward look, the one being grabbed by young women with long legs and great bodies -- in other words, the same type of women who grabbed up the first of the short-short skirts in the late '80s.

Whether these new long looks will show up in the workplace is a moot question.

Most adamant is Mary Hughes, vice president and general merchandise manager of fine apparel for Dayton's, Hudson's and Marshall Field's, who says, "Long is absolutely not for the workplace. The only place I see long is part of the romantic or vintage trend -- soft, full, pretty dresses. But long for the sake of long is not important at all."

Designer Geoffrey Beene puts it another way: "In a modern society, I cannot imagine anything more illogical than long for day."