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The Net Effect Romance returns, wrapped in diaphanous tulle


Summer nights are made for romance, and their special quality has been celebrated by bards and artists. "A Midsummer Night's Dream" is populated by fey creatures who float and flit through one romantic evening. Now fashion, which floats and flits from season to season, has taken a balletic turn. Karl Lagerfeld, the Kaiser of European fashion, borrows from the ballerinas and whips layers of diaphanous tulle into party dresses. Isn't that just too tutu? Evening dressing is going through a transformation from earthy to ethereal.

That's the message for the woman who stays on her toes when it comes to trends. Body-hugging party clothes which look like a dressed-up swim suit may have to be retired to the wings. We're at a turning point. Tulle netting was used in underskirts to give last year's dresses that extra pouf. Now tulle holds up on its own.

"We're seeing a return to romantic. The long, full and sweet look has really emerged," says Carolyn Moss, associate fashion director for Macy's East. "It takes a very sophisticated person to wear tulle and step out in it now. When the look came out of Europe we had already placed the spring lines, but it will probably go strong for fall."

Yet there are many other pretty ways to celebrate this summer.

"Two-piece dresses are making a comeback, often with lace and beading at the top," says Ms. Moss. "Beading may feel a little much on the hanger but it's an airy look on the body. Bareness is still one of the summer party essentials -- anything with an open back or cut-away shoulder, but much more subtle than the strapless cleavage of past seasons."

That doesn't mean the bustier has fizzled. Ms. Moss suggests integrating it into a flexible party wardrobe. "Separates are the way to go, because some of them can be worn 12 months of the year with a new piece being added now and then. Any piece that can be worn under a jacket is an investment."

But don't think of jackets in tailored terms. The new ones can be as revealing as a small lace bolero or nearly transparent in a shirt shape. They can be worn alone or topping a short, curvy dress.

Short still has a party life of its own but depends on a reassessment of accessories. Shoulder-duster earrings are looking a little dragged out these days. A smaller, refined earring may be the way to revive an outfit. A flowing silk dress may need nothing more than beautiful bangles to draw the eye.

Shoes, too, are changing proportions. What's wanted now is as high a heel as you can stand with as much bareness as comfort allows. And high heels are perfect for a party because they concentrate body weight on the toes -- just right for dancing.

"The most important thing I tell a customer is to blend the shoe with the bottom of the dress," says Diane Lee of Octavia at Cross Keys. "If the shoe is too highly contrasted, the eye goes to the feet rather than the woman. A party look should flow from top to bottom. Pretty hair, jewelry. The worst mistake would be to wear a black dress with red or white shoes. Too much contrast.

"The very bare sandal in gold is big this summer, but remember that the gold has to be picked up in the dress or accessories to achieve a flow."

Ms. Lee also sees a continuing loyalty to short dresses. "They still want short in stretch dresses with beading or chiffon. Come fall, women will be ready for a longer flowing line."

For less formal summer occasions, there are soft pants in the sheerest silk crepe that beg to be dressed up. "A sheer organza top would look new and special," says Ms. Lee. "Some of the prettiest tops I've seen are of the palest pastel prints overlaid with sequins."

Even the color story has softened this summer. The hottest way to catch the eye is with tints of the palest pastels. Think of the colors in mother-of-pearl -- watery, soothing and flattering.

"There are so many variables in shades of fuchsia, rose and ivory," says Ms. Moss. "People love and appreciate color. At a black-tie affair, in a sea of little black dresses, color makes an impact."

Absence of color makes an impact, too. The most beautiful jewels of the season are transparent. Ropes of crystals and rich, carved Lucite pick up and reflect companion colors -- a clearly luxurious effect.

C7 There is always black and white. Clean and classic.

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