SHOW YOUR STRIPES The straight and narrow works for both sexes

Fashion goes on-line for fall.

"Pinstripes are the most important element of the entire menswear trend," says Christine Gentry, fashion spokeswoman for Bloomingdale's branch stores. Stripes surface in dresses, vests, jackets, skirts and pants, ranging from classic looks by Calvin Klein to whimsical fanfare from Nicole Miller.


"Everyone's doing pinstripes this fall. I guess we all watched 'Bugsy,'" says Ms. Miller, who tosses tulle under her peplum jackets and short flippy skirts for panache.

For many fashion folks, the appeal of parallel design is simplicity: "Pinstripes are clean, crisp and refreshing," Gordon Henderson says.


Or, reading between the lines, designer Tom Platt sees a subtle security in striped menswear suitings. "Men's clothing typically lasts a long time and are considered investment pieces," he says. "Pinstripes connote a certain enduring quality."

Unlike the early '80s, when menswear looks for women were merely carbon copies of what the guys wore, pinstripes in the '90s strike a note of decided sensuality. Forget that dumb floppy bow tie and slip into a lacy bodysuit or sheer organza blouse, advises Gina Tovar, fashion director at Nordstrom in Oak Brook.

Some silhouettes, such as Mr. Henderson's bustier and long slit skirt or halter dresses from Donna Karan, have built-in sexuality. "But even more traditional suits are cut in hourglass shapes for a new twist of feminity," says Rebecca Hitchcock, fashion office manager at Marshall Field & Co.

And, if you're not in the mood for glamour, take that pinstriped jacket to a different dimension with casual winter white trousers and white buck shoes. For a dandy touch, add a fedora, fob watch and walking stick. Mr. Henderson likes an energizing jolt of color, such as a turquoise blouse with navy stripes.

Stripes are easy to push around because of their paradoxical role in fashion.

In England, pinstripes are considered quite proper, however. Americans sometimes perceive the pattern as flashy because it became popular here during Prohibition and evokes the gangster era of Al Capone, according to Harold Koda, museum director at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. "Pinstripes, especially those with a very high pattern, are contrary to the puritanical qualities that up to now have dominated mainstream American fashion," Mr. Koda says.

Today's stripes run the gamut from subtle to showy. The most common combination is charcoal gray and white, but there are stripes on navy, black and neutral fabric. Carolina Herrera adds a little night glamour by running gold metallic threads through her tuxedo-inspired designs.

Pinstripes have even edged their way into evening wear. Tom and Linda Platt add white lace embroidery to striped satin wool party dresses, and Ralph Lauren uses sequins to create a pinstripe illusion on gray chiffon evening pants.


"American designers have a reputation for creating fashion tension by taking things out of context and presenting them in an unexpected way," adds Mr. Koda, noting that Mainbocher, an American designer in the '30s, created ball gowns from cotton gingham. "Europeans would never do that."