Fall shows up in Costume More costume than drama, fashion heads into the past


American designers who showed their fall collections in New York last week have decided to add a -- of romance to the lives of modern American women. The clothes on the covers of those bodice-ripper historic romance novels are part of the daytime suit look.

The difference now is that it is the hero's wardrobe that has been interpreted for today's woman, who is too busy to swoon about in hoop skirts. Designers give us handsome cavalry jackets and riding pants, lordly hunting coats, arrogant naval officer collars, billowing buccaneer blouses and even knight-in-armor suits.

The distaff thread through collections is woven from medieval legends and epic love stories with long, flowing princess dresses, richly textured and embroidered cloaks, languid, exaggerated sleeves and high-waisted narrow Empire shifts.

The woman who is keen on keeping up with fashion would do well to settle in with videos of "Doctor HD," "War and Peace," "Camelot," any of the Robin Hoods or bits of any BBC costume series to get a sense of the fashion picture for fall.

To atone for occasional sins of excess, some designers introduced garb that was religiously inspired -- black priestly cassocks, hooded monks' robes and black cloister dresses with immaculate white collars and cuffs.

On the runways, with models wearing attitudes and hairstyles to match, fall's clothes can look stagy and costumey. But when taken apart and considered separately, the collections provide many flattering and exciting new ideas to integrate into a realistic wardrobe.

The shape of things

Jackets are still key to a workable wardrobe. The new silhouette is small in the shoulder (no padding to speak of), close to the waist and slightly flared to fingertip length over the hips. The freshest forms of the jacket take to dandified cuffs and collars and rich braided or velvet trims.

Jackets in military trim have spiff and polish that the old blue blazer lost long ago. Coats inspired by generals lead the winter advance. They're the maxi-coats of the '70s with more extravagant trims of fake fur and braid.

Pants were shown cut as narrow as leggings, or flared wide and cuffed at the hem. Designers have edited and refined the bell shape for winter in rich wools and leathers, and the hippie fright factor is gone.

Skirts are long, narrow and knit or flared into a trumpet shape. But don't give up on short altogether; the few that were seen in the endless long parade looked new and fresh and received scattered applause.

The newest length

The hottest news in length -- long, extra-long and too long -- is in sleeves. Begin practicing now to break that nasty habit of pushing up the sleeves, because naked hands and wrists have become fashionably incorrect. Hands were in hiding on New York runways. With dandy and military jackets, soft white flounces droop to cover the hand to the fingertips. In crisper shirt versions, French cuffs are unbuttoned and allowed to flap freely. Young fashion victims in New York already have a handle on this trend. And we thought they had lost their buttons.

Dressing the part

The basic black, gray or mossy long knit dress is the one to have and keep. Mature women will want them easy and gently flared; younger minds and figures will wear them rib- or cable-knitted and skin-tight.

The trimmings

Women should now consider an early retirement for all those Chanel-ly chains, shoulder-duster earrings and sparkly tennis bracelets. Designers are showing a priestly and modest minimum. Crosses and ancient-looking talismans worn on a long chains or black silk cords are the newest way to show a belief in modern dressing.

Macrame (preferably black) shows up in soutache embroidery, frogs and fringe.

The right threads

Even though ornament has all but disappeared for fall, the richness of fabrics compensates for the dearth of glitter. Velvets in black or jewel shades are cut into dresses, jackets, pants, and used as trim on tweeds and leathers. Tapestries and brocades are having a renaissance, and the richest appear to have lingered and aged gracefully in the finest museums.

Sole sisters

Boots -- of the combat, riding, granny, hiking or wading variety -- are the finishing clump to everything from cat suits to ball gowns. Picture these styles with a platform sole, and you have it. The combat boot favored by the young crowd has replaced the high-heeled pump at the designer shows.

Color code

Black is back with a fury. Photographers hate it, but designers know their audience. Black is elegant, slimming, easy to mix and match. Even women who can afford to indulge their fashion fancies are drawn to its simplicity. It was the dominant color at the shows of the ruling triumvirate -- Lauren, Klein and Karan -- and it worked beautifully.

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