In a season full of options, it's the details that lend a modern edge to fashion's many moods, from romantic overindulgences to chic austerity.
The right accessories, given the subtlest touches, can make or break a look and change the entire personality of a garment -- right down to the jaunty tilt of a newsboy cap for instant attitude.
Take, for example, a long knit dress: Throw on a lacey collar and cuffs, a cameo choker, textured tights, granny boots, top it off off with a velvet crusher hat, and suddenly you've kicked romance into a simple basic.
Now take that same dress in the other direction -- down to its barest essentials. Strip off all accessories except for an ultra-long chain dangling a geometric pendant, ground the look with a tonal opaque leg and a heeled satin bootee, and you've hit on the chic side of spare.
Altering the details makes the possibilities for individual interpretation endless.
Along with the onset of fashion's new fluid silhouette, so too must the trimmings go with the flow. Deconstructivism has melted down razor-edged tailoring to relaxed, languid lines that fall from a softer natural shoulder, the focal point of which thus revolves around the neck.
"Less emphasis is on the waist this season, with much more on the neckline," says Saks Fifth Avenue's regional fashion director, Chi Chi LaBrock, who sums up the key accessories with what she calls the five C's: crosses, cameos, chokers, collars and cuffs.
In jewelry, two extremes are prevalent: short chokers and extra long sweeping strands. "Chokers worn with ropes of long beads interspersed with garnets and jet look great for the holiday," says Rona Rosengarden of Treasure House in Pikesville.
But the dramatic bib necklace strikes the perfect balance between the two lengths, at its best in crystals, pearls, glass, garnet and jet. You can even update last season's '70s-inspired charmed chokers by layering multiple mixtures of stones in graduated strands, especially tasseled lariats, or medieval lavalieres and medallions.
"The most popular jewelry symbol of the season is the cross, in all shapes and forms -- from mosaic to Maltese, plain gold to jeweled," says Tricia Kenney, fashion editor of Accessories Magazine, a New York-based industry trade publication.
Designers like Donna Karan and Richard Tyler have used monastic shrouds as austere backdrops for crosses strung bandoleer-style across the body, or dangled them from the waist, in the style of a monk. Those who can't shake off the religious significance can go the medieval route for safekeeping, with lock-and-key motifs to spark the austerity.
"The average woman is going to want to lighten the look of head-to-toe black with anything that catches the light, like a long gold-chain pendant," says Tina Sutton, national spokeswoman for Hit Or Miss stores. For practical purposes, you may want to try doubling those long chains medallion-style to fill in a modest neckline.
Savvy shoppers should check out the vast selection of charms, starting at under a dollar and available at local bead stores like Beadworks or Beadazzled, where you can design your own neckpiece with more fun and for less money. Or pick up some velvet flowers at the fabric store and pin them on to a velvet choker, as well as a floppy hat, vintage handbag or even fabric shoes.
Because of all the attention to the neck, big important earrings are a fall casualty. It's time to push those shoulder dusters to the back of the jewelry box and settle for simpler lobe decor. "There's nothing worse than overkill," says Nancy Chistollini, regional fashion director for Hecht's. "You don't want a large earring crashing into a lot going on at the neck, so look to smaller earrings with movement, like delicate museum drops."
Cameos are also an important ingredient in this season's romantic message, and still going strong. Starting last spring, those immortal faces have advanced beyond just jewelry to romance barettes, gloves, hats, bags, sleeves and button covers. Also part of the Old World charm are thick banded rings with marcasite and semiprecious stones that "when layered or worn in multiples, have an instant '90s sensibility," says Ms. Kenney of Accessories.
Remember, the best way to invest in a trend is in small doses. And there's an abundance of other accessories besides jewelry to pick up this fall that can instantly update what's already hanging in your closet. Here's a few to look for:
* Collars and cuffs play an important role in the latest fanciful fashions, from lacey jabots, elegant choker collars and ruffled bibs to elasticized slip-on cuffs that peek out from under jacket sleeves.
* Jacket clips can transform last year's boxy boyfriend jacket into a shapely dandy style by gathering in the back. Stores like Hit Or Miss carry an array of jacket clips for as little as $3.99 in tailored metals, tapestry, lace and passementerie.
* Belts masquerading as luxe corded sashes and ending in tassels ring the waistlines of the many period looks, just as they might draw your living room drapes.
* Gloves in rich-colored velvets energize an austere ensemble.
* Scarves in vintage prints soften the dandy's neckline as an ascot.
* Fringed shawls slide off the piano to sashay from your hips, as well as fringe-trimmed mufflers in luxury fibers like cashmere, alpaca, velvet or chenille.
* Poncho-like ruanas in cozy fabrics and yummy colors and plaids will keep you bundled up in style for any occasion.
* Handbags have done an about-face from hard and structured to soft and feminine. Go back in time with the new drawstring bandoleer bags in velvet, tapestry, brocade or suede, often dripping with fringe, tassels and beads, or made of delicate pleated fabric with gilded frames.
* Hair ornaments are elegantly formed, from jeweled "chopsticks" to sleek carved-wood chignon pins and velvet-wrapped, or glass-and-bead-encrusted, clips and combs. So don't even bother pulling out those oversized Minnie Mouse bows or glitzy ornaments dipped in sequins and rhinestones this year.
* Hats have acquired art-form status. There should not be a bare head in sight this fall, with all the crowning glories to choose from. Mellisa Myers of Harriet's Inc. touts Fred Astaire's favorite topper, the exaggerated coachman (top hat) as "the single most important fashion hat that stretches its wearability to apply to the key looks of the season -- from Mad Hatter styles to more modified dandy looks trimmed with lace, velvet flowers, feathers, bows and tulle."
Other proper toppers to look for include little knit skullcaps, newsboy caps, velvet crushers, equestrian derbys and '20s cloth. And faux fur toques and revolutionary caps finish off the new Russian mood. The time-honored beret can hardly be considered old hat, and with an average price of $8 you can't go wrong. Pick up another color this year and wear it as part of the new head-to-toe knitwear looks, or look for the new brimmed berets for a quirky take on this classic.
* Legwear has expanded into the latest necessary accessory -- there's no escaping it. So put away those sheer "Suntan" L'eggs and head straight for your local hosiery department to swathe your gams in texture. From stripes and rib knits to romantic lace and velvet, to new wave weaves and prints, the era of the leg is upon us. Opaque tights should match the color of the skirt for a fluid, monochromatic line. Also stock up on thick, rolled-down slouch socks to cap off the all-important boot and clogs.
The big news coming out of the fall haute couture showings was the return of the mini. And what makes this micro-wave modern is what lies beneath it. Couture designer Gianni Versace went with zany legs in flamboyant patterns and colors; he's so keen on the right legwear to complete a look that he sells his dress as a package with Swiss-cheese-cutout tights.
* Boots are certain to prove indispensable this fall. Lug-soled styles on flat and high heels in alpine shaping and speed-lacing come in all fabrications, from suede and embossed leather to tapestry, satin and velvet. There's a style for every mood: Edwardian lace-up granny, dandy spat, equestrian riding boot, sexy, over-the-knee grazers, and hiking boots for more than a walk in the woods.
Social climbers may prefer velvet hiking boots like the ones shown at Chanel. "Most of the latest fashions don't look right anymore with a dainty feminine cocktail shoe," says Judy Rudo of Joanna Gray in Cross Keys. She likes to see a suede shoe boot with satin laces or a silk granny boot, worn with eveningwear. "They look especially good with tuxedo separates or the new long simple dresses," she says.
Could there be any sign of shoe life beyond the boot? "Demand for the classic little loafer has died down -- everyone wants anything with a heavier bottom, be it a platform or a tractor bottom," says Ms. Rudo. She feels strongly about what she calls the "nun" shoe -- a vintage-looking lace-up oxford on a chunky heel. "In any fabrication, it looks right with trousers and long skirts," she says. The slide show also continues as clogs and mules flip-flop through yet another season.
ON THE COVER
Velvet patchwork crusher hat, $55; ivory lace collar, S60; Kenneth Cole tapestry heeled oxfords, $102; all from Saks Fifth Avenue. Cameo cross choker, $18; earrings, $15; ring, $24, all from Accessory Lady, Towson Town Center. Crushed velvet gloves, $28; lace cuffs, $10; both at Macy's. Lace tights, $19, at Nordstrom. Silk blouse, $130, at Femme. Knit skirt, $140, The Store Ltd.
PTC STYLING BY SUZIN BODDIFORD. HAIR AND MAKEUP BY DIANNA BURGESS FOR THREE WEST CASTING. MODELED BY JESSICA WALLACE OF NEW FACES MODELS. PHOTOGRAPHED AT STUDIO 700.