The tank dress and the slip dress, both based on underwear that has been left in the drawer for the last three decades, are this summer's hot styles. Ask any woman below a certain age, and chances are she has never owned a full slip but is now prepared to wear one in public this season.
It's again a case of a new generation finding excitement in old stock designs and making them fresh.
Fresh they are. Slips and tanks, once worn to ensure modesty and provide warmth, for several seasons have been out on their own with the show-offs. Now, undie-inspired dressing has hit the missy and matron market. The fashionably unattired wear them without benefit of other foundation garments -- just a slip of fabric over a slip of a girl. Rolling Stone magazine's summer "Hot Issue" cover features women of the "Melrose Place" Bod Squad posed in variations of the basic white skinny-strap undershirt. Definitely an endorsement for the coolness of underwear dressing. But what about women who prefer chic to cool?
At the designer level, tanks and shifts are given more expensive treatments in soft, bias-cut silks or supple knits. Calvin Klein does both long and short -- floaty, minimal dress shapes in the most sheer fabrics -- but layers as many as three on top of each other for a shadow-play effect.
Donna Karan takes the tank literally and has its sports-inspired stretchy knits as a dress or bodysuit and builds other summer separates around it. Hers is a major transformation of the unforgiving swimsuit we know from the school pool.
Nicole Miller's slips are short, bright and sexy, suspended from the thinnest of straps and clinging to curves for dear life.
Ralph Lauren's short slip dress in black is paired with thigh-high black stockings. It's a knockout look on the world's most beautiful models but a potential disaster for women of the real world.
Because slip and tank cuts are so sensible and basic, they have been copied at every price point and are now all over the stores. There is no point in self-delusion: Most women can't wear slips or tanks as is, but they can wear them with camouflage. Here are some points to consider.
* Think about the design and wear it as it was originally intended to be worn -- as a foundation. Do remember, however, to let your slip show. An easy camisole dress looks terrific topped with a small shrug cardigan. Many designers anticipated the difficulties the wearability of slips and showed them over body-hugging T-shirts. The Limited wraps that idea into a total look and sells slips and accompanying T's as an item -- a sure acknowledgment of a difficult design.
* A body-hugging short tank -- not much more substantial than a bathing suit -- can even go to work if it's topped by an oversize breezy shirt or roomy knit cardigan. Worn open and showing the tank, it can even pass as a midsummer suit look. The designer way with short slips is to show them shorter than the covering jacket or shirt. That idea needs a critical mirror test. The topper should always reveal the shift underneath; when it doesn't, the ,, result is a she-forgot-her-skirt style.
* Remember underwear. A scooped tank cut with a wider shoulder will cover bra straps, but be sure to move with it. If the tank is cut with deep arm holes, it reveals too much. Showing underwear works only when it is intentional.
* Women who cannot bring themselves to wear a slip shift can show their fashion savvy by substituting a stretchy tank top for a suit blouse. It's not necessary to show all to know all.
* No trimmings please -- just simple shoes with some weight and a minimum of jewelry. The trend is borrowed from underwear, but any lingerie lace or fussy little bows are way too beddie-bye. Think instead of clean and sensible, just the way mother always taught you.
ON THE COVER
Styling by Suzin Boddiford
Hair and makeup by Dawn Wolf for Etches Salon
Modeled by Marianne Goco/3 West Casting
Fashions: Floral slip dress by Kenar, $120; T-shirt, $50; DKNY beret, $60; Anne Klein espadrilles, $88; Ralph Lauren socks, $11, all at Saks Fifth Avenue.
Mules, $49, at Precis.