Call it conservative, but designers go back and get it right Safe or Sorry?


Sometimes it's a matter of being safe or sorry. In fashion, this is one of those times. New York designer collections, which ended last week, were split between safe, ladylike silhouettes and some rather sorry alternatives. For the most part designers played it cautiously, sending out refined turnouts, much to the chagrin of the fashion pack, which devours trends and spits them out in an endless feeding frenzy.

No buzz, no rockets. The watchers have labeled this the time of Conservative Chic. If conservative can be defined as elegantly sexy clothes in beautiful fabrics that cover all essential body parts then, yes, we're moving to the right.

Even the rebels are slowing down. Instead of pushing sexual-aid bondage frocks, they are looking to mom's closets for inspiration. Donna Reed and Doris Day as a fashion divas? Radical.

Today's fashion suggests that mother knew best -- either elegant in her '40s tailleur or mod in her '60s hip skirts and A-lines.

Here's how the season will be shaping up:

* THE SHAPE: Hourglass curves dominate '40s retro suits and dresses, accented by precise piecing and seaming. The waist is the center of attention in '40s retro lines. The newer mod curve lowers the focus to the hip with wide belts and dropped waist.

* THE STUFF: Matte fabrics such as boucles, jerseys, tweeds and cashmeres often combined with slick leathers and leatherettes or shiny and satiny stretch knits. Stretch is being added to luxury fibers to give them motion.

* THE COLORS: Black is back with a vengeance, with gray, camel, cream and red running close. Sixties combinations such as pink/red, orange/purple, green/violet are making inroads.

* THE PATTERNS: Subtle plaids in soft camels and grays. Herringbone and hunting checks are in there, as is every conceivable variation of the pinstripe. See gold stripes shot through velvet and wool, silver stripes on gray, gray on black.

* THE DRESS: Feminine and pure with no furbelow or trim in sight. The inspiration is Jackie O or Audrey Hepburn and the dress is often sleeveless with a bateau or scoop neckline. It's best in black, of course.

* THE LENGTH: No rules, thank you, although most designers put hemlines in the area of the knee.

* THE FAUX: Never underestimate the power of leopard. Spots are everywhere. The newest faux, however, is cow and pinto pony, to go with a revival of western wear. Reptiles are the most alluring, with crocodile patterns being pressed into everything from vinyl to silk.

* THE FEET: The combat boot has surrendered to the high-heeled, shaped, calf-high zip-up boot. Very mod, with a few inches of bare leg showing between hem and leather. Heels are lowering, with the curvy slipper heel making some appearances. Cowboy boots are in again, in brocades or luxury reptiles.

* THE PANTS: Narrow, lean and mean. Call them stovepipe, drainpipe, cigarette or ski. The classic pleated front trouser is dead and gone, even in suits with a menswear inspiration. Jeans ride lower on the hip and were shown in stretch velvets, satin and even sequins.

* THE HAIR: Retro reigns. Stylists showed the '60s Sassoon asymmetric bob, "I Dream of Jeannie" falls, Ivana poufs, Baltimore beehives, Grace Kelly chignons -- easy updates for the women without thousands for a wardrobe.

* THE TRIMMINGS: Jewelry is virtually nonexistent or not important enough to notice. It's a season pared down to sunglasses and gloves for outdoors. On casual separates, belts go wide or ride the hip.

But that is the direction for next fall. Women who haven't yet bought this season's obligatory thin patent belt might consider letting that trend pass and moving on.

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