the new Material Girl

Madonna's Material Girl was a trashy-glam bad chick. The unforgettable '80s fashion icon was a rebellious lass with a penchant for one-shoulder jersey dresses, ripped T-shirts, fishnet stockings and miniskirts paired with fat belts slung low on the hips. She favored unkempt hair festooned with black-lace bows, cut-off gloves and way too much eye-liner.

And she's back.


Just when we thought we had permanently expunged the Material Girl from pop culture, the fashion world decided to resurrect the defiant damsel this spring. Think what you will of the '80s, but this season, poufy skirts, one-shouldered blouses and other clothing reminiscent of early Madonna are prominent fixtures in many collections.

"What we saw last fall was the return of the '80s, but the good girl of the '80s - the 'Dynasty' look with the power suits," said Erin Carmack, Neiman Marcus' director of fashion presentation. "Now, what's coming on the heels of that is the bad girl of the '80s look - the leggings and the accessories. Certainly not everyone wants to look like Madonna in the 'Like a Virgin' video, but that tough-girl chic is making a comeback."


The millennial Material Girl, however, is slightly different. Even though the outfits generally are in keeping with the multihued flavor of many a Cyndi Lauper ensemble, spring's designer offerings are not as tawdry.

The look is slightly pared down and, often, more wearable in these times when the minimalist '90s are still fresh in our minds. Instead of having 30 zippers, for example, a tough-girl black-leather dress may just have one or two. And instead of ripped fishnets, the key this season is to wear your punky hosiery intact.

"It's more subtle and modern," Carmack said. "And our younger customers, who didn't do the '80s the first time, they really want that look."

Some elements of the '80s dress code do have their advantages. The jersey dress, which is the rage this season, drapes so well on a body that it is very forgiving of less-than-perfect figures.

But not all retailers think their customers will buy the Material Girl look. Ray Mitchener, a buyer for the upscale Baltimore boutique Ruth Shaw, said he usually stocks up on Jean-Paul Gaultier but passed on the designer's offerings this season because they were too heavy on the bad-girl flair.

"I don't know where it would really sell," Mitchener said, "other than in a major, major city where you have people who buy fashion just for fashion's sake."

As for the '80s items he is bringing in, Mitchener said he plans to work with customers to incorporate elements of the era into an overall modern look. His suggestions include pairing a belt with a big, rhinestone-studded buckle with a plain T-shirt and jeans or white pants.

"You don't want to look like a fashion victim by having everything on at one time - the fishnet panty hose with the rhinestone belt and the big gold bangles," Mitchener said.


What retailers are expecting shoppers to eat up is the other side of the Material Girl chic - the spirit of '80s excess and materialism manifested in designer clothing or accessories that have large logos. In fact, fashion observers already have noticed an interest in prominent designer labels among the public.

"Upscale is a consumer mantra from the high end to the masses," said Tom Julian, a fashion trend analyst for the New-York-based company Fallon Worldwide. "The accessories continue to tell a status story - whether it is real or fake. No matter where I've been in the last week - Miami, Detroit, Minneapolis and now Seattle - the discerning eye can follow the status brands in eyewear, purses, shoes, bags and totes."

Shawny Burns, spokeswoman for Saks Fifth Avenue in Chevy Chase, said one of the store's most popular items recently was a pair of Chanel tights that had the logo emblazoned all over them.

"We've reached that peak again where logos are really hot," Burns said. "Anything with a logo sells like crazy."

The easiest way to indulge in '80s "bling-bling" - pop-culture-speak for flashiness - but still maintain a modicum of sophistication is to wear only one or two prominent designer items. For example, wear a low-slung belt that has a large buckle that says "Prada" or "Gucci," or don a chunky silver watch that says "Armani." Or, wear a blouse or T-shirt with a big Donna Karan emblem and pair that with a tiny Christian Dior purse with a repeated pattern of the logo.

Sure, this flashy excess is a little out of sync with the current angst over the sinking economy. But retailers and fashion analysts said they predict the Material Girl mindset will stick around for a while.


"Self-indulgence," Julian said, "is still an escapist approach for this consumer."


So, you burned your Material Girl threads long ago and refuse to revive the spirit of early Madonna in your fashion leanings. Fear not, spring brings other trends that might be more palatable.

Girly charm

Soft pastels, floral dresses and fluid silhouettes always will have a firm foothold in spring. This season, the romantic '50s will combine with the ultra-feminine "Sex and the City" look in sundresses and cocktail outfits that swish, rustle and flow as a woman walks. Donna Karan and Tuleh offer especially sexy dresses that have this effect.

Preppy classics


If wearing logos isn't your thing, one way to effect designer-mania in an understated and classy way is to go with Burberry. Not only do Burberry's preppy plaid togs and accessories look elegant and convey wealth, but they're also hip this season.

A touch of the military

The military influence figures prominently in Fall 2001 collections, but in spring fashion, the theme is just budding. The military look in spring is not literal. Instead of a suit or shirt resembling a uniform, it will have only one or two combat elements - epaulettes, for example. Or it could be in army green or beige.

Black and white

A fresh look for the season is combining black and white in blouses, dresses or even shoes. The juxtaposition of black and white gives the outfit a crisp and sharp feel. Ralph Lauren has a scrumptious selection of dresses and skirts made with glorious white leather and trimmed with black. Pair a black and white outfit with spectator shoes, which are hip again, or a similarly hued bag.

Retro glamour


This trend is an intermingling of elements from various decades. In eveningwear, for example, some gowns or cocktail dresses may mix the flapper '20s with the feminine '50s or with the excessive gold of the '70s. Badgley Mischka, for example, had beautiful jersey dresses cut a la the '80s but dripping with gold beading like outfits from the disco era.


The belt is key this season. Go for a thick one that's low-slung or a skinny gold chain belt that loops twice around the hips. "It's all about ornamentation of the waist and accentuating the hip," said Ronni Heyman, style director for So try belts with unique buckles that feature a large designer's logo, or go with black leather hipsters that are studded with rhinestones or studs.

The cuff bracelet adds to the strong and powerful accessorized look. Whether it's metal, leather or plastic, these fat bracelets add tough chic to any ensemble. Again, logos are good, and Ferragamo, Louis Vuitton and Christian Dior all have chunky bracelets out this spring. "It's a way of adding that designer touch without it being a head-to-toe statement," Heyman said.

The bag comes in many shapes and colors this season, and the thing to remember is: The more unusual the tote, the better. Among the most refreshing new looks is the pricey Christian Dior saddlebag Sarah Jessica Parker recently carried in "Sex and the City." Other options are bucket bags or large totes. Pick bags with lots of detail - like perforated leather or different-colored stitching - ornamentation or logos.

Matching shoes and bags are making a comeback. There was a time when most women could not imagine stepping out of the house without carrying a handbag that matched their shoes. Those Jackie O days may be long gone, but the former first lady's emphasis on complementing shoes and purses will be revived this season. Designers including Ferragamo, Louis Vuitton and Michael Kors are touting sets of matching bags and shoes.


Novelty T-shirts with screen-printed images, zippers, sequins or ruffles are in. T-shirts sans ornamentation are a definite no-no.

One-shouldered tops or dresses are a requirement for the cool crowd this season. It's a sexy, flirty look that's going to be around in the fall as well, so get used to it.

Fishnets complete the bad-girl look or add edge to a workplace ensemble. Wear them with long or mini skirts and pair them with boots, pumps or those sandals with thick straps that are in this season.