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This spring, it's all about the bling. For your summer wearing pleasure, stores are filled with sparkly things, ranging from bejeweled sunglasses to sequined sandals. Jeans decorated with Swarovski crystals, tiered skirts with mirrored discs and rhinestone-studded Ts are no longer considered eveningwear only.

"It's one of the strongest, best-selling trends of the moment," says David Wolfe of the Doneger Group, which forecasts fashion trends. On the way to his New York office, he says, he saw a woman wearing jeans, flip flops, a T-shirt and a "solidly sequined" bolero jacket. "It wouldn't have happened before this. But vintage is so important, and people just want something fun."

Like the explosion of color in clothes, embellishment -- particularly the glittery kind -- is a reaction against the minimalism and simplicity of the 1990s.

Simplicity is a lot of things, but you can't call it fun. Colorful faux jewels, shining sequins and sparkling rhinestones, particularly paired with unexpected fabrics and styles -- those are fun.

"Glitter and shine is about individuality," says Nicole Fuchelis, Macy's East fashion director. "It's fresh, it's whimsical, and it makes people smile."

Why shouldn't clothes and accessories sparkle in the daytime? We've seen a general blurring of the line between day and eveningwear for several seasons now. With daytime bling-bling, you're mixing day and evening, and the beauty is in the mix itself.

It's the sparkle of jewels on a rubber flip-flop. A sequined top worn with jeans.

"Something that used to be considered formal and dressy is now worn with the most casual of fabrics, denim," says Gregg Andrews, fashion director for Nordstrom's Eastern Region. "The extreme juxtaposition is what makes the look so wearable."

Bling-bling fashion is accessible because the pieces are familiar. The detailing is what's new. A lot of it is novelty; it's about eclecticism, about creating personal style. The trend started, Andrews thinks, where so many fashion trends started: Women learned from Carrie Bradshaw on HBO's Sex and the City that it's OK to mix jeans and Manolo Blahnik evening shoes.

"People looked at her and said, 'I can do it,'" Andrews says. "She's such a dated reference now, but fashion is just now catching up with her on a non-designer level."

A touch of luxury

This season you can find a Rebecca Taylor crystal-trimmed cotton knit tank for $185 at Neiman Marcus, but the trickle-down theory of fashion also holds true: Target is offering a Mossimo Black sequined tunic for $17.99. And yes, you can wear either of them to carpool in.

A big part of the appeal of either top is that you're wearing something with a touch of luxury. That's true with sparkle even if you haven't spent much for it. It's what Tom Julian, a New York-based fashion trend analyst with Fallon Worldwide, says the industry calls "masstique," products that are mass designed with an aesthetic edge that feels luxurious.

"Even mass market products need to have a touch of luxury these days," he says.

Sima Blue, owner of Trillium, a boutique in Green Spring Station, says customers are starting to accept sparkly fashion, while at the beginning of the year they would look but not buy. "I'm seeing people buy it now. Your eye gets used to it after awhile."

"The world got very heavy and somber ever since 9-11," she adds. "People want to wear happy clothes now. That's my guess."

But unlike bold color, bling-bling fashion is a young look. If you're not a teenager, you have to wear it with care. Mabel Barron, a 57-year-old human resources director who lives in Sparks and shops at Trillium, likes the look but says it's all a balancing act.

"I dress somewhat conservatively," she explains, "but my accessories are fashion forward. I enjoy wearing something -- I'm not going to call it bling-bling -- but I like to look fresh."

She feels comfortable putting on her new pair of strappy sequined sandals for work, or carrying an embellished handbag. She has a skirt that has a bit of sparkle, but she makes sure she wears it with a plain jersey. "I want the focus to be on that flash. Women who do this have to be careful they don't look like a 200-watt light bulb."

Use with caution

Trillium's owner gets asked a lot what goes with the sparkly skirts she sells.

"What part of this don't you get?" Blue asks rhetorically. "A white T-shirt. You don't want to wear it with something else important."

Not all of us are ready to jump in with both feet (appropriately shod in jeweled flip-flops). Beverly Zimmerman of Pikesville also likes the look -- on her 17-year-old daughter. Zimmerman keeps up with the trends, but this one, she thinks, looks best on a teenager.

"I bought a pair of sparkly sandals in New York," she says, "but honestly I only wear them when I've had a pedicure."

Wolfe, the fashion forecaster, says his company is looking at how long the trend can accelerate.

"It's, like, the death of good taste. Too much is not enough," he says.

Basically, his conclusion is to enjoy it now. Wolfe thinks there will be one more year of bling-bling fashion, and then it's back to simplicity.

Here's how

Not sure you can pull the look off? Some suggestions:

Limit yourself to one glitzy item at a time.

Avoid metallic or glittery makeup with sparkly clothes in the daytime.

Keep jewelry understated.

Start small: a sequined belt, or rhinestone flip flops.

Keep the sparkle neutral, or the same color as the fabric.

Go to extremes: Pair a sequined T-shirt with pinstripe pants, for instance.

Don't invest in, say, an expensive beaded bikini. The trend probably won't be around that long. And how much will you really wear it?

Pay close attention to the labels for care instructions.

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