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Changing your stripes

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Every once in a while a fashion trend comes along that's wrong for everyone. At least that's what we've been told about big, bold horizontal stripes.

"They're back, they're definitely back," says Tim Gunn, chairman of the fashion design department at Parsons the New School for Design in New York, who points out that fashion trends tend to come and go in 20-year cycles.

"A horizontal stripe can be deadly," he adds darkly.

Just about every kind of stripe is part of this spring's fashion story: pinstripes, sweet vertical stripes in pastel colors, seersucker, and crisp, clean preppy stripes. Big name designers like Carolina Herrera, Oscar de la Renta, Giorgio Armani and Ralph Lauren all featured stripes in their spring collections.

But the look that has many people shaking their heads is the graphic black-and-white horizontal stripe, a trend started by John Galliano at Christian Dior and continued by the many people producing knockoffs. It's a fashion statement that will remind you of old-fashioned prison uniforms.

The look has hit London big, where young fashionistas -- obsessed with the graphic pop designs of the 1980s -- are calling them "Debbie Harry stripes" after the lead singer of Blondie, says David Wolfe, creative director of the Doneger Group, which analyzes fashion trends. "The success here in America is surprising because horizontal stripes are not easy to wear. Yes, they do make a woman look wider, and since so many American women are wider than they want to be, one wonders what they are thinking when they look in the mirror."

"If you want to look 10 pounds heavier ...," agrees Sandy Spector, who is retired and lives in Bolton Hill. "Around the hips, I say no."

But Hillary Ryon, 25, a classical singer who lives in Roland Park, likes this season's horizontal stripes. "I own a couple of [striped tops]," she says. "I think it's the fit of the garment, not necessarily the pattern, that makes you look large or small. I can pair them with skirts, jeans -- anything."

Renee Roman, a market analyst at Doneger, calls them "bumblebee" stripes because they are so bold. She thinks their popularity, particularly among young women, is just

Lines are everywhere this spring, even the big, bold horizontals you were always warned about another example of a general refusal to go by fashion rules.

"They [the rules] are being thrown out the window," she says.

It doesn't hurt that celebrities like Sienna Miller, Lindsay Lohan, Jessica Simpson and Gwyneth Paltrow -- Hollywood's It girls -- have been wearing horizontal stripes and looking good in them.

This season's stripes, says Roman, are probably a reaction to "the hippie-dippy, boho thing we've been going through." Whether they are bold and graphic or part of spring's return to a preppier style, stripes seem crisp and clean in comparison to past seasons' embellishment.

What also makes them look new, says Parsons' Tim Gunn, is their colors -- either the jewel tones that are so popular right now or spring-like shades. This season's stripes "are not laden with a menswear feeling," he says. "They have punch."

Florence Sokol, owner of Jones & Jones in the Village of Cross Keys, has been surprised at how well stripes have been doing.

"We've always had a few," she says, "but they've always been a little hard to sell. I almost stopped buying them -- except this year the colors are so great." She particularly likes the T-shirts with fine stripes in colors such as pink and orange. "They are nice for any age as a layering piece."

Designers, of course, are showing lots of stripes as part of the ubiquitous nautical chic look, one of the top trends of the season. You can pair a neat little navy-and-white striped top with jeans or white pants and a blazer -- in effect, using your stripes as an accent piece.

Many of this spring's preppy stripes can be found in youth-oriented sportswear departments and chains. At Nordstrom, says Gregg Andrews, fashion director for the store's eastern region, "We're not calling it nautical, we're calling it elemental. It's more of an American sportswear look."

Most women aren't going to be dressed in head-to-toe stripes, but instead are looking for striped tops and accessories. (Only someone with a figure like Lindsay Lohan can get away with wearing a horizontally striped jersey dress a la '60s bombshell Brigitte Bardot.) Striped espadrilles and tote bags are "flying off the shelves," at Gap stores, says Erica Archambault, a spokeswoman for the chain.

Avril Graham, Harper's Bazaar executive fashion and beauty editor, likes the look because it's versatile. Stripes can be elegant, chic, crisp, fresh -- and also edgy, as when "the downtown girls wear them with skinny jeans and heels."

"It looks spot on," she says.

For the rest of us, though, there are ground rules when wearing stripes.

"Before you venture into the store," says Boston-based fashion consultant Mary Lou Andre of dressingwell.com, "get a full-length mirror and consider your assets."

If you like the look but it's really not for you, she recommends breaking up horizontal stripes with a strong vertical line, such as a zipper or row of buttons. (For more tips, see the accompanying box.)

As Graham says, "Never go overboard with a stripe. When it comes to stripes, less is more."

Menswear has stripes, too

Menswear isn't immune: John Bartlett featured the bold horizontal-striped jersey under a sports coat in his runway show.

The return to preppiness, of which stripes are a big part, is striking this season -- for men as well as women, says Parson's Tim Gunn. "But that look has morphed. It's bolder; it's a way into high design."

Stripes themselves aren't news for men, of course. Items like a pinstripe suit are classics. Still, even in traditional menswear, trends change in their details from year to year.

"The striped shirt has been a must-have for several seasons," says Nordstrom's Gregg Andrews, "but this spring it's a much more narrow stripe [about 1 / 8 inch] and not as multicolored."

The very British look of a pinstripe suit with a striped shirt and striped tie is back in fashion. To make it look new, says Andrews, make it more tonal and more color-coordinated.

Pay attention to the scale of stripes. Use close-together stripes in one, wide-spaced stripes in the other. Contrast narrow stripes with broad ones.

"Combining stripes can look very modern," Andrews says.

...................... elizabeth.large@baltsun.com

HOW TO WEAR THEM

Vertical stripes are always safer.

Stripes on top paired with a solid skirt or pants or jeans is the easiest way to pull off the look.

Fashion experts seem to agree that bold stripes work best as an accessory or accent for most women, except for the very young or the very edgy.

If you're not comfortable with stripes, you can update your wardrobe with a top that has striped banding around the neck and wrists, suggests Nordstrom's Gregg Andrews.

"I tend to think people look better with a consistent stripe," says Parson's Tim Gunn.

A top under a jacket gives you a way to have your cake (wearing bold horizontal stripes) and eat it, too (avoiding the widening effect).

This season's striped swimwear is wonderful, says Avril Graham of Harper's Bazaar. It's one way to get in on the trend without looking like a fashion victim.

A finer stripe tends to be more flattering, or one with a lower contrast in colors, says Andrews.

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