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GET DRESSED

THE BALTIMORE SUN

IT'S JUST DAYS AWAY FROM SPRING AND the dressing is about to be easy, ladies.

Sure, warmer months mean fewer clothes to pull on each morning, but spring's ease of dressing comes from more than just that.

Designers and retailers are making self-adornment simple by declaring one key piece the center of the season: The dress.

"So many think a dress is for a special occasion and it's really not," says Gregg Andrews, fashion director for Nordstrom's eastern region. "This season, I think women are going to discover the ease of one-piece dressing. And the great thing about the dress is there's so many different styles: the shirt dress, the wrap dress, some of the fuller trapeze-shaped dresses. There's draping and ruching on dresses that is almost goddess-inspired. A woman could own an entire wardrobe of dresses. She could have a dress for every day of the week."

On the runways in New York last September -- when designers first revealed their visions for spring -- it was clear the dress would be big, and experts were thrilled even then about it.

"I think dresses are fabulous," says Amy Cafazzo, style expert for Marshalls. "You can get up in the morning, you can throw one on. It takes minimal thought when my brain hasn't had coffee yet."

At nearly every runway show, there was a different kind of dress revealed: mod 1960s short dresses, empire-waist dresses, T-shirt dresses, shift dresses, sundresses, baby doll dresses and loose, unstructured, comfortable jersey knit dresses.

"Dresses came in every possible permutation to fit every age group, every budget and most people style's," says Avril Graham, executive fashion and beauty editor at Harpers Bazaar magazine, of the variety that emerged during last year's fashion shows. "So don't be nervous that there's only one style and you have to fit into it."

Graham says many dresses --such as those at Karl Lagerfeld, Derek Lam and TSE -- appeared on the runway in "the season's must-have color: white."

White is indeed the ultimate neutral and there are three great ways to wear it. Pair it with black. Pair it with a bright, 80s-inspired color. Or wear it all-over in a sleek monochromatic outfit.

"White is just super hot for spring," says Cafazzo, of Marshalls.

Black and white looks the most chic, but wearing a crisp navy -- a nautical look -- also is a clean, fresh approach to the color.

"We see some nautical every season, but it's really big this year," says Laura McDowell, fashion spokeswoman for T.J. Maxx. "Navy and white, whether it's in flowy blouses, or in striped sweaters, red-white-and-blue little striped shoes, chain-link necklaces, or rope style belts -- nautical is across the board."

The nautical theme this season goes along with another bigger trend, experts say: the preppy look.

Collared shirts or polos will be popular this season, especially in when worn with white. The freshest way to wear your trusty polo this spring is to rock it ultra-bright.

"You're going to see a tremendous amount of bright colors," says LaShawn Brown, juniors buyer for Synchronicity, a boutique for girls and young women in Pikesville. "Pretty greens, bright yellow -- yellow is going to be big -- and purple, too."

Yellow? Some might balk at the color, which has long been perceived as hard-to-wear, but there's more than one way to wear yellow, experts say, and more than one shade of yellow to wear.

"It's about the entire palette of yellow," says Andrews, of Nordstrom. "From soft shades of yellow and banana to brighter shades of daffodil and lemon. It blends beautifully with white, or with any of the beige or tan kind of colors, but also with navy blue it's really beautiful. There's lots of options in terms of how to wear yellow."

Some girls might want to wear their fruity-colored polo tops with a skirt in white, denim or a trendy madras print. Others may want to be even more fashionable and wear their brightly-hued top with a pair of shorts.

In fact, shorts, in two distinct lengths, are extremely significant for spring. Longish, in a Bermuda length -- or very, very short.

The shorty-shorts that are popular this spring might not be for everyone, experts agree. That's where the Bermuda short -- sometimes called a "city short" -- comes in.

"I think we all have been wearing a capri [pant] for the past few spring seasons," says Cyndie Washburn-Nester, JC Penney's trend director for women. "And now the Bermuda and the shorter-short are a lot more important. For the working woman, a Bermuda looks great with a jacket. It's no different than wearing a short skirt and it's just much more modern."

Showing a lot of leg is a key trend for spring, but for those cooler days, fashion experts say it's trendy to wear a crisp pair of wide-leg trousers.

"Everyone was talking about the skinny pant and that does continue," says Andrews, of Nordstrom. "But we've seen a return of the wide-leg pant. It really looks best when it's paired with a tunic-length top or dress. The wider leg balances out a fuller hip and it can create straightness when it drops from the hip. It's very flattering."

One of the best things about the spring season is that any of the trends in footwear can be worn with any of the most popular clothing choices. Women can wear a ballet or skimmer flat with a dress or a skirt, a pair of short shorts or a wide-leg trouser. Or they can also wear a high wedge or a peep-toe platform shoe with any of the above.

"We're even seeing peep-toe flats," Andrews says. "They're really cute."

As always, there's no need to overhaul your entire wardrobe to look up-to-the-minute this spring. Instead, pick a few key pieces and incorporate them into what you already have.

"Get a fabulous all-white handbag that has gold or silver embellishments on it and wear it with a dress that you got last year," says Cafazzo, of Marshalls. "Or put a nice cropped jacket and ballet flats with a dress you got last year."

Simplicity, experts say, is key.

"I think the great thing about this season is that it gives women a lot of choices," says Graham of Harpers Bazaar. "Previously, for example, the Bohemian look was an enormous trend and this was your only choice for the season. This year, depending on your style, you'll definitely find something that suits your individual favorites."

Top 10 trends for spring

1. Dresses: The dress is a must for spring. Wear it short or just to the knee, and in just about any incarnation -- wrap, shift, empire-waist, T-shirt-style, baby doll, jersey-knit or A-line. "Wear it with a bold accessory," says Cyndie Washburn-Nester, trend director for women at JC Penney. "Whether it's a big bag or a chunky bangle or a big necklace."

2. Patent leather: Particularly in accessories, such as shoes and handbags. Black is fine, but the newest way is to do it in a bright color, such as pink, orange, green or yellow.

3. Shorts: There are two lengths this season: at the knee or mini-skirt-length. As to which is best, "It depends on your body," says Laura McDowell, fashion spokeswoman for T.J. Maxx, "and on your sense of daring."

4. Nautical looks: Sailor shorts. Navy and white stripes. Rope-style belts.

5. White: Another must-have is something in white -- maybe a feminine blouse or an all-white accessory. "White is the neutral for the season," says Gregg Andrews, fashion director for Nordstrom's eastern region. "And we're seeing very soft neutrals, like sands, beiges and oatmeal, being very important."

6. Black and white: Try it with separates or together on one dress or blouse. Polka dots in black and white look retro chic.

7. Metallics: Golds and silvers are hot, hot, hot, and so are materials with sheen, shine, or shot through with Lurex. "Metallic can be gently eased into your wardrobe, such as a little metallic ballet flat or a bag," says Avril Graham, executive fashion and beauty editor at Harper's Bazaar magazine. "Or for those who are a little bit more daring, a silver or gold T-shirt, perhaps worn with jeans or under a jacket would do the trick. Interestingly this is a trend that carries through the fall season, so you will be ahead of yourself."

8. Flats or chunky shoes: Ballet flats have a round toe; skimmers tend to be sleeker and pointier. The newest way to wear a wedge is with an avant-garde cut-out in the heel. Or wear a platform heel with a peep-toe or open toe.

9. Wide-leg pants: If bared legs leave you a little chilly, try wearing a pair of wide-leg pants. "Pants are one trend this season," says Amy Cafazzo, style expert for Marshalls. "Some are skinny, but they're also coming in wider legs as well this season. I think that's good news."

10. Simplicity: Be easy this spring, ladies. Don't think too hard.

"We're seeing fashion evolve, not change radically from season to season," says Andrews, of Nordstrom. "Which makes it easier for people to understand. That's how people really dress."

TANIKA WHITE

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