Amazing Grays

By Suzanne D'Amato
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 10, 2006

It looks like Jessica Simpson and Lindsay Lohan won't have much to wear soon. Yes, major cleavage and minimal clothing will always have their place, but the fall season's runways were a sea of monochromatic, often monastic gray and black dresses, tops and jackets. There were some cheeky platform shoes in the mix, but on the whole, the shows made ritzy, revealing starlet style seem about as fashion-forward as parachute pants.

Has flashbulb-ready fashion lost a few kilowatts? Industry watchers say yes. Claire Brooks, president of brand consulting company Model People Inc., calls the new look "reflective chic."

"I think it represents a new mood in the U.S., which has been fermenting since 9/11," she said via e-mail. Americans are "agonizingly reflective" about their global reputations as "uber-consumers."

"I saw the start of a trend to 'less is more,' which we've seen reflected in automotive design and consumer electronics," she wrote. "Scaled down, slimmer design replacing overblown bling."

While the recent boho craze was about escaping to the hazy, sun-dappled 1960s, fall fashion is for the woman who resides staunchly in the here and now. To trend forecasters, the logic goes something like this: Gas prices skyrocket, consumer confidence takes a nose dive, war continues, and designers respond by giving us dark clothes for dark times.

But if fashion is about reflecting a particular cultural moment, warts and all, it's also about fantasy -- which explains in part why the boho trend did so well, and why the cover of this month's Vogue features ornate, Marie Antoinette-inspired frippery, not basic black. Some industry watchers worry that fall's oh-so-serious clothes, at-times awkward marriages of minimalism and modesty, will linger in stores long past their sell-by dates.

YSL(Maria Valentino - For The Washington Post)
"Some of the styles are dowdy," said Amanda Freeman, vice president of the Intelligence Group, a market research company. "There's a ton of just -- muumuus."

Some stores have steered clear of the season's most severe looks and focused instead on simple yet salable pieces with luxurious fabrics and sculptural silhouettes.

"I wouldn't label it as conservative," said Christopher Reiter, owner of Muleh in the District. He praised fall fashion for its sophisticated elan -- one which he felt particularly suits Washington.

"We're not a Versace city," he said. "We're more New York than Miami."

And for those who want to be on-trend this fall, that's a very good thing. "It's about dressing for the girls more than the boys," Freeman said. "It's about style this season, not sex appeal."

For more on the top trends and how to incorporate them into your wardrobe, see our Six Easy Pieces Gallery.

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