The Look

In 2008, Everything Old Is New Again

By Suzanne D'Amato
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 18, 2008

Call it fashion fatigue.

It sets in when you spot the 10th pair of gladiator sandals for sale, the 20th lemon-yellow tunic top.

It reaches its apex when you see yet another rack of pretty, swingy dresses. Wasn't 2007 the Year of the Dress?

Well, yes. It was also the year of gladiator sandals, wide-leg jeans and lemon yellow splashed on everything from espadrilles to eyelids. Yet all of those trends are back in stores, promoted as fresh must-haves for summer. The emperor's new clothes? Perhaps.

"It's really weird," says Claire Brooks, president of brand consulting company ModelPeople. "Some would say it's simply a lack of vision by fashion designers."

After all, in fashion, what's new is a billion-dollar business -- even if "new" frequently translates to a rehash of what was hot circa 1963. Designers scramble to dream up the next status bag, the next must-have jacket, the kind of chunky necklace or spiky stiletto that sets fashionable hearts aflutter and launches a thousand knockoffs.

And for some time, style-conscious shoppers have bought in, drinking up the trends like so much Veuve Clicquot. Six-inch platform pumps? Who cares if you can't walk! Jet-black leather leggings? Well, if Posh is wearing them . . . .

But in a middling economy, fewer consumers seem eager to adopt that winner-buys-all philosophy. They're thinking about rising gas prices, not rising hem lengths.

"We've obviously got a lot of economic issues," Brooks says. Retailers, she says, have responded by playing it safe. They're ordering another batch of the gladiator sandals that sold well last year, peddling the kind of benignly pretty floral-print frocks that they hope will have mass appeal.

"I think it's probably smart," Brooks says. "If you offer people change and something radical at a time when they are feeling cautious and not open to making big, radical statements, that stuff will sit on the shelf."

Still, the line between basic and boring is a fine one. Playing it safe is "kind of a double-edged sword," says Cindy Weber Cleary, fashion director at In Style magazine. "You risk not tempting the customer."

So what should a would-be customer buy this season? A few of spring's big looks, such as safari-inspired khaki jackets, are likely to stay in style for decades, making them smart investments. For those who want a leg up on fall trends, dusky florals and a muted palette will be popular.

Still, the smartest approach is probably to be a little anti-trend. Pay less attention to what's on the runway and more to your lifestyle and budget; then buy clothes that fulfill both of those needs and then some.

"My best advice is not about, 'Will the trend last for one season?' " Weber Cleary says. "It's more about choosing very carefully what you buy, investing in things that are a classic silhouette -- that you can wear three seasons a year, for many seasons to come."

"Pick pieces you like," Brooks says. "I don't think women are as dictated to anymore. . . . And long may that continue."

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