You had only to see those Seventh Avenue designers with noses pressed against the showcases of lace clothing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York to know that something was about to happen with lace. It has. Things pretty and feminine are replacing much of the recent hard tailoring, and lace was a dominant theme in the Paris ready-to-wear collection for fall, particularly with romantic blouses worn with black pants or knickers.

Some of the prettiest lace blouses around are made by Elizabeth Rose O'Beirne Ranelagh, who at age 9 in Ireland was taught by a nun to make lace. She uses only a strong-weight cotton from Brittany for her individual lace blouse and dress designs.

Pictured at right is a handmade lace blouse in an ancient Celtic design by O'Beirne-Ranelagh, from Exit ($130).

Sketched, from left: Giorgio Sant Angelo's lace-trimmed wool dress at Rizik's ($195). Jessica Gunnies' lace yoke blouse with a lace and tiered skirt with satin ribbon trim, both from Saks Fifth Avenue (blouse $22, skirt $28). Top, Ralph Lauren's tailored shirt with an outline of lace, with a lace hanky in the blazer pocket, from Bloomingdale's (shirt $100, hanky $6). Bottom, lace-edged scarf, at Saks ($18).