Because the suit is the wardrobe mainstay for many Washington women -- as well as the big investment item -- accessory variations are important for stretching its use for work and leisure.

While suits tend to have slightly shorter jackets this season and shorter hems (about knee length), the biggest change can be made with the addition of a new blouse. Perhaps the most appealing versions this season have a soft touch, a bit of ruffle or lace to give a more fragile and more feminine look even to the distinctly menswear blazer or success suit.

Current styles add more emphasis and detail around the neck, in contrast to the spare jewel or boat necklines of other seasons.

Also to soften the collar line, designers have once more revived the small scarf or muffler, to be tied snugly around the neck and filling in the front of the jacket.

Low-heeled shoes and colored (matching or contrasting) hose will also help update any fall or winter costume. CAPTION: Illustrations 1 through 4, Lace-edged blouse (also works well under sweaters). In white cotton and polyester, by Chaus at Woodward & Lothrop, $36. Pleated-front silk shirt with slotted pocket. In deep burgundy, by Harve Benard at Saks Fifth Avenue, $72. Wavy-print silk blouse in burnt orange and navy with soft tie that also can be worn as a high-tied bow. At Saks Fifth Avenue, $84. High lace collar ruff, tied up in green velvet on cream-colored polyester blouse by Albert Capraro. Al Claire Dratch, $76. Illustration by Martha Vaughan for The Washington Post