You can buy the Krizia white Angora sweater from Italy decorated with large pearl buttons for $450 at Garfinckel's . . . or you can sew pearl buttons on a favorite white sweater and transform it for the holidays.
You can buy Anne Klein's olive silk charmeuse blouse with beaded shoulder applique for $360 at Saks Fifth Avenue. Or you can add your own beaded applique and make a silk blouse more festive.
You can buy an Evelyn de Jonge gold-embroidered black velvet jacket at Woodies for $136. Or you can add embroidery to a classic cardigan jacket you already own.
Making-do has become a ground rule for dealing with escalating clothing costs. But making something more useful -- and more stylish -- often has the bonus of reviving something pushed to the back of the closet.
"Making-do without looking tacky was the challenge of my generation," says Lilo Markrich, the Textile Museum's gallery shop executive. Because there were never enough coupons for clothes in England during the war, "rather than looking genteel and refurbished, you tried to look a little outrageous." Markrich suggests using cloisonne buttons or scarves -- from the Textile Museum shop, of course -- as ways to revitalize clothes today.
Elaborate decoration has helped to hike clothing prices this season as designers attempt to woo buyers with special effects. But if you start with something unadorned (already in your closet or bought in the current rash of sales), the biggest cost is over and you can rationalize spending on trims.
Putting braid down the front and around the collar of a cardigan jacket isn't, of course, going to convince anyone that you just invested in a Chanel or Adolfo. But it could give you a festive feeling (and even hide a frayed corner or buttonhole).
Fabric stores, aware that their customers are becoming more ingenious by necessity, have developed a considerable stock of new and old embroideries, buttons, ribbons. Particularly fruitful sources are the G Street Remnant Shop and Fabrics Unlimited (Arlington.)
A few shops specializing in upholstery fabrics (Pierre Deux in the Mazza Gallerie is among the best) carry wonderful print borders to be used as waist insets, print contrasts at the hem, to lengthen a skirt or dress.
Lovely lace collars and jabots -- to enhance plain blouses or sweaters -- are harder to find. Most of the commercial variety are new and small and undistinquished. The real treasures are in antique clothing stores like The Great Gatsby in Alexandria, which buys estates full of elaborate collars and garments.
Little girls may outgrow their dresses, but not their lace collars, claims Jane Boykin of Ruffles and Flourishes in Arlington (which means the collar can be moved from dress to dress as they grow). Many lace collars that fit older children also will fit adult women.
Myriel (she doesn't use her last name) of Fabrics Unlimited stresses the importance of bringing the garment along to consider new trims.
"Some customers consider only braiding or embroidery that matches," she says, "when a contrast color and even gold trim might be far more effective. Even something as unexpected as patches might be just what is needed to doctor up something, but it takes seeing the original garment to know."