If you like your skirts way above the knee, you are in keeping with the Italian designers. If you like them long and full, you are in step with some of the French. If a lean and long skirt is what you feel looks best on you, many New York designers offer that choice.
The roving hemline has been a popular scheme of designers in their collections for fall. Many are showing long and short hems in the same collection, even identical dresses cut off at different lengths to make the point that it's the customer's option.
It's part of the push in this period of tough going for the fashion business to put away contrived clothes of the past couple of seasons and restore some of the familiar shapes, even classic styles, in a modern way.
Oversized and multi-layered clothes have been sent to the attic, funny-shaped pants put away for costume parties and overscaled football-player shoulders returned to the locker room.
"Business is going to be harder next fall and clothes will have to be very understandable to the customer," says Ellin Saltzman, fashion director at Saks Fifth Avenue. "Gimmicks are dead. Contrived clothing is dead. Clothes have to make sense to the customer and not be boring."
What makes them interesting from the runway, and pleasing to store buyers who have been scouting the collections for more than a month, is the more pared-down shape with jackets a little leaner and skirts a little slimmer than they've been in years. Other recurring themes:
* Black is next season's favorite neutral, ideal for a narrow skirt of any length and a tuxedo for evening. It is often brightened with a shock of color, sometimes with gray. And in a season when classic styling is a major theme, popular shades include gray and navy, which haven't been important in women's clothes for a while.
* Big lapels, some that even develop into cape collars, give width at the top and balance the popular slim silhouette.
* Dolman sleeves give a practical roominess to tops because of the wide armholes.
* Fabric-and-texture mixes give flexibility to suits with pants or skirts.
* Big full coats provide functional coverage over everything. Most of them are very long to cover every length and keep those in short skirts warm when the weather turns cold.
Hats and gloves show up on most of the models. Hats haven't been popular for a while, which undoubtedly adds to their appeal at the moment. Besides, they look right with the clothes. Gloves are simply practical for cold weather. Jewelry looks real, and in many of the recent shows was real (Ralph Lauren's cameos, for example, were collectors' pieces).
Shoes also have gotten the classic treatment with pumps, sometimes with mid-high heels when shown with narrow skirts. Boots show up often with the longer hemline.
Most designers have made sure that the narrow skirt leaves room for comfort, eased with front buttons, back slits and wrap styles. "It is elegant. It makes women look taller and thinner, and isn't that what every woman wants?" said Sonja Caproni, I. Magnin's fashion director.
Saltzman of Saks Fifth Avenue isn't so sure. "When the woman gets the long skirts into the dressing room I think she will shorten them to right below the knee. It will be more comfortable that way."