NEW YORK -- For those who were hoping that at least one major New York designer would come out for long skirts for spring, well, get out your sewing boxes. The American designers who have shown their collections so far -- and that includes many of the heavy hitters -- have made it clear they agree with the Europeans: Shorter is better.

Hems have ranged from just above the knee at Albert Nipon to brief as bathing suits at Cathy Hardwick.

And at Calvin Klein, where Seventh Avenue's strongest statement on short skirts was made last season, skirts to wear during the day are about four inches above the knee. For evening, they're even shorter.

"Fashion goes in 10-year cycles. As much as it changes each season, there aren't big changes in the way women dress. But once in a while there's a major change, like last season," Klein said after his show yesterday. "Women will look strong and feminine for the next decade."

Within each cycle there are some changes. Most of Klein's models had long, full hair for the show, but he's sure, before long, "the models will start chopping it off." Hemlines, though, are not about to change. "I don't think we will see the end of short skirts for a long time," said Klein firmly.

"Hemlines are more daring for evening, less daring for day. But I don't see long clothes coming back. Anything just below the knee for day just seems drab and dismal. They remind me of Depression clothes and I hope that is not a sign of anything that is happening."

What is happening with the American designers is a refinement of the dramatic change that happened recently. Since they've learned that women are buying the shorter lengths and leaner silhouettes, they have gained the confidence to decorate the clothes and make them prettier and more feminine. "When you try and make a statement about shape, a solid color makes the statement most clearly. But once established, then prints and soft colors all become part of the look," said Klein.

He opened his show with a parade of a dozen models in black stretch jersey swimsuits under black robes, and then moved into minimal sportswear separates such as a short stretch cotton cardigan, bandeau and mini.

Although all the clothes were short, they were decidedly more ladylike than their counterparts the season before. Not just because of the pretty mixed flower prints and the soft colors, but the details of shoes, high heel or flat, in fabrics to match or contrast. The matching shoe, a pet theme with European designers, surfaced at Nipon and Blass. Hats, too, in all the collections, have added an element of femininity.

Klein uses easy tunics over short skirts, flared satinized rubber tent coats over very becoming suits or separates. But for the most part, his style is very body conscious, and strictly for those who have been body conscientious. Many of the outfits are simply a slip of a dress barely long enough for a pair of panties to be worn underneath.

Even when he shows pants, the alternative to short skirts, they are lean and usually with short jackets that demand a trim waistline. Certainly his sheer organza blouses don't offer much of a hiding place for the less than perfect figure.

It was clear from the look of the crowd at Calvin Klein's show that many took their cue from his collection last season -- not only on skirt lengths but on bright color. Klein's wife Kelly, who was in the audience for the first time as a guest (rather than an assistant in the design department), was wearing a bright yellow jacket. Paloma Picasso was in a jade green dress and red coat. Several in the crowd were wearing Klein's red suit.

But for spring, Klein's colors are mostly subdued taupes and grays and face-powder colors, some the dusty tones taken from his floral patterns. Occasionally there is a bold color mix like a sapphire charmeuse tunic over a navy charmeuse miniskirt or a chartreuse faille ottoman jacket with an olive satin skirt -- a nifty way to get dressed up without being overdressed.

Last season's successful black lace has developed into silver lace for spring, again in the sparest and leanest possible shapes. "Silver lace is very sexy and very rich," said Klein.

Probably even more expensive are the heavy soutache embroideries made in Paris for Klein by Lessage. Klein admitted they are very expensive but he sees the practical side. "At a time like this, when you buy something very expensive it should be something that you can wear for a long time. An embroidered jacket or embroidered stole is something you can wear for a long, long time," said Klein.

At least until the next cycle comes along.