Pick your decade, even your century. For the spring ahead, there are styles reminiscent of most of them. There may be a certain security in looking back to the 1960s for short skirts and sleeveless tops, or even to the 1860s for puffed skirts and fichus, but the new clothes actually make only a nod to ages past. Their soft construction and mix of natural and test-tube fabrics push them into the times ahead.

And there's one trend that never seems to go out of fashion -- higher prices.

So what should we expect for the season ahead -- and what should we look for on sale racks in keeping with what's to come? Here are a few of our favorites:

Short skirts will be back -- you decide how short is short. Short, full skirts look fresher than ones cut short and tight.

Shorts that are long, even grazing the top of the knee, will appear appropriately in the office. (No surprise here -- Washingtonians love shorts for leisure in the summer.)

Shoulders will be exposed in new ways, with off-shoulder necklines or wrapped in fichus. (And when shoulders are covered, expect a soft pad giving shape underneath.)

Short jackets give a fresh proportion with skirts (the shorter the better) or with pants.

Cropped tops will bare the midriff. Cutouts, carefully done, will reveal corners of the torso, and the back as well.

Stretch fabrics give a simpler cut, a snugger fit.

Pants, as before, will prove a welcome alternative to short skirts.

Notes de la Mode

Bill Blass' Christmas message was not on a card, and it wasn't gift wrapped. It was a letter announcing that he was making a donation to the Association to Benefit Children. "At this festive time of year it seems unconscionable to give friends flowers and expensive gifts when our city is so full of homeless children in need."

The Fashion Institute of Technology has appropriately announced its next major show, "Jocks and Nerds," on a polyvinyl shirt-pocket liner, the kind that protects the shirt from ball point pens. But meanwhile, if you're in New York soon, you can still catch the "Surrealism and Fashion" exhibition at FIT. And embroideries from the House of Lesage in Paris, including things made for Elsa Schiaparelli, Karl Lagerfeld and Christian Lacroix, will remain on exhibit through Jan. 9.

When we finished writing about the many projects of Washington photographer Joyce Tenneson last week -- including the Matsuda book and the poster for the Louvre in Paris, we wondered what she could do to top that. Then along came a call from Karl Lagerfeld asking Tenneson to come to Monte Carlo to photograph his new campaign. Bravo.

Coming Attractions: What's in Stores for 1988

With the entry of new stores in the area, the competition is heating up on the local fashion scene, and an exciting list of fashion events is starting to develop.

Already scheduled: Carolyne Roehm will present her collection on Jan. 12 for Wolf Trap volunteers involved in the gala benefit tied to the opening of Nordstrom's at Tysons Corner. The French Embassy will host a fashion presentation for American Merchandising Corp. executives on Jan. 14, showcasing 200 years of French fashion. Choreographer and dancer Rene Goliard is staging the event, which will include copies of early costumes as well as clothes from the most recent showings in Paris. (The next day the show will be presented at lunch for the Washington Fashion Group Inc.)

There's more. Washington-born Paris designer Vicki Tiel will be at Garfinckel's on Jan. 28 and 29 and Zandra Rhodes will be there Feb. 10-12. And to launch its new shop, the Right Stuff, Saks-Jandel will bring another American-born, Paris-based designer, Patrick Kelly, to Washington on Feb. 8 for a charity evening.