Never content to leave well enough alone, designers are prone to fiddle and end up with muddle. Having hiked up hemlines, they now want to test the lengths women will go to look like adolescents. This regressive tactic comes in the form of tiny shorts, baby-doll dresses and the sort of "fit and flair" costumes that one normally associates with ice skaters.

Even more curious are the many attempts by designers to reinvent the mini -- by turning it into a diaper, by creating towel-like wrap that buttons at one side or by shredding it into scraps of fabric. Such gestures do little to convince women that fashion is in their best interests. Giorgio Armani, on the other hand, suggests that women will feel more comfortable in mini shifts next spring if they wear shorts under them. According to this theory, shorts are a novel solution, just as catsuits were hailed as a convenience -- perfect for home or office! -- except when one went to the bathroom.

But there's a precedent for nearly everything in fashion. When viewed through family photo albums, the '60s are remarkable for producing uniformity: Grandmothers, mothers and daughters are dressed virtually alike, their skirts hemmed well above their knees. Today we laugh when a woman doesn't "act her age," but then the '60s were the last period in fashion when there was a consensus. Later on, in the early '70s, hot pants were greeted with catcalls and models were frequently posed for photographs next to construction workers, who were only too happy to look up from their ditches. Still, women wore them.

Nor did women apparently mind looking like children -- with flat Peter Pan collars, schoolgirl jumpers and bouffant hairdos that made their heads seem disproportionately large. As Alison Lurie says in "The Language of Clothes": "The baby-doll nightgown and the brief lacy baby-doll dress attempted, with results which now seem ridiculous rather than seductive, to make grown women look like toddlers with a glandular affliction, or like severely retarded nubile teenagers."

In the current '60s drill, women are encouraged to wear hot pants by thinking of them as extensions of something else -- longer jackets, dresses and matched tights that, in effect, create a continuous line from waist to shoe. But viewed from the back, a woman so disguised will appear to have forgotten something vital -- namely, her skirt.

Perhaps that's what designers intend after all.