Poetic Mode

Too pretty to be mistaken for a hairdresser's cape, though one fellow did wonder what became of her pants. Conceivably, one could take poetic license with this garment and wear it as blouse or dress and, conceivably, nobody would notice the difference. Either way, it makes a certain statement, and nobody could ever fault fashion for being both zippy and versatile.

Navy-and-white striped smock by Isaac Mizrahi, $860, at Nan Duskin in Baltimore.

My a la Mode

A whimsical number. Simply executed, wonderfully breezy. The fashion equivalent of 1-800-FLOWERS. Perfect attire for cocktail party conversations that begin, "Is that dress inspired by Manet or Monet?" To which you reply, coolly, "Does it matter? It's mine." That should deter further sartorial clarifications.

Trapeze dress by Geoffrey Beene, $2,990, at Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue.

In a Mod Mode

Twiggy probably wore this with white go-go boots and false eyelashes. You have to admit the '60s were fun. All those Mods and Rockers and Hippies running around, doin' their thing. Never trust anyone over 30. Wasn't that the motto? Well, a lot of the designers who are doing the '60s thing are thirtysomething, which is kind of funny. Should we trust them? Depends. Would you wear a wide belt around your hips?

Nicole Miller minidress, $275, at Claire Dratch and Woodward & Lothrop.

Ode to The Dress: Seven Modes Of the Code

How Modern Is It?

By far the most ubiquitous style -- slim, straightforward and sleeveless. Vaguely Paley, as in Babe, the departed socialite whose swan-neck image provides a handy peg this season. You mean like a Babe Paley dress? This is fashionspeak for clothes that are more like something or someone than unlike anything. A psychedelic print is "like Pucci." A boxy white suit is "like Courreges." So what's not to like about spring?

Byblos dress, $390, at Woodward & Lothrop and Silhouette.

Mode For the Road

Ideal for top-down travel. Think of Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney somewhere in France. Kind of dreamy for polka dots, yet potentially reckless considering the direction of the neckline. Something wildly feminine, too, about a belted waist and full skirt. Makes you want to sit back like a beauty queen and yell, "Drive!"

Black-and-white silk faille dress by Oscar de la Renta, $1,750, at Elizabeth Arden.

Mode & Flack

Simply divine! Inspirational! So pure! How do fashion flacks find it in their hearts to say such things about a piece of fabric with two strings for straps? The Dress is Back! So we've heard. But where has it been hiding all these years? In the lingerie department? Under the bed? Alas, nobody seems to know. Suffice it to say that nothing so plain would ever survive without a chorus of flacks behind it. See picture for details.

Calvin Klein slip dress, available with pearl or wood beading only. Collection at Saks Jandel and Bloomingdale's.

Mode On the Range

Can we talk? How firm are those biceps? Been on a Stairmaster lately? It stands to reason that a backless dress requires a good back, not to mention a certain willingness to show it off. Nobody ever said fashion was fair, but what happened to clothes that made us look perfect even if we weren't? You know, clothes that concealed more than they revealed? And you thought wearing a dress would be a piece of cake.

Suede dress by Ralph Lauren, $1,750, at Polo/Ralph Lauren in Georgetown Park.