Every season, designers make a host of bold suggestions about how a woman should dress. They offer advice to men, too, but the helpful hints to gentlemen tend to be subtle and presented with great trepidation. There's always the sense that no one really expects the average man to wear pink pants, no matter how charming rose-colored trousers might be on a boy paid to walk with a slouch and exhibit knowing ennui.
For women, however, it's a different matter. Designers brazenly suggest the most eclectic array of styles and colors, all presented as archetypes. For fall, the offerings include the rich bohemian, the carefree hippie, the urban warrior, the Wild West socialite, the gothic romantic and even the Space Age vixen. Taken in their full, authentic costume, they are all too much to bear.
They all must be picked apart, finely combed and dutifully edited so that the reasonable pieces remain along with just enough frippery to keep it all interesting.
Much has been made of the womenswear collections for fall '99. They are the final collections of a century. Promotional material has been bloated with references to millennium fashion as if it should all be aglow with halogen lights and flashing computer screens. The reality, though, is that the styles that are most likely to entice in the future are those that hark back to the simplest desires for comfort, luxury and the feeling of being "pulled together."
After countless seasons of bare legs, designers put sheer pantyhose--black--back on the runway. From the start, most women disliked the idea of bare legs in a pair of dressy shoes or with a formal evening gown. They could not accept the notion that going out with naked legs in the dead of winter was the act of a rational woman. And so, designers have relented, most notably Calvin Klein. They have recommitted themselves to that final touch that signifies that a woman is dressed for her office, cocktail party or dinner. Seventh Avenue bows to tradition and decorum.
In footwear, designers turned attention to boots. They range in height from the ankle to the knee, but they come, almost without fail, with high heels. But their most distinguishing feature is the material of which they are constructed. Gucci offers crushed velvet boots, for instance. Other versions come in calf hair, although designers like to call it pony. And still other styles are available in reptile skin and fur.
It's fitting that in the midst of the fashion industry's fascination with high-tech fabrics, the material most universally embraced for fall is something as simple as denim. Of course, designers, not content to use cotton denim, have embraced luxurious look-alike versions made of wool and silk blends. Stella McCartney cuts sexy, figure-hugging jeans; Marc Jacobs designed dungarees that are quietly elegant; places such as the Gap and Banana Republic tout raw denim that is dark blue or black and has a crisp finish; and mainstream manufacturers continue to churn out denim decorated with ribbons and embroidery.
Because designers have in recent seasons been enamored of long, slim skirts, it only makes sense that they have now switched to long, full skirts. The fullness comes from kick pleats, box pleats and even gathers. Gucci's dirndl skirt is designed to sit low on the waist, thereby evoking some form of forbidden sex appeal--like when an adolescent boy has naughty thoughts about his prim schoolmarm.
And finally, fur, perhaps the oldest form of luxury--didn't cave men have mink peacoats?--enters the new century with the most rejuvenated image. Not only is an industry that once shied away from fur now celebrating it; fashion houses are manipulating fur in ways not thought possible only a few years ago. At Fendi, designer Karl Lagerfeld is shearing mink so close to the skin that it resembles and moves like velvet. They are embracing skins such as Persian lamb and astrakhan, which had been considered old-fashioned. Michael Kors uses one of the highest priced furs--sable--to line the most mundane frock--a poncho.
There are a host of other amusing notions being offered for fall '99, such as beaded belts, status handbags, shoes that look like Henry Moore sculptures and quilted vests that come with their own inflated neck rests. They are not bad ideas. (A neck rest would be quite handy if one had a tendency to nod off on the Metro.) But one can bet that they will not endure. And despite consumers' desire for luxury, comfort, stylishness and fun, longevity is the rarest and most valuable commodity of all.