Last year, the fashion industry's must-buy item was a pashmina shawl. Indulgent pashmina, luxurious pashmina. Well-to-do women around the world swaddled themselves in the hand-woven cashmere-and-silk stoles. Of course, by the time less wealthy women got around to making such a purchase--by the time the $400 shawls were woven into $150 wraps--the fashion industry was happily decreeing pashmina yesterday's trend. Sorry, bargain hunters. Foiled again.

The lesson reinforced by this quick-footed fad is that it benefits the frugal shopper to note not so much the specifics being touted by the fashion industry but rather the places, concepts and events that inspire them. It's not the item. It's the feel. The mood. (Okay, sometimes it is the item. But often picking up on the theme will satisfy a hunger for an out-of-reach trend.)

For example, the twinset no longer makes waves. The plushness of the cashmere doesn't matter, nor do the myriad mouth-watering colors. But if your matching sweaters are adorned with colorful sequins sewn in an ikat-inspired pattern, well, all of a sudden it's not simply a twinset but rather part of the world culture, ethno-hippie moment. And there you are, a smart shopper positively vibrating because you're so close to the fashion pulse.

So, instead of pointing out items to buy, what follows is a glance at the elements of pop culture and the business of fashion that will help folks prep their closets for the new year.

* Latin music, as well as the cultures of Asia and Africa, will continue to influence the look of clothes. From the multi-Grammy- nominated Carlos Santana to the recently arrested Jennifer Lopez, Latin performers and their style--often filtered through a Miami sensibility--inspire designers such as Donatella Versace, Tom Ford and others. The homage to world cultures comes in both subtle and obvious ways, from a sweet ruffle on the hem of a blouse to a flounce on a rumba dress.

* Now that Gucci has purchased the house of Yves Saint Laurent, the industry anticipates Ford working the same resuscitative magic at the sluggish French fashion company that he conjured at the once-ailing Italian firm. Ford already cuts a mean Saint Laurent-inspired pantsuit for Gucci. A reborn le smoking can't be far behind.

* Other acquisitions underscore the skyrocketing importance of accessories to the fashion industry. LVMH Moet Hennessey Louis Vuitton recently teamed up with Prada to buy a controlling interest in Fendi. The deal was propelled by the popularity of the Rome-based Fendi's handbags: the baguette and the croissant. The highly adorned, petite bags, which are priced from $800 on up through the roof, have highlighted the ability of accessories to revitalize an entire company. Now, everyone from Giorgio Armani to Jil Sander is looking to take advantage of the lucrative accessories market. Forget the new wardrobe, invest in a marquee bag.

* Code magazine, from the publishing empire of Larry Flynt, has been quietly addressing the style interests of well-to-do African American men. In its fashion pages, it embraces looks from the downtown hipster to the uptown banker. As it expands the ways in which the fashion industry sees black men, it also portrays urban style as more than baggy jeans and logo T-shirts. Someday soon, the young men's sportswear market may actually start promoting clothes that fit.

* The fashion industry has mined the '60s, '70s and '80s for style inspiration. Now it's time for the '50s. Dries Van Noten offers full skirts for spring and Miuccia Prada has revised the preppy style of the era. The films "Liberty Heights" and "The Talented Mr. Ripley" should give designers continued inspiration for spring 2001.

* The Food Network has become a guilty pleasure. From "Emeril Live" to "Iron Chef," all that kitschy televised cooking makes home entertaining mighty attractive. After all, how did most people ring in the New Year? At home. The combination of hearth infatuation and luxury-goods lust results in lazy-day clothes in opulent materials. Designers may yet make a profit promoting cashmere bathrobes.

CAPTION: "Liberty Heights" mined '50s fashion, which influenced Dries Van Noten and Miuccia Prada.

CAPTION: Pop singer Jennifer Lopez, helping bring a Latin flair to design.

CAPTION: A pinstriped pantsuit by Tom Ford for Gucci.

CAPTION: Code magazine, setting standards for black men.

CAPTION: Fendi's baguette bag, starting at $800 and showing up on the arms of the stylish.