The simplest explanation for the fashion industry's current fascination with modesty, reserve and ladylike comportment is that even designers had grown tired of gazing upon pudgy bared midriffs rippling over the waistbands of low-rise jeans. The time had come to cover up.
There are more complex explanations as well, and those have to do with a more serious global mood and a declining sense of frivolity. Designers spend their careers guessing what women may want six months or a year down the road. And in the fashion industry no one was willing to bet that women were going to feel giddy this fall.
So the clothes for autumn are not whimsical, cheeky or wry. They are, in fact, as serious as clothes can be.
Designers are hoping that women will continue to look to their clothes for pleasure, that they will still delight in a flattering frock or a special indulgence that will be in their wardrobe for many seasons to come. The offerings, though, have a distinct solidity to them. There are sturdy tweed jackets and assertive pencil skirts. The blouses are pretty and feminine, but they are not stitched from fabrics so fine and translucent that they look as though they might crumble to dust in a breeze. And everywhere, there is fur. Although some of it is cut so that it looks strange and prehistoric or manipulated so that it looks like corduroy or velvet, most of it is styled to evoke the polish and glamour of the 1940s and 1950s. In cut and sensibility, these are the fur coats stashed in grandmother's attic. (If only she'd kept them in cold storage!)
For fall, the fashion industry has turned its full attention back to the clothes themselves -- after several seasons of being distracted by rock star midriffs, rap star swagger and the yearnings of the "Sex and the City" girls. Celebrities are as important a part of the fashion industry as ever, but for fall, the clothes do not look as though they have been designed with only them in mind. The flash and dazzle -- that is, the jeweled frocks and the glittering brooches -- are not so much aimed at Jennifer Lopez or Nicole Kidman as they are a working woman with a soft spot for glitz and an office that looks kindly on a sprinkling of rhinestones before the cocktail hour. Fall is a season perfectly suited to the fashion needs of Washington's dominant industry -- if only politics was as glamorous as Hollywood would have folks believe.
Designers have embraced fur with gusto, focusing on cropped jackets, shrugs, scarves and trim on blazers and coats. There are stenciled furs, shaved versions, dyed ones and others designed by Rick Owens for Revillion that almost look as though they have been gnawed. The pelts range in type from mink to broadtail to acrylic fake furs. All of it is intended to lend a sense of luxury to the fall season.
Miuccia Prada decorated her coats with crystals. Other designers trimmed their blazer lapels with mink or chinchilla. And bargain hunters have already been scouring flea markets and secondhand clothing stores for vintage versions of the classic mink wrap.
This season's pencil skirts hug the bottom and they almost always look best with a good pair of heels unless one resembles Audrey Hepburn. Only then will ballet flats do. Snug little jackets have been created in nubby tweeds and so have loose-fitting trousers in order to convey the spirit of menswear. The best of these tweed garments bring enticing texture and depth to an ensemble, but thanks to modern fabric manufacturing, they are not heavy, hot or bulky.
Blouses underscore the ladylike sensibility of the season. They have been created in lush satin, in charming prints and with prim ribbons and bows at the neckline. For fall, the decolletage does not plunge to scandalous lows.
The fashion industry's obsession with chandelier earrings has given way to an emphasis on brooches. From Prada to Banana Republic, there are crystal pins in abstract designs and in shapes inspired by nature. The look of the glittering accessories is not modern but rather reminiscent of the jewelry created by men and women such as Hattie Carnegie, Albert Weiss and Marcel Boucher in the 1950s. Even shoes have been transformed into a kind of jewelry. The most striking footwear is bedecked with rhinestones and bows or constructed from offbeat shades of leather or embroidered peau de soie.
The wardrobe basics for fall -- the skirts, jackets and pants -- are subdued and unequivocally tasteful. It's the add-ons that offer the pizazz: as much or as little as one desires. Judiciousness is not necessary when indulging in gems, but it is mandatory if revealing any skin.