The silhouette is slimmer, the colors stronger, the skirts shorter. But when it comes down to the crucial issues in selecting clothes for fall, the question is surviving in a high price world. With higher prices taking a firmer bite out of household budgets, making more out of less is the unbeatable skill.

We've tapped the tools of some women who do this well. They turn proper business suits into dinner costumes, extend well chosen pumps for day into evening, find separate jackets that beat the clock and coats that span Washington's mild to cold weather as well as weekend to daily wear.

Buying cheap is not buying well. Buying fewer well-made clothes that can be worn lots of ways and last a long time are bargains in the end.

GLORIA BURGESS laughs. "Even if they knew my name was Gloria Thorpe at Calvin Coolidge High School they probably wouldn't recognize me now. In junior high school whenever I had money or could get fabric to sew I made something. And by the end of 12th grade, I really had it together creating my own look," says Burgess, now one of Paris' top models. "I always knew what would enhance my body, even if my classmates didn't think much of it."

She's flip about clothes, says she doesn't own much, but buys few things and keeps them a long time. When she is home, she is likely to borrow something of her mother's and remake it, like the black tunic she turned into a jacket and belted for herself. She rarely dresses all in one color and likes to mix everything. "For me to wear something in the street, it's got to be feminine and in a soft material," says Burgess, who goes from baggy to skin-tight clothes with no problem. Her favorite period on the runway was when Saint Laurent was doing folkloric things of Oriental things.

Beverly Lee has her wardrobe divided into two equal parts: "interview clothes" and her skinny, stretchy, kinky disco clothes. "Interview stuff I pick up at the start of the season, adding just enough to what I already own to make my clothes look new," she says. But for discos like Studio 54 she's always checking boutiques in the Village.

Lee worked in the cosmetic department at Woodies before modeling full-time in New York and Paris. She gets a call from the boutiques of Givenchy, Valentino and Saint Laurent when the samples go on sale. What she saves on these sales she puts into shoes at $150-plus a pair, "comfortable and well made so they are worth it," she says. Her key accessory these days: Saint Laurent's bright pink lipstick No. 19.

"I'm a colorful person. I need color in my life," says Claudia Sampson, researcher and reporter at WETA. She was born in Panama and "likes things and colors that suggest heat."

Sampson is a master bargain shopper. "The trick of thrift shopping," says Sampson, "is to be open-minded. You don't look for anything in particular and don't restrict yourself to size or shape."

She also gets the most out of her clothes by pushing them all for year-round wear.

"I work in a world where the men all wear three-piece business suits," says Lane Johnston, staff adviser to the American Petroleum Institute. "So I wear a lot of suits. They make me feel neat."

Suits are her big investment. "Change the blouse and its' a different looking suit with a different mood," she says. She wears no black: "It's harsh on me, and I can get the same effect with navy."

By 11 each morning, Eve Lloyd Thompson has cleaned six stalls, galloped, showered and fed her 13 horses, and done her vegetable garden tasks. "It would be earlier except that I'm a slow stall cleaner," says Thompson. Then her other tasks as president of the Maryland Horse Shows Association and freelance interior designer begin. She wears stretch jodhpurs by Gayer's ("you can't kill them") or jeans on the farm, so is never in them otherwise.

She still has Cashin and Sloat skirts, and Wragge silk shirts from her days as a buyer for Peck & Peck, then Garfinckel's, then Hecht's-- and still wears them, with her newer Ralph Lauren and Anne Kelin blazers.

Gayil Nalls, an artist well known for her encaustic paintings (an old technique using heated wax and pigment) keeps to loose-fitting clothes so when she paints they don't restrict movement.

Her painting and her style of clothes mesh. Recently she stopped painting in color "unless there was a real need for it." Now she has gone back to color in a limited way; gray with a special pink or with teal blue. She's the same way about color in clothes.

And she likes line. "I'm big on grids. And I like woven fabrics with grids." Her wardrobe is in large part commemorative, marking a trip, a new painting, a showing. "It adds to the pleasure of the clothes."

Yvonne Erwin is careful "not to wear anything that would hurt me as a dancer," so high heels are out. She's in jeans a lot, with leotards and her father's shirts. And when she goes to look for clothes, they are shaped, angular and often in vibrant colors. Erwin is just recovering from an injury while training with the Arthur Mitchell's Dance Theatre of Harlem.

She and her twin, Yvette, dressed alike up to the sixth grade until their mother "broke us out of it." But their taste is the same and they often end up in a similar look. The twins' younger sister, Andrea Erwin, who starts at the Academy of Dramatic Arts in September, likes clothes that have a direction, that stand out. "Not bashful clothes, not shy butterfly stuff," she says. "I like clothes that are very demanding, very boss," like slim skirts with long belted jackets.