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A MATTER OF ATTITUDE

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IMAGINE QUEEN ELIZABETH without her crown. The Lone Ranger without Tonto. Paris without the Eiffel Tower. It’s simply all wrong. One is so much a part of the other that to consider each alone is all but impossible. Fashion this fall is very much the same way: A single good piece does not a statement make. The key now-both in Europe and in America-is the total look, from head to toe. That wonderful tweed suit, for example, is very dependent on, say, a hat or gloves or boots. To wear one without the other is almost unthinkable. At the very least, it is undesirable. And not nearly as effective. At last we are being forced to think of ourselves in terms of a complete body, not merely an assemblage of parts that are to be dealt with at whim and with varying degrees of concern.

The difference this season is attitude. For Scarlett O’Hara it was that slight lift of the eyebrow, the childish pout of the lip and stomp of the foot. It was an attitude, an unmistakable relaying of the message “I am to be pampered always-regardless.” This fall’s clothes require a true sense of confidence, of self-assuredness. Of strength. The need to be taken seriously whether in the boardroom or the boudoir, with fust enough sense of whimsy never to take anything too seriously, especially fasfjion. The desire to stand on your own in the midst of a hundred navy-blue suits.

And since the suit is the most important single element this fall, logically enough, a great deal has been borrowed from mens-wear (after all, men were wearing suits long before women even dreamed of it). The lines are long and lean, clean, simple, classic. Tailored, yet feminine. Strong. The colors are rich and pure and full of impact. Smooth. Accessories are meant to polish – to pull a look together – but not to be worn with everything as a uniform. Even the approach to hair is important. With these simpler lines, an unruly mane of hair destroys the entire image. Consider, instead, something shorter and smoother. Something sleek, elegant, controlled.

Consider this season’s menswear. It too will be sleek and elegant (thanks, in part, to the recent flood of nostalgia films). Classic. Refined. As with womenswear, shape is essential – more in line with the shape of the body. And fine tailoring is vital this fall – the push toward investment dressing is everywhere, which means better fabrics and more precise stitching. And, of course, there are a few designers (such as Jhane Barnes, winner of this year’s Cutty Sark award for Outstanding U.S. Designer) that, while adhering to the classic shapes, have ventured slightly from the norm (Barnes uses novel hand-woven fabrications and combinations of silk, wool and cotton). Almost everyone is stressing clothing (suits and tailored sports jackets) as opposed to sportswear, and even the sportswear is dressier. The result: a look of overall elegance.

The English influence is obvious (the aftereffects of Brideshead Revisited etc.): ample room in the shoulders; heavier but not padded shoulders; lower armholes that allow the fabric to flow; a slightly nipped-in waist; fuller trousers with tapered cuffs; a slightly longer jacket. Finishing touches are very important: cashmere or argyle socks; sleek, well-made shoes; a shirt with French cuffs that takes links; a hat; an alligator belt; a pocket square. If one were to attempt to incorporate all of these at once, he would become a sort of walking circus, but any number of combinations can add elegance or expression or both.

Unlike men, who can rely on a good suit for almost any occasion, women assume that once they’ve found the “right look,” their job is complete. They tend to forget- or worse, don’t even realize-that wearing the right thing at the wrong time is almost as bad as never finding the right look at all. It’s simply a matter of understanding appropriateness, of knowing when to wear what. It’s craving that heavy wool sweater-dress and matching coat you spied in the window of Bloomingdale’s, but knowing it would be lost in Dallas. It’s saving that sexy tuxedo suit for evening and the bouncy rah-rah skirt for weekends. It’s matching time and place with mood and attitude.

As for specifics, look for a narrower vertical silhouette in almost everything: jackets, skirts, sweaters, pants, dresses. The effect is one of extreme sophistication and elegance, which is one reason the right attitude is so important: When combined with a tomboyish or teeny-bop -or even a too-serious -approach, these clothes are disastrous.

You won’t find many slouchy, loose-fitting styles-instead, they’ve been designed to just skim the body, but not cling. And as was the case this spring, length is not a great consideration (as long as you avoid mid-calf, which can look dowdy on any but the most shapely legs). Good proportion is what to look for – any combinations that help lengthen the body’s line. Several good options: a long, slim jacket over a long, full skirt or pants; a short, fitted jacket over a long, full skirt; a long, soft blouson jacket over narrow pants or a short, slim skirt; a sexy, no-frills, short black evening dress.

Unexpected accents can mean the difference between a good look and a great look. Try an oversized fedora for a touch of class, a pair of black leather gloves for savvy or bold earrings for impact. Count on the all-important high-heeled pumps or boots with colored, textured hose to further lengthen the line. Or high-heeled black pumps with sheer black hose (with or without a seam for the sexiest look possible. All-black (which you can expect to see a lot) mixed with just a hint of bright color (in a glove or hose, perhaps) makes for real emphasis.

Look for clean, simple lines in leisurewear, too. The best pieces have been designed to either pull on or slip over and is perfect for action-packed weekends when you don’t want to have to think about anything. Consider sticking with one color from head to toe (especially black, red, gray, taupe or winter white) or try smooth solid combinations of color. Expect lots of cozy knit sweaters, tunics, vests, skirts and dresses that are meant to be layered or wrapped for added warmth (both physical and visual). For drama, combine several textures: soft cashmere vests over nubby wool or ribbed-knit sweaters; bulky wool leg warmers over sleek colored tights or stockings. The fundamental rules to keep in mind when buying leisurewear are comfort and whimsy – this is the time for anyone, even the bank president, to have fun and express herself.

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