Learning to live with lean looks

September 19, 1990|By Holly Hanson | Holly Hanson,N.Y. Times News Service

THE DEMISE of big shoulder pads sent many women into a tailspin.

After all, shoulder pads are a godsend to anyone whose hips are less than svelte. A little extra width at the top helps to balance a little extra width at the bottom.

But fortunately, designers are providing some compensation for the lack of huge padded shoulders. Though clothes aren't quite as wide at the top these days, they're being shown over sleek leg coverings that help to create that same lean line.

Slim skirts are paired with matching tights in a rainbow of bright colors and prints. Fingertip-length blazers are worn over taut velvet leggings for a new twist on the suit. And hooded duffel coats are a natural match for skinny stirrup pants.

With such a proliferation of interesting legwear parading down the runways and into the stores, it's no wonder fashion mavens have dubbed this the year of the leg.

The best part of this trend is that flawless legs are not a requirement. If you have them, you can show them off. If you don't, you can camouflage the imperfections.

The easiest way to do that is with a pair of stirrup pants. While the term may conjure up pictures of skin-tight ski pants that leave absolutely nothing to the imagination, stirrup pants actually come in a variety of widths and shapes.

For the slender and well-toned, there are sleek, wool-knit styles that hug the leg from thigh to ankle, often with ankle zippers to emphasize that skinny line. An oversized sweater is the classic match for slim stirrups, but the well-toned might also try a swingy bolero or classic bomber jacket.

For bodies with a few bumps and bulges, a more generously cut stirrup pant is better. Look for a classic trouser style with a waistband and a pleated front, as this version will assure more room in the thigh. Try these with a bodysuit and a natty jacket.

Most stores already are carrying a wide variety of stirrups, but The Limited is the closest thing to stirrup-pant heaven. There, you'll find stretch corduroy pants with detachable stirrups, cotton-Lycra styles with pleated waists, and even glen-plaid versions tailored like trousers.

BWhere stirrups are concerned, the length of the rise is as crucial as the length of the legs. The crotch should not pull too tightly, nor should it drag around the knees.

While stirrup pants can be extremely forgiving for a less-than-perfect figure, leggings are another story. Most leggings contain some Lycra, which helps rein in minor bulges, but the skin-tight fit is a bit daunting for most women.

As a result, the most popular and flattering way to wear leggings is to top them with a long jacket or a big sweater that conveniently skim over trouble spots.

To pull off this look, however, be sure to choose a sweater or jacket that has some width at the bottom. A sweater that ends in a ribbed cuff that hugs the thighs will call attention to the very area that a big sweater is supposed to camouflage.

For the truly daring, the trendiest garment of the season is the catsuit, a full-length, one-piece unitard that covers the body from feet to neck. It fits like a second skin and is designed to be the foundation for a layered look.

While it seems like a simple way to dress (in the morning, simply put on a catsuit and top it with a skirt and jacket, or perhaps a

big sweater), the catsuit has its problems.

For one thing, it can be very hot, especially when it's worn with several layers on top. It can be claustrophobic. And getting the right fit can be a challenge, even with the wonders of stretch fabric.

Fortunately, it's easy to approximate the look of a catsuit by wearing tights and turtlenecks that match.

Tights are a simple (and inexpensive) way to bring your legs into the forefront. It's important to note, though, that we aren't talking about regular pantyhose. Tights are opaque, made of lightweight wool, ribbed cotton or stretch velvet as well as the more conventional nylon. They come in dozens of colors and patterns, from the wild pop art of a Pucci print to the elegant splendor of deep black velvet.

If you have well-toned legs, show them off in patterned or brightly colored tights that contrast with your clothes. And tights are the best way to disguise the imperfections. The trick is to match your tights and shoes to your skirt, which creates a long, lean line.

Even without shoulder pads.

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