I KNOW, I KNOW. Only a few of us are in the market for a new resort wardrobe now.
But those new fashions coming into the stores aren't just for women packing to go away for a warm-weather vacation; they include many items that can add some desperately needed variety to a tired winter wardrobe.
Resort collections also provide the first opportunity for trying out the new spring trends -- a fresh palette of colors and simple dresses with matching jackets, to name just a few.
The whole idea of the cruise/resort season is confusing, since the category stretches from December through February and has come to include everything from cotton short sets to lightweight wool suits. It all depends on the designer.
In fact, as Ruth Shaw explains, the resort collection from the Europeans can often just mean the first shipment of spring. "The Europeans don't really understand cruise because most of them go away skiing in the winter," she says.
From the Italian company, Genny, for instance, she's carrying light gabardine suits suitable for transitional wear in Baltimore.
Tom Marotta of Nan Duskin is typical of many buyers who cater to the upper end of the retail market. He buys for two different kinds of customers when he's planning resort wear -- for women who will be vacationing in the southern United States, who tend to be looking for early spring looks, and for those traveling to the islands, who're in search of more playful clothes.
TROPICAL PARADISE TOGS.
These vacation clothes tend to have a more glamorous shine this season, with sequins and gold trim lending extra versatility for day into evening wear. At Nan Duskin, this includes a yellow sequin tank top and shorts from Michael Kors.
Sequins also turn up in the Eleanor Brenner collection at the Red Garter, embellishing the shoulders straps of bra tops.
"It's not as vulgar as it sounds, it's very tasteful," says Charlotte Fischer, owner of the store, who also bought baseball jackets from the line for cover-ups, walking shorts [a little longer this year] and matching tanks for even more variety. Colors are hot pink, orange and the always popular white.
The bra top has become a new basic for the island crowd. It gives you that feeling of playful vacation abandon, yet it can look quite modest when worn beneath an open shirt or a jacket.
Glitter turns up at Octavia in gold beads and piping. Buyer Diane Lee has brought in lightweight sweaters trimmed with gold to be paired with white washed silk pants for that casual dressy look her customers seek for tropical evenings.
The shell motif that promises to be such a hit for spring is already embroidering sweaters and decorating accessories.
Coming into Octavia in the next few weeks are silk jackets in lively Pucci-inspired prints to be paired with solid skirts and pants.
Greater use of bright color is one of the distinguishing marks o this year's resort fashions. "It's more color than we've seen from anybody in a while," says Nancy Sachs, fashion director of Saks Fifth Avenue in Owings Mills, where the variety in resort lines is greater than it's ever been and even extends to delicate suede and linen warm-weather shoes.
"Fuchsia is the hottest and then cobalt and acid green," she says. While such intense shades are typical of Donna Karan's collection, another lighter palette of tangerine and melon shades is also available in the Charlotte Neuville resort collection.
At Ms. Shaw's store, orange and yellow are among the popular brights, mixed in with red, cobalt blue, kelly green, white and black, but she's also experimenting with soft, pale blues and wheats that she predicts will be especially chic this spring.
One of the most popular silhouettes from Donna Karan's signature line at Saks Fifth Avenue is the big top over tight toreador pants with four buttons up the ankle. "It's very retro '60s," says Ms. Sachs. For barer looks she offers strapless silk Shantung wrap tops and halters.
While suitable for vacation wear, many of the ensembles also appeal to women looking for fresh styles for at-home entertaining.
Swimwear is one item many women may choose to buy this time of year even if they aren't planning a trip south. Since resort marks the introduction of the swimwear season, a greater variety of styles is available than in summer when only the most popular suits have been reordered.
"The emphasis in swimwear is still on the bosom with hard-formed bra cups built inside the suits," Ms. Shaw says. "Swimwear used to be totally natural and then last year the bra cup started to gain popularity -- lots of women liked how they looked in them; it's sexy. It also fits into the return to the '60s and the more structured look."
For the whimsically inclined, Ms. Shaw brought in this season a simple black bathing suit from designer Anne Cole with sequins up the sides and across the front spelling out "Save the Sequins."