Many of the truly fashionable are making short shift of the party season this summer.
And that's not to mention those who are giving their hosts thcold shoulder.
Better make that the ultra-cool, oh-so feminine shoulder.
That's right, skin is in as the Marilyn Monroe off-the-shoulder looand super-short, and very often super-tight, party dresses are causing almost as much comment as the movie star herself did.
It's no wonder: "The off-the-shoulder look is great on anyone -- it's so feminine and sexy and shoulders are so pretty," says Linda Scherr, owner of Rococo in Pikesville. "The bustier-top look is big as well, if you want to get a little more daring and wear a little more [of a] decolletage look."
But frankly, for summer celebrations, nearly anything goes. Blac-- after being banished to closets last year -- has made a comeback even as outrageously bright colors from hot pink to banana yellow continue to be popular.
And, while super-tight sheath and tank dresses remain the rag-- so do the very feminine, short, swing dresses made in georgette or chiffon, says Bari Lipp, senior editor and vice president of Tobe Report, a retail advisory agency in New York.
In fact, the only rule with any sticking power this summer, it seems, is: Keep it short.
And keep it very short if you're under 30, says Lee Hogan Cassnational fashion merchandise director for Sears. For the younger set, the summer party look that's nearly uniform is that of the "very simple, 'nothing' Lycra dress." In fact, she adds, at a recent birthday party given in New York for the 26-year-old daughter of a friend: "Teeny-weeny was the dress code."
But be forewarned, she adds, you've got to have the figure to carry it off.
Wear these ever-so-small dresses with a jacket if your party'air-conditioned, or try nothing but a big bracelet or a large, round-bead necklace reminiscent of the '50s. Or, go with a bare neckline and large dangling or big button earrings.
If Lycra doesn't light up your life, however, there are alternatives: The off-the-shoulder look can take other forms such as little sweaters with pearls or stud trims by Suzy T., selling for around $85 at Trillium Ltd. at Green Spring Station. The sweaters can be paired with pants or skirts, says Jan Maslin of Trillium.
Or, try the various versions of the little black dress. Some armade by Nicole Miller in silk duppioni, a light, breathable fabric, perfect for summer. The dresses run from about $225 to $300. Liz Claiborne and Ms. Chaus also offer stylish black sheaths.
"The classic little black dress is very hip and very contemporary. It can be knee length, fitted or flaired. Some [of Nicole Miller's] are strappy, some are beaded around the neck," says Ms. Scherr of Rococo.
But what if you hate your shoulders? Turn your back on fashion, of course. "There are a lot of dresses with very low cut backs or keyhole backs like a big, round circle cut out in back," says Ms. Scherr. There are even dresses with cutouts in front and in back -- basically held together with strips of material.
A. J. Bari also has designed dresses with cutouts or bacdetailing or strapless dresses, says Nancy Chistolini, fashion director at Hecht's. "Anything with cutouts is important, even lace."
Many of these dresses, fashioned in halter styles that recall thglamour of the '40s and '50s with plunging back lines, are extremely sexy -- and flatter a spectrum of figures. For example, a Bill Blass black dress with a bare back crossed by two strings of pearls has captured fashion aficionados' fancy, says Ms. Lipp of Tobe. "It's been copied by everyone, and I see it everywhere."
And if mere glamour is not glitzy enough for you, listen tTrillium'sMs. Maslin: "The thing we're doing the most with is sequins and stones. . . ."
Thus if dazzling your host is your aim, "white and, of course, the black with rhinestones and gold studs are the height of fashion" says Elaine Suls of John Sims in Pikesville. "Christian Lacroix PTC started the stones about two years ago and now it's really caught on. Everyone went crazy for stones." Wear your stones and studs on anything from dresses to earrings and handbags.
And at Trillium, the chain detailing that once was Coco Chanel'signature on everything from handbags to suits is making its appearance as a glittery element as straps on evening party dresses and glamorous evening purses, says Ms. Maslin.
Indeed, she adds, for evening, wear "anything with a sparkle or shine."
So you're going to a party and you'd like to light up the night? It may be easier than you think. Here are a few tips:
* Color -- what experts call "hot brights" -- is still the rage. Anything from hot pink or orange tanks by Nicole Miller to teeny-weeny polka-dot affairs.
* Black is back, and Lycra dresses or the classic sheath can bdressed up with dazzling dangling or big, conversational button earrings.
* Black and white from dots to color blocking is making waves.
* Big is big: as in bracelets from see-through Lucite bangles anpale icy colors, or large beads in silver or gold or fake pearls.
* Shimmery looks are in from stone-studded, cropped jacketand Madonna-style bustiers to off-the-shoulder sweaters trimmed with pearls.