MOST CONSUMERS feel out of sync with the fashion calendar, and no wonder.
Here it is holiday prep time and many shoppers are still weighing the practicality of plunking down a chunk of change for a new winter coat or shopping for must-have shoes to fill out a working wardrobe.
Meanwhile, top American designers already have revealed their vision of how spring '92 will be dressed. Spring looks capture the PTC attention of trade magazines and retailers, but smart shoppers would do well to look ahead too.
Not all of the creations paraded on New York runways earlier this month will make it to the stores, but overall, the common threads that ran through the spring collections will be woven into the spring fashion picture.
The hottest looks will be carried over into fall lines. Some stylish foresight now can put shoppers on the right track for next year.
Smart buyers have figured out that wardrobe extras hit rock-bottom price after the holidays. Bargain hunters glean the mark-down and clearance racks at end of season, and the most savvy of those can choose clothes now that will serve them fashionably for some time.
Here are some checkpoints on the spring trends. Buyer prepare!
* MENSWEAR: Whether tough or soft, the male influence will be the strong suit in womenswear next season. The "big guys" of American fashion -- Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan and Calvin Klein -- all showed suits that could have been borrowed and cut down from any dandy's closet. Lauren's models wore ties, suspenders and man-tailored shirts.
TO BUY NOW: Softly tailored shirts in pure white or dark colors; clean-cut leather belts with classic buckles; jackets and blazers in lighter, trans-seasonal fabric blends. Traditional pleated pants cut full or narrow are a good buy. This year's skinny stirrup pant hardly made a stir at the spring shows, so think twice.
* LENGTH: When just about everyone has taken the big step and hiked a hem above the knee, designers have introduced longer lengths. Not to worry, even the most influential designers hedged their bets by showing both.
TO BUY NOW: Spring's short skirts have some play, so steer clear of the tight, pegged shapes and look for pleats and flare. Long looks on the horizon are very narrow, or very full, but hover at mid-calf or below. To stay on top of style, go to either extreme but avoid the safe just-below-the-knee dirndls.
* THE WAIST: The cinched waist is back with fullness above and below. The designer favorites for spring were a retro spin on the shirtwaist or ballerina dance dresses of the '50s.
TO BUY NOW: A blouse that looks better tucked in. Look for skirts that cry for the touch of a wider belt. Find a black belt, or better yet, something in a surprise color.
* SHIRT DRESSING: The big shirt is still big for spring and summer but in new proportions. Next season's best bet is white, red or blue and is always tucked or tied at the waist. The bigness next year will be in the fuller gathered sleeve with snugness at the cuff.
TO BUY NOW: Look for finer, man-tailored details such as barrel cuffs, placket fronts, french cuffs or pleating. The square oversize camp shirt with straight body and sleeve has been retired. Not sure? Any shirt that looks snappier knotted at the waist is a good bet.
* RUFFLES: Ruffles appeared in many spring collections but the samba dresses shown by Oscar de la Renta were the leaders of the band.
TO BUY NOW: Ruffles should only be allowed on little girls or can-can dancers. They're to be avoided by anyone who works for a living or meets the public. But if you want to think tropics as the freeze sets in, consider a scarf in vibrant colors. It can do
double duty tied at the waist or in the hair in warm weather.
* WESTERN: California girls have been wearing cowboy boots with everything from hot pants to dance dresses for some years. Marc Jacobs, the young designer for Perry Ellis, adapted the look wholesale. It's valley girl cute on the runways and garden varieties will be seen next spring.
TO BUY NOW: Anyone with enough chutzpah to wear cowboy boots doesn't need fashion advice.