Unforgettable. That's what clothes from the '40s and '50s are. Just as Grammy winner Natalie Cole revived her dad's 1951 hit song last year, fashion designers are bringing back memorable styles from the same period for spring.
But this time around, look for them in '90s colors and fabrics.
What makes these clothes so recyclable? For the most part, they're not trendy. They're classics that work with separates and accessories women have in the closet. Following are a few items that will bring a wardrobe into spring . . .
* The great white shirt. This is the singular must-have piece for spring. It's available at all price levels, from a basic Gap version to a pricey one from Ralph Lauren.
The new twist: Wear it tied in the front with a knot. For day, a loose, white cotton shirt looks casual with lean jeans or leggings. It can go to work with a long pencil skirt or a striped pantsuit. For night, try a sheer, silk organza shirt over a long full skirt.
* The long pencil skirt. Finally, an answer to the prayers of those who don't like short skirts. Keep this long skirt very slim all the way down. Make sure there's a slit in the back or front, or buttons that can be unfastened, so you can walk easily. Otherwise, you will feel like a sausage. The only exception is a wonderful knit skirt that stretches when you stride.
The new twist: The knit skirt, especially if it's ribbed, is anchored with a chain belt. Wear it with a knit top, and a short jacket. Long skirts also can look great with a simple white shirt.
* The menswear-inspired pantsuit. Let's not read too much into the socio-psychological aspects of this trend. Women are not trying to look like gender benders. Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich still looked feminine in their pantsuits. For years, women have borrowed the best things from men's wardrobes and made them their own. The jacket is cleanly tailored but relaxed. The pants are either slim, or fuller. Colors are dark or neutral -- chalk-striped or pin-striped navy, solid camel, beige, ecru and white.
The new twist: Wear it with a shirt for day and, if you dare, with a tie. Finish the look with oxfords or loafers. At night, dump the shirt for a lacy bustier, or a bra in a cotton/Lycra. Don't go overboard with a fedora or a fob watch -- you don't want this to be a costume from "Bugsy."
* A full skirt or full-skirted dress. The full skirt -- one that billows -- works best for evening. It's great for showing off prints and patterns such as madras plaids, hand-painted florals and stripes. Reserve full-skirted day dresses for the weekends -- they might be too cumbersome for the office.
The new twist: Wear the skirt with a solid blouse for evening. Complete the look with mules. If you're more adventurous, play peekaboo with a matching pair of shorts, or capri pants a la Lucille Ball under a partly unbuttoned skirt.
* Loafers. These aren't meant to make you feel like a schoolgirl again. For one, they're slim, not clunky, and can be worn with skirts or pants. The new loafers come in suede, nubuc and leather. Look for a sturdy but not chunky flat heel.
The new twist: Loafers come in many colors this season, such as toucan yellow, red, purple, electric blue, pale pink, lavender, bone, black and navy. Gucci loafers are wonderful, but lower-priced loafers with gold-tone buckles in other labels are fine, too. Don't pass up the loafers that have crinkled heels --they're deliberately designed that way to stretch and grip the heel once you put them on.
* Mules. Backless shoes show off nice ankles. Worn with savvy for dinner or lunch at a chic restaurant, they look fabulous. But they're not the best things for dancing or a lot of walking. And they're not for all types of feet: Because they cover a lot of area in the front, they make the feet look wide and big. When you're tired of them, or when they start going out of style, turn them into pseudo-slingbacks by securing matching grosgrain ribbons on the underside of the vamp and tying them around your ankle.
The new twist: Forget the Pilgrim look, the one with a big square buckle. The best mules for day are plain. Wear them with jeans, leggings, short skirts and long, full skirts.