It's the season for a head-to-toe reappraisal. The economic and fashion climate calls for it. We're through with excesses. Designers, stores, catalogs and magazines have refined their thinking and pared down the look. Twinkie suit trims and fussy accessories have been banished. Noisy shoulder-duster earrings, clusters of bangle bracelets and pounds of gold chains now jangle the senses. What appeals are spare looks.
The dominant directions this fall -- menswear tailoring and the long and lean silhouette -- make new demands on accessorizing skills.
An uncluttered mind and a mirror can bring this season's looks into focus.
* Start at the top: Not since the '40s, when a woman didn't step out without one, have there been so many choices. Berets, fedoras, toques and caps are everywhere. Designer Patricia Underwood, who creates important chapeaus, has a relaxed way of describing their appeal.
"Think about it -- a hat does wonders for your features, it draws attention to your eyes, your face. A hat is the perfect accessory for the longer, leaner silhouette," she says. Yes, longer, leaner lines are fine for models, but what about the rest of us?
"Hats make you taller, and isn't that the whole idea?" Ms. Underwood answers. "There are so many clothes now that can take a hat -- a lot of fine detail, but the look is pared down. Wearing a hat makes a great graphic statement without interfering with the clothes.
"There is a generation of women out there who have grown up without prejudice, they don't remember having to wear a hat. Now they wear hats because they want to and because they are noticed when they wear one."
For women who don't know their way around a millinery counter she has one important rule: "Never buy a hat unless you see it on yourself in a full-length mirror." The hat has to work in proportion to the clothes you wear, she says, "Otherwise you look like you just plopped something on your head."
Hair, too, needs to be considered, but it doesn't have to suffer demands of style. "Even wild hair can look good with a hat, depending on the outfit. And hair can be pulled to the side, back into a pony tail or all stuffed up inside."
To top off her hat hints, she says, "Experiment, but if it looks contrived, don't do it."
* Trimming the excess: "This season, you may need almost no accessories," says Veronique Vienne, a successful fashion writer, stylist and critic. Most importantly, she is French. American women have long admired the skillful and independent way Europeans toss fashion together. Ms. Vienne shares that knowledge in "French Style: How to Think, Shop and Dress Like a French Woman," which was underwritten by Express stores and is available free to consumers.
"Accessories play a bigger role with the long silhouette, but you may need fewer of them," she advises.
"With the new silhouettes, think of wearing one color all the way, even extending it to the stocking and shoe. Consider head-to-toe black, or red. Color makes the statement and one grand accessory highlights it. You may want to forget earrings altogether and stay with a dramatic choker or pendant. Or you may drop all jewelry and go with a belt -- as extraordinary as you want."
Ms. Vienne talks about her own approach to accessorizing. "I go through cycles, I'm now coming out of earrings and going into a belt phase because I like the feeling a belt gives -- secure, pulled together, buckled up."
She suggests choosing a belt of exceptional design and staying with it. "You don't have to keep changing accessories with every outfit. Settle on something you love and wear it over and over."
Menswear designs, especially, call for a belt to finish the look. Ms. Vienne has advice for women who have settled into looser tops and jackets and may feel uncomfortable about highlighting the waist. "She can wear the belt a little bigger, without cinching. Even if it's a little loose and rests at the top of the hip it still defines the waistline."We can also learn a lot from men who are seldom over-accessorized, Ms. Vienne says. "Consider a tie-knotted scarf instead of a necklace."
And don't forget to borrow some cuff-links, watch fobs and tie tacks.
* The bottom line: Shoes carry weight this season, visually and structurally. Boots of the western, biker, and combat variety are strong, but the heavy hitter in fashion is the platform sole.
Christy Wood, public relations director for Donna Karan Collection, points to the direction.
"Donna showed platforms with everything in her collection. In a training seminar with her style reps she warned them, 'If I see any of you wearing pumps with long skirts you're out of here.' A dainty pump is overpowered and lost if it's paired with a long skirt."
That's the last word from one of America's top fashion mavens.