The inspiration may be retro, but the look is '90s modern

September 17, 1992|By T.J. Howard | T.J. Howard,Chicago Tribune

Apparel designers have long plundered the past for inspiration. But this fall, nostalgia has reached new heights, transforming an ordinary shopping trip into a fashion flashback of sorts.

Up to now, reminiscing has been restricted to a particular period. Today, it's turned into a grab bag of memories.

"What we're seeing now is a real mix of eras," says Gina Tovar, fashion director at Nordstrom in Oak Brook in Chicago. The '40s is predominant, but there are also touches of the '50s, '60s and '70s."

Why these blasts from the past?

Arthur Neal, a social psychologist at Bowling Green State University, says nostalgia stems from uncertainty: "In the '90s, Americans don't know who we are -- we lack a collective vision as we move into the 21st century," he says, linking this identity crisis to chaotic political and economic climates.

And another thing: "There's an innocence about times gone by," says New York designer Michael Kors. That's why some of the best clothes today borrow from the closets of yesteryears.

* From the '40s: jackets with nipped-in waists, platform shoes, pinstripes.

* From the '50s: sweater twinsets, full, flouncy skirts.

* From the '60s and '70s: flared pants, animal prints, more platforms, hippie fringe.

Although some designers touch on more than one retro theme, most have a favorite. For Mr. Kors, it's the '40s. "There was a lot of fashion to fashion," he says, "a certain glamour to getting dressed."

If you prefer to see yesterday's fashion in apparel archives and not in stores, don't panic. Although today's menswear traces it roots to form-fitted looks of the '40s, there are some new twists on clothes that hung in Hepburn's closet. Today, shoulders aren't as exaggerated, fabrics are softer and lighter, and suits are paired with provocative camisoles.

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