Sweaters cling to lineup in fall fashion wardrobes

October 22, 1992|By Nancy Bartley | Nancy Bartley,Seattle Times

Having cut a typing class, young Lana Turner was sipping a Coke at a soda fountain when, according to Hollywood legend, she was "discovered." If she was like most trendy coeds of her time, she was wearing a sweater set.

Sweaters made this curvaceous sex symbol of World War II famous.

Lana, the GIs' pinup girl, cheerleader-turned-actress, the original Sweater Girl.

Then came Jane Russell and her sweater. And Rita Hayworth in hers.

After Turner, the term "Sweater Girl" was applied to any Hollywood beauty who looked good wrapped in clingy cashmere.

Sweaters had been a practical garment to ward off autumn and winter chills; the Hollywood trend gave them glamour, and they've been a prized wardrobe staple ever since.

This fall, sweaters and sweater sets are hot fashion items. Demure cashmere, merino wool or cotton numbers, the classic ones have cardigans with pearl buttons and matching crew-neck pullovers.

"Right now we're seeing a return to classics," says Helen Forland, Washington fashion coordinator for Nordstrom. "A lot of designers took inspiration from the 1940s. The '40s were all about dressing in a classic way."

If you were around in the '40s and '50s, you might remember sweater sets with poodle appliques, studded with pearls or worn with detachable collars of mink or rabbit fur.

The current sweater-set resurgence has "a much cleaner look," Ms. Forland says. However, it's not without its '90s wild streak, such as animal designs: Adrienne Vittadini's leopard-print sweater set, for example.

But most sweater sets are tame versions of what you might find in the wardrobe of Donna Reed or Doris Day, not to mention Queen Elizabeth II.

Often regarded as the dowager of dowdy, Britain's monarch is now a fashion trend-setter, recently photographed around Balmoral Castle inher classic sweater set and plaid skirt.

Ann Taylor's public relations representative, Linda O'Leary, says sweater sets offer understated elegance that works beautifully with the long, slim fall skirts or trousers. You can also wear them with jeans.

Not to mention evening clothes.

Bill Blass and Yves Saint Laurent both have created sweater-set evening wear. Laurent's crimson cardigan and pullover, worn with a belted floor-length black velvet skirt, has popped up on a number of runways and in magazine fashion spreads across the country.

Sweaters are "something he has used a lot for many, many years," says Joy Hendriks, senior vice president for Laurent's corporate image. "He's shown them in couture with a pair of satin pants and has shown them in ready-to-wear. But he has never before shown a twin set."

The twin set -- or sweater set -- is a way of bringing a casual look to evening wear, something especially popular with Europeans who "don't dress up as much as they do here -- even for big occasions," she says.

Blass, on the other hand, "has always done sweater sets," says Howard Hoffman, publicity director. But in general, the colors designers are offering this fall -- celadon, oatmeal and jasmine -- are pure '90s. And so are the prices. A merino wool pullover might cost about $48, and the matching cardigan $68 -- more, of course, for cashmere.

Buying vintage sweaters and sweater sets from stores specializing in the retro look can be pricey, too. A beaded cashmere evening sweater may cost between $75 and $225.

Women are buying the more casual sweaters and sweater sets "to wear with their Anne Klein suits," Ms. Falvo says.

Think all this has a familiar ring?

You're right. Designers proclaimed 1982 the Year of the Sweater. Ten years before that was another sweater rage, and Oscar de la Renta was credited with reviving the sweater set, selling it for $180.

"Chic young marrieds" will be wearing the look soon, crowed a fashion writer in New York. Young marrieds and Sweater Girls everywhere.

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