It's time to do some hard thinking about the softer direction of fashion.
Just when working women have finally put together a very workable wardrobe full of strong-shouldered power suits with the requisite short, straight skirts, the fashion world has changed the rules.
Soft is in, gentle is in. Jackets must flutter and drape. The inverted pyramid is dead. Shoulder pads have disappeared.
For several seasons now there have been signals that a softer direction lay ahead, but this is the first season when virtually every designer has taken that route, from the Karl Lagerfelds of Paris to the Liz Claibornes of Seventh Avenue.
The stores in Baltimore are stocking these new clothes. Instead of short and pert fitted sheaths, the dress departments are full of long, flowing dresses with little flower prints.
How to deal with all these changes? What does one keep? What does one toss?
Now that the very structure and proportion of clothes is changing, women who want to remain current must look ahead.
We're not talking about wearing disco bell-bottoms, grunge rock misfits and hippie rags. That hype was to grab our attention, and most of the ugliness has been lost in the translation of these
trends into real clothes for real women.
The new softness in movement and texture can be seen in the ways clothes are cut and how they work on the body. No more stiffness.
In the past, models strutted the designer shows with jaunty collars turned up, sleeves pushed up and arms akimbo.
This spring's clothes are not pushy. The models in motion allowed collars to fall gracefully and sleeves to trail to the wrist.
A period of transition presents difficulties. The old strict rules are gone and relaxed rules have not settled into place. But there are some guidelines.
The color of spring
Think neutral, natural colors such as sand, wheat, flax or oatmeal. If you don't do well in neutrals, move to colors in dustier and paler tints. If you're not ready to invest in a leaner soft-shouldered suit, revive all your old neutrals. They'll feel as fresh as that bright fuchsia jacket once felt.
Best of all, it's hard to commit color mistakes in mixing neutrals, so wear them altogether.
And, please, bury the lime T-shirt.
The story on top
A new jacket would be a great investment. Pads are the operative word here, a jacket can almost be any shape, but no "Dynasty" shoulders. The latest jackets are longer -- fingertip at least -- and carry very few sharp, tailoring details. A cardigan shape that feels like a sweater is the easiest to wear. Again, no shoulder pads.
You can wear this with your short narrow skirts, a draped longer skirt, or a pair of soft pants. Recycling can only go so far. Kiss your old dirndl skirt goodbye, it's the wrong kind of long.
Even newer than a jacket is a jacket without sleeves. A vest or a drapey tunic that matches the skirt or pants in the same color family is long and slimming. The models on the runway and the magazines wear them bare and buttoned. Working women will doubtless add a sheer-sleeved shirt or soft blouse.
A blouse is another great wardrobe refresher, and a less expensive option than a jacket or tunic. With that old pinstriped suit, add a soft blouse with a gently ruffled collar instead of the menswear shirt that you used to wear.
On the bottom
Pants are replacing the ubiquitous mini-skirt of the late '80s. You'll see them in many shapes and widths, but the newest come in gentle fabrics that move, such as georgette, rayon and silk. If you have kept some wide pants, take them to the tailor and have the crease pressed and steamed out. There are no hard edges in trousers this season.
The mini-skirt is dead. The trumpet skirt is sounding good and for mid-summer, skirts with a peasant or native feel can get you through a day in the sun.
Dressing it up
The dress of the moment is either mid-calf and romantically nostalgic or an unabashedly sexy slink. The demure floral patterns on a dark ground are a pretty choice on younger and waif-like figures. Women with a bosom should beware. Full-blown flower power gives these charming little shifts the look of a housedress.
Your shirtdress is a keeper, but it won't have much fashion punch, so resort to it in laundry emergencies.
nTC About those slinky column dresses, you know if you can wear them. Enough said.
The way to ease into the laid-back and lazy mood is to toss some of the kinder aspects of grunge and hippie looks into your wardrobe. Don't be up-tight. Deal with it in a free-wheeling spirit, in little doses. Retrieve those old, long beads from your jewelry box. Tie a scarf across your forehead or around your hips. Wear a wide leather belt at hip-hugger level.
You might even learn how to tie-dye.