Retro reprints Floral prints in small scale are a big look

March 25, 1993|By Suzin Boddiford

This season, everyone will be reading the fine print a ankle-grazing, princess-lined, soft granny dresses beckon an era sweet nostalgia.

Retro prints to the forefront! There is a lot of petal pushing going around to accompany spring's unabashedly feminine mood -- with not a single shrinking violet in sight.

The return of the soft "afternoon dress," stitched up in fragile fabrics and layered for individuality, harbors no trace of soppiness. The most versatile version with button-front styling is cut with the ease of a blouse and treats the dress as an accessory, thereby making it a prime target for layering.

Wear it with only one or two buttons closed at the waistline as it floats over a long slip dress, a cat suit, a printed bra-top and short shorts, a lace tank and leggings, or even fluid trousers.

Ralph Lauren championed the look this season by mixing flowing '30s-inspired prints with crochet cardigans and fringed scarves. "I like the openness of it," says Saks Fifth Avenue regional fashion director Nancy Sachs. "It should be a romantic silhouette that skims the body but is not overtly sexy -- more peek-a-boo."

Boutique owner Kate Burch of Magpie attributes the granny print dress to a "throwback of the current '70s fashion resurgence -- a direct replay of the classic style of the '30s and '40s." It has returned in reaction against the restricting tailored looks and tight, stretch summer dresses that have ruled past seasons. The uncomplicated silhouette reflects a romantic country innocence that conjures up visions of frolicking in a sunny field of waist-high wildflowers. It's easy, one-piece-dressing that can be interpreted for all ages, sizes and occasions.

National publicist for Hit Or Miss, Tina Sutton, believes it particularly appropriate to wear to spring/summer weddings with slip dress underneath.

Harriet Sheinberg, vice president of merchandising for Cignal stores, favors it layered under a long vest and has dubbed it "the standard uniform of the warm-weather season. Everyone should have one in their closet."

Does the granny print dress belong at work? Kate Burch thinks so. "As long as it's belted and worn with a jacket," she says.

National Express stores stylist Veronique Vienne prefers a cropped jacket or long sleeveless vest/jacket layered over the dress in the office, and warns against "big boxy blazers that just look sloppy and ruin the proportion."

Nordstrom Fashion Director Heather Femia disagrees. "It's a great weekend look and ideal for traveling, but is too feminine and romantic to be work-appropriate."

"The small details are what makes it modern," says Ms. Vienne. "Throw a leather jacket over it for a saucy edge, or add a thin waist-wrapped cardigan, with ankle-tied espadrilles."

Young trendies prefer their vintage dresses grounded with clunky paratrooper boots and flannel shirts tied at the waist.

The extras complete the look: vintage cameos, delicate chokers, lacy legs, ballet flats or lace-up granny boots. And anything with that "made at home with loving hands" look works. Try a macrame cap, crochet gloves or a soft purse pouch.

On the other end of the spectrum, Ms. Vienne stresses the importance of "extras with bulk." Chunky bangle bracelets, piles of beads, a clog or cork-soled wedge shoe and an oversized straw hat counterbalance the sweetness of the silhouette for a more sophisticated edge, she says.

As designer Donna Karan says, "Nothing embodies the season's new freedom better than a long, flowing dress -- and nothing makes it easier to get dressed in the morning." Granny would be proud.

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