It's Puritan chic: Let us give thanks for a fashionable return to the basics and clean design Pilgrim's Progress

November 25, 1993|By Vida Roberts | Vida Roberts,Fashion Editor

The Pilgrims, those intrepid Mayflower settlers who dropped anchor on New England's shore in 1620, were fleeing persecution -- and flashy fashion. History has chronicled their stormy voyage to this land of freedom, but doesn't make nearly enough of their desperate need to escape from European accessorizing.

Anybody who has ever participated in a Thanksgiving Day pageant knows that Indian costumes are fun and Puritan costumes are plain -- all-black, maybe a touch of white at the collar and cuffs. No frills, no color. A button or buckle here and there was tolerated, but not much else.

Pilgrims took plainess so seriously that they applied color only as a form of punishment. Red accents -- so chic with basic black -- were reserved for the scarlet letter A (and that does not stand for Accessory) that indiscreet sinners were obliged to wear. They were the first Americans to be victimized by labels.

In the centuries since, fashion has endured some punishing colors and fads, but this Thanksgiving season, with some alterations, the fashions of the Pilgrim fathers are back in vogue. (A word of reassurance for sinners: You won't be required to wear red this year.) The Puritan ethic took hold at top design houses, and some of the freshest looks this fall are interesting by virtue of their simplicity and absence of color. Ralph Lauren put demure white collar and cuffs on a dynamite black dress. Donna Karan exaggerated the collar points and showed them over black and under a towering black hat. Calvin Klein went long, black and devoid of ornament.

Let's be thankful for a return to clean design. And while we're at it, let us also give thanks for:

* Control-top hosiery. A way to keep things in line even when the diet goes out of control, and allows extra whipped cream on the second slice of pumpkin pie.

* Sneakers. High-top, low-rise, pumped-up, high-heeled or night-lighted, sneakers put bounce into the draggiest days.

* T-shirts. They're humble, affordable and easy and feel wonderful on the body.

* Wash-and-wear hair. Predictions of the return of curlers, setting gel, teasing and salon hair dryers proved false, thank you.

* A-Plus designers. Some saw the light and started making clothes for women who wear double-digit sizes.

* Lycra. That little bit of stretch has put flex into an active schedule.

* Baseball caps. Suitable for all ages, sports and bad-hair days.

* MTV. A way for adults to plug in to the latest youth trends without being there.

+ * The flop of bell-bottoms.

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