The Thin Belt

January 26, 1995|By Vida Roberts | Vida Roberts,Sun Fashion Editor

*TC These are tight times in fashion, New Year's resolutions notwithstanding. Winter comfort food has lots of women pulling clothes from the old "fat" side of their closets. That curbs the incentive to shop, even though stores are now in major markdown mode and bargains abound.

For spring, the industry is trying to drum up some excitement. The new shape is body-skimming and tight. Along those lines, one of the key items in many collections is a skinny belt -- skinny as in width, not circumference.

This dramatic change in silhouette may get the industry out of tight times, too. Women's clothing sales were dismal in 1994. Throughout January, Women's Wear Daily, the voice of the industry, has analyzed the causes for this shopping resistance. Experts attribute sluggish sales to too many choices, too many stores, too little time and not enough fashion direction.

A quick-change in fashion direction now is the thin belt -- three-quarters of an inch, max -- with the advantage that it does not bind or cut the figure, but acts as an interesting detail.

Women who think a belt is for holding up a skirt or pants had better think again. At the designer collections in New York, the fashion pundits put a thin belt on anything and everything, including bare middles. It took only one day of week-long shows for the message to be branded into the fashion-consciousness.

Marc Jacobs wrapped a skinny belt on hot pants and satin leisure suits. Donna Karan put one on a red Hollywood halter dress. Randy Kemper finished fitted jackets with black patent. Nicole Miller showed reed-thin belts on romper suits and strapless dresses. Ralph Lauren belted floral day dresses and snug knit sweater sets on the narrow, even though he took bows sporting a wrestling-trophy-sized metal buckle with his jeans.

The definitive narrow belts for spring are clean and tailored half-inch models in patent leather. In black, white or red with a self-buckle, they were everywhere, looking their best on nipped outfits. At some designer price points, the leather is dyed-to-match, but always with some shine and polish.

Women who want to update their wardrobes could start with a narrow belt. That has a double advantage: A thin belt adds no visual pounds and can be adjusted as a diet takes hold.

Here are some points to consider before belting:

* Spring stock is just now trickling into stores, so shop your own closet first. Thin hasn't been in for years, but there may be some skinny oldies hanging around. Dust them off, give them a polish and look at them with a fresh eye.

* Shop the clearance racks. You may be able to snag some of the leftover thin winter models.

* Although patents will be spring's belt of the moment, there is plenty of -- in other finishes. Snake and reptile textures will be very strong, and gold and silver in metal or leather continue to be accents.

* Narrow belts enhance rather than hold, so don't expect them to pull a too-loose jacket or top into shape. They should sit easily at the waist of fitted clothing. If tightening the belt to a natural waist creates gathers and puckers, it's being paired with the wrong look.

* Belts are not just for tailoring. A sliver of shine on a tight tank dress or a ribbed sweater adds a serious touch to play clothes.

* We're talking fashion here, not a solution for world peace, so if you like your big cinch belts, go ahead and wear them -- the bigger the better. A companion trend for spring is the waist nipped by bands as wide as corsets. Hard to wear by all but the most sylphlike.

Skinny belts are kinder.

ON THE COVER

Styling by Pascale Lemaire

Belts, top to bottom:

Gold leather at Trillium. Red and white patents at Express. Chained black at Hecht's. Silver mesh at Femme.

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