In the language of fashion, a blouse is for women only. It makes no difference if it's ruffled or tailored; no blouse can take the masculine form. It's feminine by its nature.
Certain women have understood this very well. At the height of her career, French romantic novelist Colette was photographed in blouses and elegant skirts. Hers tended to be purposely frilly. Cyd Charisse wore them in movies for dancing with Fred Astaire. Some of hers had a notch collar and darts, and she tucked them into supple split skirts.
For all the simplicity of the look, it had a glamorous effect. And that effect is back in style for fall.
At its most basic, it is built of black and white. There are sheer black blouses to wear for evening with black skirts or pants, such as those by Calvin Klein. And there are tailored white blouses with delicate detailing to wear with simple dark skirts for day. Designers here and in Europe showed dozens of variations of white blouses with skirts in their lineups for fall.
The wide array of blouse styles ranges from soft turtlenecks and surplices to collarless, Chanel-inspired looks in jewel colors as well as in champagne and charcoal gray.
The office-to-evening idea seems to be shaping a number of blouse designs this season. The soft turtleneck is one example. With its fuller sleeve and more relaxed neckline, it suggests dressiness, not sportiness. Fashion Director Patti Lewis of Nordrstrom describes the shape as "drapey, not starched or stiff, with a feminine, pretty line."
The collarless, Chanel-inspired cut with its brass-button details is another popular shape right now. At the Broadway, assistant buyer Andrea Adams calls the look "key." But, she says: "There is no one blouse to wear with everything this fall. Each one is meant to expand a wardrobe."
Brass buttons are part of a taste for "novelty details," she explains, adding that other such details include lace, pleats, peplums or beading.
While shapes are rather simple, they are always soft-edged. There are no angular or oversize shoulders, no excessive length or bulk. A blouse is meant to stay close to the body, without clinging anywhere.
Luxury is thanks to such fabrics as silk and satin, which are among the first choices of most designers for day as well as evening. This richness means that an evening blouse is a daytime blouse accessorized another way. Gold, bold, sporty daytime jewelry makes way for gemstones at night.
While blouses worn with pants--wider-leg pants for evening--are one look for fall, most designers are drawn to what they call the drama of a blouse worn with a skirt in an uncontrived shape. The newest of these is long (mid-calf or ankle), narrow and pleated or gathered.
Like all of women's fashion this season, the blouse-and-skirt outfit is assertively feminine and more revealing of a woman's physical traits. As if to reflect a similar state of mind.