In an era of fashion tolerance, if not consensus, no one expects a blueprint for fall dressing. But even in these pluralistic times, the consumer can't help but notice a direction in fall ready-to-wear.
Hems are lengthening. Waists are cinched. New silhouettes are taking shape not only in the clothing itself, but in the way it's put together.
Many fall collections center on a longer, mid-calf skirt worn with a short jacket or sweater set. Fashion insiders dub this sculpted-torso, full-skirt skirt look the "fit-and-flare" silhouette.
Other collections vary those dimensions. But the common thread is shapeliness, without a sense of constriction--revealing the body through something other than an impractically skinny fit.
The fall basics play like a medley of past hits from the '40s, '50s and '60s--classics given a 1986 send-off through clingy knit fabrics and bold accessories. It's all assembled with a precision that's been absent in recent seasons, says Daria Retian, Neiman-Marcus vice president for creative services.
"There is much more attention to really exact proportion. The focus points are the shoulders, the waist and the length of the skirt--this season more than ever," Retian says.
Creating the right proportion is a matter between you and the mirror, she says, but certain details should recur. Shoulders are rounder, less severe. Low-heeled pumps and boots give long skirts solid grounding. And 2- or 3-inch belts bind almost everything.
Lina Lee, owner of the Beverly Hills boutique of that name, calls this a season of opposites, when fitted or full skirts and pants, long or short sweaters and blazers could be paired in any combination. "The only catch is you have to make sure you know what you're doing."
To that end, these are silhouettes to watch:
--Fit and flare: This silhouette, important in designer collections, is just as evident in mainstream and private-label lines. It consists of a close-to-the-body top worn with a flared or box-pleat skirt. It's also visible in the shirtwaist dress and princess-line dress that's snug to the waist then widens into a circle skirt. The new peplum jackets also hint at this curvy idea.
--Body hugging: This design defines the body, but more charitably than last season. It can be a stretchy knit dress, a small jacket over a narrow skirt or a draped jersey jump suit that skims the body. Taken to extremes, the body-hugging silhouette may be a '60s-style miniskirt "or a long slinky, tight, slit skirt," says Lina Lee. "Not everyone can wear it, and not everyone wants to wear it."
--The tunic: This season's version of the oversize silhouette takes the form of a long sweater over narrow trouser or tube skirt of knee or calf length.
--Full over slim: This look of contrasts comes from pairing a full coat with a trim, belted dress or slim suit. It also figures big in component dressing, which starts with a body suit, then adds a few key layers. Hemlines of the inner and outer garments may match or not--and the coat may fall anywhere from fingertip to mid-calf. The full over slim look often is unified with an opaque stocking or boot.
--Classic Chanel: Anything that evokes Chanel is high currency for fall '86, whether it be a collarless jacket or a cardigan sweater with Chanel-inspired trim and gold buttons--both likely paired with straight, knee-length skirt. Sarah Worman, Robinson's vice president for fashion merchandising, calls Chanel, along with Ralph Lauren, the prime influence this fall, when the goal is "to look beautiful and simple."
There are other silhouettes to track, such as the coat dress, sweater set and narrow slacks, minus the stirrups.
Throughout, the season is built on top-of-the-line fabrics (cashmere, silk, wool jersey, tweeds and daytime velvets, among them) and exotic materials, such as fur and suede trims.
All are used "in a noticeably restrained manner," says Anne Ball, Neiman-Marcus vice president for women's sportswear. "We've been through such an era of over-detailing--velvet lapels, patchwork embellishments--that the obvious relief from that seems much more desirable, much more sleek."
Ball sees fall's simple silhouettes as gaining character from a play of textures. Her favorite: a fitted knit top over a full chiffon skirt: "Textured top, floaty skirt," as she calls it.
Rich-girl accessories also set the tone: Hermes and Gucci scarfs. Antique watches. Crocodile belts. Simple, but sizable earrings--pieces that are "classic and understated in feeling," says Patti Lewis, Nordstrom fashion director for Southern California.
Color, too, anchors these clothes in 1986, Lewis says, pointing to black, indigo, hunter green and winter pastels as central themes. The new mixes are gray with brown, purple with gray or brown, black with brights, and mocha with cream, she says.
Despite the '86 patina of fall ready-to-wear, no one pretends it's breakthrough time. As Ball notes: "It wasn't a season for a new identity--but a season when designers reaffirmed their best concepts."