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Fashion : A SPECIAL REPORT: SPRING INTO FALL : Personal Style : Smart Dressing for Real Life : Whether in the State Assembly, at a Charity Event or On the Job, These Prominent Women Rely Heavily on the Basics


The way real women dress and the way models dress for fashion magazines is often in vivid contrast. Real wardrobes are shaped by budgets, career necessities and the limitations of time. Even women who enjoy shopping and wearing pretty clothes don't try to keep up with every drop or lift of a hemline. And they don't buy chartreuse-colored clothes just because a fashion designer says so.

Five prominent Southern California women have very definite techniques for building and updating their wardrobes.

Assemblywoman Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles), who is running for Congress, is among the state's most polished-looking politicians.

She says her closet holds relatively few items, but all are top quality. "I have been very consistent over the years in buying good basic lines and basic colors," she says. The quality and fit has improved over the years.

Her strategy allows her to cut down on shopping time, which is limited.

"I shop when I have to and I shop when it's convenient. Sometimes I'm right up against the clock."

She also relies on loyal saleswomen at a favorite store who alert her to sales, hold pieces for her and arrange to have alterations done overnight.

Almost all her wardrobe is made from durable, lightweight wool gabardine, a comfortable fabric that she says travels well and can be worn most months of the year. "I won't be out of my gabardines until the hottest days of August," she says.

Fashion details include a large, quilted bag with chain strap she carries instead of a briefcase, and several pairs of bold earrings.

Her signature look is a tailored dress. "The traditional thinking is that the . . . suit is the power dress code. But I like dresses. I wear suits, but I like being a little bit different wearing my dresses."

Waters bought three Christian Dior designs in Paris three years ago and she says she intends to wear them forever. Her newest purchase is a navy coat dress in gabardine with a white pique collar, by Emanuel Ungaro.

Lynda Jenner Whaley has worked as a segment producer for television but is now writing screenplays.

Over the years, she says, her style has evolved from frilly to tailored. "I find as I've gotten older, I look for a cleaner line. I look for things I can wear more than one season."

Whaley often wear pants for day and night. Her days at the computer are spent in tailored pants and silk blouses. For evening, she usually chooses wide, flowing silk pants with fitted jackets.

Recent wardrobe purchases included two slim-skirted suits and one suit with pants that are pleated and cropped.

To perk up her basic navy and black wardrobe, Whaley picks up unusual items on her travels. She has handbags from Egypt, cotton blouses from Paris and jewelry from Italy.

Anne Johnson, chairwoman of the 1,200-member Costume Council of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and board member of the Blue Ribbon, also works her daily wardrobe around basic colors--especially black, white, beige and olive green.

"I find if you stay with certain colors, everything coordinates," she says. "I tire of color. Gray and green for everyday are easier on the eye."

Color is reserved for evening and special occasions. Her pink Chanel suit is an exception. She wears it for a board meeting.

"I'm a believer in suits," she says.

Johnson wears what's comfortable, no matter what is in fashion. "I don't care if everybody's wearing skirts 10 inches above the knee. I'm not going to do it. If orange is in, it doesn't mean I'm going to wear it."

Another professional woman of style who trusts her own judgment is Josephine Shiplacoff, research coordinator for the Cedars-Sinai Comprehensive Cancer Center.

"The essence of personal style is being as comfortable as you are put together," she says. "I never consciously think of style. My wardrobe is made up of serendipitous finds, and I'm comfortable with that. I'm free of the bonds of fashion.

"When you work with patients, you put things in perspective. People, relationships and love are the things that count in the end."

To keep that sense of perspective, she buys new items at the end of the season, always on sale, and she buys classic separates to wear from year to year.

The petite Shiplacoff likes tailored jackets and skirts, likes the Evan Piccone and Spitalnick labels, and tops her workday clothes with a clean white lab coat.

For Shiplacoff, the fun of shopping is accomplishing a lot in a small amount of time and finding good buys.

"Each time I wear something I bought on sale, I get pleasure from the fact that it is not only beautiful, but I got it for nothing."

Shiplacoff's style is one that is built on confidence.

"Style, like self-image, is from the inside coming out."

Orange County's Maria Crutcher has long been a familiar face on the philanthropic charity circuit. Both she and her late husband, Richard L. Crutcher, a banker, were active in charities that helped children and promoted eduction.

Her public role means Crutcher has to attend plenty of board meetings, luncheons and black-tie parties.

She believes in balancing her wardrobe and being prepared for any occasion. There's no room for last-minute shopping in Crutcher's schedule.

Although her wardrobe budget is higher than the average, her strategy can work for any woman.

"You have to manage your wardrobe," she advises. "You have to study it each season and decide what you need." She also weeds out her closet every spring and fall. "What I haven't worn for a few years I give away."

Her biggest wardrobe update lately has been to shorten all her dresses and skirts. She purchased a few new hats, she says, to perk up last year's dresses.

Her latest big purchases include a Bob Mackie chiffon evening dress with an embroidered jacket, an Escada suit that came with both a skirt and pants, and a bright blue dinner suit that carries an Amen Wardy private label.

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