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STYLE : FASHION : If the Platforms Fit, ...

August 30, 1992|MARGO KAUFMAN

I realized I was a slave to fashion early this summer when it was 90 degrees outside and I was standing in a department store dressing room in thick black stockings, trying on a wool suit. Vogue's fall preview had just come out, touting The New Look: maxi skirts (not again), platform shoes, leather and animal prints--naturally, nothing I owned. My wardrobe inferiority complex was inflamed, and I was overwhelmed by a compulsion to buy.

But I fully expected it to pass. Though I love beautiful clothes, I don't have much use for them. I live in Venice, where khaki shorts and a black Gap T-shirt are considered formal, and I'm under five feet, rarely an advantage with high fashion. Still, like one of Pavlov's dogs, as soon as the magazines proclaim a new season, I hurry to the stores.

Usually all I have to do is try on the latest offerings or read the price tags, and the mania subsides. Last year, when the harbingers of style proclaimed black out and tropical colors in , I tried on a luminous orange shift and knew right away the only place I belonged was in a Carmen Miranda look-alike contest or the "Would You Be Caught Dead In This Outfit?" column in the Star.

This year, at Nordstrom, I took off my freshly outdated miniskirt and put on a teal wool suit by Criscone. It had a short jacket ($310) trimmed in a metallic whip stitch and a straight, calf-length skirt ($180) highlighted by a double split panel, which reminded me of the automated cloths that swoop over my hood at the carwash. "The slits give the effect of two hemlines," said Gregg Andrews, the assistant fashion coordinator who was helping me. "I think this will make the long skirts fly."

I hummed a few bars of "The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy." "It's very '40s," Andrews said. "And it's perfect for going to the office, or going out to dinner."

I work at home, where my only office-mate is Sophie, my pug, and the trendiest place I eat is Souplantation. But I did like the '90s incarnation of my favorite '70s memory--platform shoes. The four-inch heels made me look a lot leggier than my usual Reeboks. I wasn't ready to buy, but my secret dream of someday making the best-dressed list was still alive.

At Saks Fifth Avenue, fashion consultant Jean Sanders Torrey suggested a flared brown (actually, she called it "sienna") wool gabardine ankle-length skirt by Ellen Tracy ($255) that buttoned down the front. It was paired with a striped blouse--the menswear influence--and a gold vest. Torrey offered a hand to steady me as I climbed into the five-inch suede platform pumps. "It's very Rosalind Russell," she said.

I was almost seduced by the image of myself as Hildy Johnson, but fortunately I was deterred by my strict fashion dictum: Never buy brown (it seldom makes me happy). Undaunted, Torrey handed me a classic navy wool skirt with a back slit ($196) by Anne Klein II Petites and a boxy checkered jacket ($374). "Don't forget waistline definition," she said, handing me a Paloma Picasso belt. "It's critical to the new silhouette."

I could have sworn I'd seen my mother in the same outfit 20 years ago, but it didn't look half-bad. Just in case I won the lottery, I asked Torrey to hold the skirt and jacket. Then I walked over to I. Magnin in the blazing midday sun and delivered my overheated self to Viktoria Kaye, the director of special services.

"Here's the epitome of newness," Kaye said, holding up a black Karl Lagerfeld wool jersey suit: a straight skirt that grazed the knee and a long, asymmetrical jacket, nipped at the waist. I gasped with pleasure when I ascended the coordinating five-inch platforms with ankle straps. I couldn't have run from a mugger to save my life, but I wouldn't have had trouble hailing a cab, even in L.A. "It's really glamour-inspired, very Joan Crawfordesque," Kaye said.

I looked in the mirror and beheld a mysterious, intimidating woman. It wasn't me; it was my fantasy self. And all it took to bring her out was a $2,485 outfit. I finally understood the meaning of a power suit. I imagined lunching with my agent at Mortons. I felt unstoppable, even tall. "If things are tailored well, there's no such thing as being too short," Kaye assured me.

I wondered if I could get a home equity clothes loan. I managed to drag myself away, but on the way out, I passed the shoe department, where I fell in love with at least a thousand dollars' worth of platform pumps. As soon as I got home, I reminded my husband that my birthday was coming up. "Is there anything special you want?" he said.

"Funny you should ask."

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