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SHE SAID, HE SAID

Wardrobe for All Seasons

April 16, 1993|ANN CONWAY and PATRICK MOTT

T he wool gabardine or the silk linen suit? The frothy voile or the tailored knit dress? The glossy patent leather or the sensible suede shoes?

These are the questions we begin to ask ourselves when our closets make the transition from winter to spring. There used to be fast rules about what one did or didn't wear until after the first crocus bloomed. No more. We've learned that change-of-season dressing isn't nearly as strict as it used to be.

SHE: Freedom. That's what the fashion industry has given us during past years. With an emphasis on individuality and choice, the fashion world has become more fun, relaxed. No longer does a woman fret over when to wear her white shoes. Chances are she wears them all year-round. (The color "winter white" took care of that.) Even patent leather has become a year-round foot covering.

The challenge for me is letting go of my heavy wools. They are so much richer looking than their lightweight counterparts. Truth is, I dread spring/summer dressing. The linens wrinkle. The whites soil. And to wear a cool sleeveless dress, one shouldn't be a day over 20.

HE: Is it really that grim? I don't think you have to resign yourself to sneaking around in a babushka shawl just yet. Besides, you don't have to give up the look of knits right away. I was sitting down the other day with the latest Land's End catalogue and decided to order what I think is the perfect seasonal transition garment: a nice, loose basket stitch cotton cardigan. In white. It breathes like crazy, you can wear it open, it's nice and bright and if it gets too warm you simply take it off.

I'll admit that it's been argued that cardigans make guys look like 1950s sitcom dads, but that's only if the sweaters have patches on the sleeves and if you wear them with a shirt and tie. Wear them with a sport shirt and jeans and you look easygoing enough to be asleep.

SHE: The good news: knits--light as air, pastel, long or short--are the thing for spring. Ideally, only a trim figure should step into one. I'm always amazed to see these body-revealing items in any size over 12.

But then, as Marie Gray of St. John knits says: "My clothes can be either sexy or forgiving."

The woman with the shapely figure can slip into a body-hugger. The woman with some extra pounds can wear the ensemble with the long boxy jacket.

Knits are my favorite thing to buy. They pack well. Don't wrinkle. And they mix and match beautifully.

HE: Wool gets my nod, at least as a hugely versatile fabric for slightly more formal clothes. A lot of people, I think, equate wool with, say, Harris tweed or Shetland sweaters--heavy, scratchy stuff. But I have a very lightweight Merino wool sweater that carries me through the seasons quite well. The weave is dense but very smooth and thin.

Also, men's lightweight wool suits are among the most serviceable garments anywhere. They hold a crease like a knife, they breathe, and the only time they get uncomfortable is on really hot days (in which case you shouldn't be wearing a suit at the office anyway; you should be wearing shorts on the golf course).

SHE: Sonia Rykiel of Paris, one of my favorite designers, also does stylish cotton knits. And luxurious cotton velours--her fabric trademark in casual clothing. Heavy cotton velour looks like velvet in winter. And lightweight velour is a luxe look for spring / summer.

She is very pricey. But I watch her rack at I. Magnin and pick up a cotton knit shirt occasionally. She is fun to collect. And she goes on sale. Now there's a bargain. Her clothes are classic, chic and forever.

HE: Let me pick a small bone with you about linen. Yes, it wrinkles. It's supposed to wrinkle. That's part of what makes it look so nice and casual. And wearing a linen suit almost forces you to relax. Take a look at a couple of the suits Kevin Costner wore in "JFK." Pretty elegant stuff in that Kentucky colonel, Derby Day, mint julep, French Quarter, laissez le bon ton rouler sort of way.

SHE: I love the sheer linen that you see in a romantic dress--one gathered at the waist and scoop-necked. I've always loved the look of linen. But I resent the fact that my linen suits look like a million when they come from the cleaners and two bucks when I get to work (how I resent those creases on the back of my skirt and jacket!).

My transition fabrics: light wool and cotton knits, wool crepes and wool gabardines. They're fail-safe fabrics that keep you cool and take you anywhere.

HE: I always thought that's what my car was for. Maybe the ideal seasonal transition material is Detroit iron.

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