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FASHION : Overexposed Spring Styles Send Some Running for Cover : Thighs, navels and midriffs are on view in such would-be staples as the microdress. But women may refuse to bare it.

March 17, 1994|KATHLEEN WILLIAMS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

As fashion analysts, it is our duty to warn you about spring. There's a new lookout--and unless you're Barbie, our guess is you're not ready for it.

If last fall's wardrobe brought out the monastic mood, you could call this one the reformation.

Designers are baring more flesh than Vons. If you had to pick something out of Vogue magazine to wear to the office, we suggest stapling the pages together--you'd get more coverage.

You will suppose we are exaggerating, but you will be wrong. Skirts have risen faster than the Missouri in flood stage--to high-thigh levels. Necklines plunge. Midriffs, if they are covered at all, peek from behind misty gauze, brandishing navels like badges of freedom.

Designers seem to have missed a curve on the back-to-basics highway of the '90s and careened off into strange territory.

First, they've brought out the slip dress. Aptly named, it's a dead ringer for underwear. You could duplicate it in the lingerie department at a third of the cost. Better yet, check your grandmother's wardrobe--some of these look like cotton relics from the '30s. Don't tell her why you want it, though. Grandmothers can be underwear reactionaries.

If you find that you are also one--how about going for the microdress instead, which offers fancier fabrics but even less coverage?

There is obviously no way to sit down in this dress unless you are willing to tote along a briefcase to cover your lap. Or, perhaps, a parasol, for after-hours.

Other offerings include the baby doll--an official category--and something we have termed the doily. They are not, shall we say, conservative.

But they're here, anyway. We found some of these styles at Judy's in Ventura, where manager Melaina Hammonds said the slip dress is showing early signs of favor.

"We have already sold three, and we are pretty tame," she said.

According to Hammonds, the clingy, short knit dress is also popular. She held up one that was not quite micro, but closing in on the concept.

"I thought it was a T-shirt until I pulled it out of the box," she said.

A longer version of the dress is known as the tube--and in a sheer weight it reveals as much as the micro, but under wraps, so to speak.

Also featured are what seem to be exercise wear--crop tops and short shorts--but these are intended for the clubs, not the gym.

Armed with sample photos of the new clothing shown in Vogue and Allure, we approached some Ventura County women and asked their opinion of the look. The reception was cool.

"I'm going to be wearing my old clothes," Debby Maron, an aerobics dance instructor from Thousand Oaks, said after a quick glance at the pictures.

"I would wear it to bed," said Rachel Hawthorne, a student at Ventura College.

Others had stronger views.

Sharon Andrews of Ojai, who works for the Ventura Unified School District, said: "These are from Vogue? They should be in Playboy."

"I don't see any need for it and I didn't when I was 20," said Marci Wagner, a masseuse who lives in Ventura. "Our society should be past this point."

She seemed so upset, we thought of offering her the parasol idea, but we could tell that she wasn't in the mood.

It makes us wonder, though, whether the fashion world really has its finger on the pulse of America. How many women want to show this much skin? If they're into equality with men, shouldn't that translate to equal coverage?

Maybe fashion designers should do more marketing research before they hit the drawing boards: Check out the exposure quotient before the fact.

We think, given the responses from Ventura County, that they just possibly have . . . slipped up.

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