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FASHION : Column a Cinch for Style Barometer : The writer's friends use her to gauge current styles. When she started wearing miniskirts, they lowered their hems.

March 09, 1995|ANN SHIELDS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

When I interrupted the Walton's rerun on the Family Channel to tell my husband I was offered the job of writing a fashion column, he hit the mute button, studied my unmatched fleece combo with the rolled up cuffs and said, "You really think that's your thing?"

My daughter was more specific. "Are they kidding?" she e-mailed from her perch in Portola Valley. Actually, it was written in CAPS, which, for you Internet illiterates, is cyberspace shouting.

So, all right, I didn't get my ears pierced until my 50th birthday. Didn't get my colors done until that train was heading out of the station. I mean, it didn't take a pileup on the information highway to convince me that brown no longer looked so great with gray hair multiplying faster than fleas in a frenzy. And in case you're wondering, I'm a "winter," as in discontent. But what's the big deal about writing a column on fashion? Wasn't I looked up to by all my friends as a true barometer of style? When I got into mini skirts, everyone knew it was time to lower the old hem line. When I switched to 100% cotton, rescuing my rusting iron from the shelf above the dryer, my friends checked out polyester ads.

As for those ever-changing, pant-leg widths, I hedged my bets by saving everything I ever bought. Good thing, too. Just as I packed away the bell bottoms, out popped the palazzos on those smug-looking mannequins.

My husband is not much help in the style department. He talked me into the pixie cut back when Farrah Fawcett wore her hair cascading around her face in that tumbled-out-of-bed look.

He also has discouraged me from getting a second hole in my ear lobes, and I can see what worries him, considering all those other places earrings are hanging from these days. When I complained that diamond studs get boring, he surprised me with little diamond studded jackets to wear around the earrings. That gesture went a long way in redeeming him for the pale blue, padded toilet seat I got for my 40th birthday.

I can't claim that makeup is my forte, since I own exactly one makeup brush, the one that came with a little compact-size blusher in a shade of burnt-something or other. I snooped into my 15-year-old granddaughter, Suzi's, makeup and there was an arsenal of rainbow colored blushers, lip gloss, eye liner and nail polish. Barely out of braces, this kid is not a chip off the grandmother block.

Still, I think my fashion sense rates a passing grade. I'm a writer after all, I notice things. Like those gobs of hair they're gluing on sparse sections of scalp in beauty shops now. I notice, too, that baggy is starting to give way to a tighter look. A big relief to those of us who remember the good old days when no one could pack a Saturday night special into jeans you had to lay down on the bed to wriggle into.

It also hasn't slipped past my inquiring mind that many baseball caps are feminine and floral, and that stirrup pants are still in, although I don't know why. Lipstick shades are losing their hospital pallor. Sequins shimmy at holiday dances, and holes in jeans come from honest wear, not right off the rack.

Getting serious, I opened my closet and studied the eclectic array. In a far corner, gathering years of dust, hung my deep red, velvet floor-length cape, complete with hood. My husband sidled up beside me.

"You never wore it," he accused.

"It just doesn't seem appropriate for morning bingo games at McDonalds," I shot back. I didn't add that it also is not suitable for Arby's, his upscale version of dining out.

"Maybe you can get it cut down for one of the kids," was his suggestion.

No way. I'm saving it for my sweep into the Academy Awards ceremony, the one where I'm nominated for the screen adaptation of my novel, "SASSY." Now there's a gal with fashion sense.

Before, I abandoned my closet survey, the mink jacket caught my eye. It was my mother's prize possession, handed down to me before she died. I thought she'd want to be buried in it, but she opted for the polyester green gown. That was my mom.

Anyway, the mink is not me. I keep seeing little beady mink eyes staring at me. I know all about that politically correct stuff, too. Easy for me to be P.C. when wearing the mink makes me look like a Pygmy linebacker for the 49ers.

I'm beginning to think I might need to enlist an adviser for this column. I'll check with Suzi. Meanwhile, any questions or advice, I'm here for you. Trust me.

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