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Working Wardrobe

Taking Bold Spring Looks to the Office

March 31, 2000|VALLI HERMAN-COHEN | TIMES SENIOR FASHION WRITER

Spring's trend for vivid colors may help fashion change its motto from "planned obsolescence" to "reduce, reuse and recycle" staples of your wardrobe.

With the addition of a few colorful components, the working woman's black, gray, brown and beige suits and separates can get a new lease on life. Every season has a color story, and this spring what used to be called Southwestern colors are back, but now they're just called by their names: turquoise, tangerine, hot pink, orange, yellow and red. They're showing up in everything from jean jackets at Gap to capri pants at Bloomingdale's. Many stores offer the colors in gentler tones to appeal to a wider range of complexions.

Stroll the malls and you'll most likely wonder where a working woman might wear the pink vinyl snake jean jackets or head-to-toe tangerine mini-skirt suits. Don't worry. Those are window dressing for teenagers and fashion editors with bad judgment. Take apart those wildly colorful ensembles and wade past the paisley scarf tops to find the items that will update your office attire.

It is easy to add color to your wardrobe with accessories, patterns, or a layering piece, such as a shirt, blouse or sweater. As a general rule, the more color in your ensemble, the more appropriate it is for casual settings. You can wear an orange blouse to court, but leave the all-orange coveralls to the inmates.

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Start with the fun part--accessories. In small doses, wild prints and colors can be acceptable in serious office settings. That proper black leather purse can go on the shelf until winter. In the meantime, try carrying a more colorful fabric bag. But beware of looking like a beachcomber: Pick a structured bag with stiff sides and a subtle pattern to look more professional.

In the office, skimpy, strappy sandals are less credible than a more covered-up shoe, such as a closed-toe mule or sling-back. If your dress code permits bare sandals, they can be the best choice with a patterned skirt or dress because they minimize visual clutter. A multicolored snake-print shoe can be an effective accent, particularly with a matching clutch bag or belt for a look that says, "I've actually thought about my wardrobe today."

Invest now in a few colorful belts and you'll be ahead of the curve for this fall. For spring, wear a chain belt snug over the waist of a long cardigan sweater, an A-line skirt or a shirtdress. Skinny belts in vivid colors such as red will be a key fall look on A-line skirts and over jackets.

Denim accessories can work with several casual office looks and are ideal weekend wear. Just as bluejeans seem to work with every color and texture, so do denim accessories. Beaded denim sandals could accent an A-line denim or khaki skirt, for example.

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A denim jacket, in indigo or some of the fun pinks, yellows and oranges, can complement a patterned skirt or dress and create a new kind of "suit." Gap is selling jean jackets in tamer tones of washed yellow or blue, as well as white and vivid red for $48 (and coordinating $42 capri pants for the weekend). Put the jackets over a Diane von Furstenberg print wrap dress, add sandals and you're set for dressy-casual day at the office.

For a different look, Club Monaco offers some $89 A-line solid skirts in bright pink and khaki that could look perfectly conservative with a crisp white shirt or simple T-shirt. On the weekend, the skirts can partner with a boldly printed or colored shirt for a casual look.

Last year's gray pantsuit is the perfect foil for vivid colors. A hot-pink tank top, a tangerine sweater or red T-shirt can update the look. Leave the suit jacket at home and top your suit pants or skirts with colorful sweaters or tailored blouses that look finished enough to stand alone.

Add patterned blouses, which also are a key fall look (start shopping now to get extra mileage out of the tops). Simple floral, paisley or polka-dot patterns can add color to a wardrobe and relieve visual boredom.

Many stores are offering printed or embroidered dresses that at first glance seem appropriate only for a pool party. Think again. A solid-color cardigan or streamlined jacket over the dress can give you the right coverage.

A patterned blouse, dress or sweater can also help get you to work on time: You won't have to search your jewelry drawer for the right necklace and earrings. That's the beauty of color. It takes only a little to say a lot.

Valli Herman-Cohen can be reached at valli.herman-cohen@latimes.com.

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