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Fashion designers have their own unknown variable: the fickle consumer. Style insiders can push this look or that, but what catches on as a trend is really up to the people who wear it.

Complicating things further this year is that fashion houses basically made their “predictions” for spring 2002 before the catastrophic events of Sept. 11, which left even the most devoted fashionista questioning her passion’s frivolity.

Also, many spring lines already had included touches of Americana, which are more important than ever and the Olympics next month in Salt Lake City will fuel an appreciation for red, white and blue even more. As the months go by, the patriotic colors also begin to show up in a slightly more edgy combination such as blue, white and pink.

Julian cites the men’s Tommy Hilfiger and Nautica lines and their rugby and polo shirts, shown in early September before the women’s runway shows, as examples of the “new” traditional sensibility. For suits, the double breasted and seersucker of yesteryear are new again.

“It’s ‘laundered and lived in’ when it comes to fabrics and finishes, which has a better consumer connection,” observes Julian. “Designers are coming closer to what consumers want. . It’s economic reality and a business reality that they can’t create things that will go straight to a sample sale.”

, editor in chief of , took note of the oversize clothes on the runway, including the “three sizes too big” tops at

“It’s a direct reflection of our times. It’s a cocoon; it’s cozy.”

Julian agrees that the emphasis this season will be on shirts, blouses and other tops, which can be more affordable than other separates and made visually interesting with wraps and ruffles.

Another trend, according to Bailey, is very feminine looks. “It’s a ’70s hippie feel.”

She advises anyone who bought a blouse especially a peasant blouse with frills or embroidery at the end of last summer to hold on to it. Pair it with a simple A line skirt or slim pants for a modern silhouette, she suggests. The story here is proportion, she explains.

The reverse look also works, Bailey adds, with a flowy skirt, a big belt and a simple jacket although it will be softer and less structured than in years past.

“The return of the blazer is so helpful to women’s wardrobes!”

(And the return of flat shoes is so helpful to women’s feet.)

Julian expects the real “fashion” touches to come in the form of accessories, “a more acceptable indulgence” in an uncertain world and an uncertain economy.

Mule boat shoes, Adidas sneakers, Gucci’s sleek sunglasses, two tone shoes for men and women, and Grecian boots a were among the outstanding supporting cast members on the runways, he says. Julian also gives kudos to the novelty of ‘s happy monkey T shirts and accessories, Mossimo’s surfer inspired looks and Tommy Bahama’s “one long weekend” island garb.

But Bailey warns not to expect this understated look to last too long. She says brightly colored shoes and handbags will allow women to enjoy the fun of fashion again.

“Historically in times of war, it’s very neutral. We saw that on the (European) runways with beige makeup, not drawing attention. But as we come through our grieving . women want to be positive. They want to dance and be desired.”

She compares what she expects to be the popular summer looks of bright red lipsticks, purple and the highest stacked heels to the glamorous New Look by after World War II.

In the early 1940s, clothes were simple and puritan and greatly affected by the rationing of fabric. After the war, women quickly embraced beauty, femininity and womanly shapes, Bailey explains. “Fashion moves very quickly and can adapt to society.”

And, she adds, it’s OK if women want both cozy and comforting clothes while they’re with their families by the hearth and very feminine “party girl” clothes that make them feel and act beautiful when they go out.
patriotic polo shirt Hazy with bright spots