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Published: Sunday, 9/5/2004

September's siren song

BY VANESSA WINANS
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Call it September Syndrome.

There is a mystical quality to autumn, a sense that anything is possible. Spring may be the official season of new beginnings, but September also feels like the start of something new, maybe even something big. It conjures up memories of that first day of school, that feeling that even though you're the same person as you were in May, anything could happen in the coming months: straight As, new interests, and even, if all goes well, an actual social life.

And so it is with fall fashion for women. This year's crop of tweeds and tailoring with feminine touches aren't that different from last year's. Indeed, we've seen all of these looks during the last several years. Yet, the looks for fall 2004 all seem so fresh, so full of promise. It is September Syndrome at its finest.

The season's basic looks include traditional menswear fabrics, higher-waisted slacks, jackets and skirted suits, with a sprinkling of 1950s influences throughout. They are all classics, and can be interpreted two ways: as safe clothes for turbulent times, or as can-do, get-the-job-done clothes for turbulent times. Either way, you can't go wrong.

First up: retro. From Gap to Ann Taylor, retro rules. That means jackets are fitted, skirts hit the knee or below, and slacks have straight lines - no flared hems, and hitting the exact middle between wide and slim. Colors abound, but pinks, grays, multi-hued tweeds, and of course, black and white combinations (such as classic houndstooth patterns) dominate the collections. Hats, such as fedoras, appear as finishing touches. And the hue that is the color of wine grapes continues in popularity. Pinks and grays are being stressed, but one can't go wrong with the rich hues, such as purples and greens.

One caveat: Vintage-inspired clothes can pose some challenges for the plus-sized. The skinny belt, used extensively this season, generally is not a smart choice to wear over a jacket or sweater, but can look attractive under one. However, higher-waisted slacks that fall straight from the hip to the ankle make a terrific look: definitely stock up.

More casual: denim and corduroy remain wardrobe staples. Waistlines continue to creep back up from the historic lows. Worn with a blazer and crisp striped short, they convey youth and energy without looking immature.

It's ba-a-a-ack. After a brief spurt of popularity in 2000, ponchos, those handy alternatives to a sweater, faded into obscurity. For fall 2004, they are back, in every way possible and at almost every price level. Liz Claiborne has a cozy-looking knee-length poncho with a hood. Gap sells a cropped version for young women. Talbots includes a wool poncho with a turtleneck in its line. And Lane Bryant has delicate open-weave ponchos suitable for an evening out.

The sheer abundance of ponchos is enough to make you wonder if the design houses don't actually call each other up after all. But even the poncho-mania pales next to another clothing coincidence: The yellow trench or top coat.

We first saw it in January's Ebony Fashion Fair, a canary-colored dazzler that made us wish yellow made our skin look jaunty rather than jaundiced. Then the September issue of Elle ran two ads featuring similar coats within 10 pages of each other. And Talbots, known for its classic clothes, has a yellow knee-length coat in its fall collection.

Such a striking coat makes a woman stand out, a definite plus. The pitfalls: it may be a one-season garment you'll tire of by Christmas, and keeping it clean through the slush season may prove a challenge. But we cannot deny that it conjures pleasant possibilities for a brisk fall day.

It's a September Syndrome thing.

Contact Vanessa Winans at:

vwinans@theblade.com

or 419-724-6103



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