- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 14, 2006

Dust off your leggings. Find a big belt to go over your big sweater. But don’t put the shoulder pads back into your blazer — or ask your hairstylist for a big, big perm.

Yes, the ‘80s are back — sort of. Surely you have seen the signs in the stores this fall. Think Madonna (leggings and a denim mini) in 1985 or Pat Benatar (skin-tight jeans and scrunchy boots) before her.

This return to Reagan-era fashion may puzzle shoppers, some of whom just now are buying into last year’s look of low-rise jeans and shrug sweaters. So who makes these fashion decisions? Is there a conspiracy committee that sits in a little room, perhaps in New York, and announces, “Quick — let’s roll out the ‘Saved by the Bell’ Collection”?

Not quite, says George Simonton, a fashion designer and professor of fashion design at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology.

“When you look at it, there is nothing new under the sun,” he says. “Designers and merchandisers are constantly looking for inspiration. They seem to take things from different eras.”

The process goes something like this: Designers show off next season’s collections. Fashion forecasters scrutinize the runway shows in Milan, New York and Paris, then analyze how the looks will translate to the average shopper.

So what shows up at Tysons Corner isn’t necessarily the ‘80s as we knew it. For instance, the stores are not carrying acid-washed jeans or Members Only jackets. What are on the racks are looks that have been done before but are shown in a new, fresh way, says Roseanne Morrison, fashion director for the Doneger Group, a fashion forecasting and analysis firm in New York.

“It is about a change of the eye,” she says.

Ms. Morrison says part of the influence for today’s retro look came when popular ‘80s designer Norma Kamali — whose signature look included ballet flats, leggings and sweaters — staged a recent comeback collection.

What that boils down to for the consumer is leggings. Comfy? Yes. Attractive? Depends whether you are built like a ballerina.

“The stretch factor of leggings is definitely comfortable,” Ms. Morrison says. “Some people are actually relieved to be wearing them again. The ‘80s appealed to young and old.”

Ms. Morrison also says the new look came as a reaction to all that has been low-cut and midriff-baring these past few years.

“Low-rise jeans couldn’t go any lower,” she says. “Leggings and skinny jeans are about going higher. This is the pendulum swinging in the other direction.”

The pendulum must swing in order for the fashion industry to stay alive.

“Without change, there is no reason for women to buy,” Mr. Simonton says. “Things change radically faster now.”

Mr. Simonton and other fashion analysts dismiss the old adage that says, “If you remember a trend from the first time around, then you are too old to wear it.”

It’s not about whether to wear a trend, it is about how you wear it, Mr. Simonton says.

“Some people are born with style,” he says. “You have to be age-appropriate. If you are 18 and gorgeous, you can wear a sack and look good. After a certain age, a little more tailored is more appropriate.”

Betsy Thompson, public relations director for the Talbots chain of women’s clothing stores, agrees that perspective is important when going for a trendy look.

“We’re not seeing head-to-toe looks,” she says. “You have to pick and choose. It is OK to be trendy at 40, as long as you feel comfortable. Today’s women have a much more ageless mind-set.”

When Talbots — known primarily for classic clothing — decides to carry items, its retail executives think through the eyes of their customers, Ms. Thompson says.

“In trends that have come back, we think, ‘Is there a place for this in her wardrobe?’ If there is a practical reason, it has better staying power.”

Leggings are a definite big seller this fall, Ms. Thompson says.

“When it gets cold, they’ll keep your legs warm,” she says. “Paired with a great shirtdress, leggings can really work for you, particularly if you are in a creative work environment.”

Nicole Fischelis, fashion director for Macy’s East, says leggings are a very classic look when used in the right proportion and combination.

“It’s one component in the layering trend we are seeing for fall,” she says. “We don’t look at it as a vintage thing. It’s part of the ballet inspiration and can look

charming under a short dress.”

This year’s skinny jean is a little trickier for some women, Ms. Thompson says.

That look is actually a revival of a revival. Take the skinny black pants the Gap is selling. The TV ad shows the late Audrey Hepburn — in skinny pants cropped above the ankle — in a clip from her 1957 movie “Funny Face,” dancing to the 1980 AC/DC hit “Back in Black” to sell pants in 2006.

At 5-foot-7 and 110 pounds, Miss Hepburn could pull off that look in any decade. The average woman is shorter and, in this millennium, wider.

“We’ve always carried the classic straight leg,” says Talbots’ Ms. Thompson. “The really skinny jeans may be tough for some women. A bootleg look is going to be a lot more flattering.”

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