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Slightly recycled and neo-bohemian. Luscious and filmy. Gypsy and Indian. Chunky and stiletto.

Low-slung and sleek-cut. Gems and chokers.

And really tight shirts with plunging necklines.

These were but a few of the looks that flounced down the runways of Milan and Paris and New York touted as the fashions that would be filling the stores this fall.

Our reaction back then? Fashion, schmashion.

Then winter became spring. Spring became summer. And now summer has become September. And looky what's on the racks:

Slightly recycled neo-bohemian stuff. Filmy Gypsy-Indian looks. Monstrous shoes. stiletto heels. Hip-hugger-ish pants.

And really, really tight shirts with plunging necklines.

Dear God. They weren't kidding.

Or were they?

Armed with note pad and two average working women, we stormed area malls, yanked the latest fashion trends off their hangers and donned them to see just how terrific (or traumatic) fall 1999's hot styles look on someone other than Kate Moss.

Our models:

A 32-year-old newlywed who is 5-foot-4, has a slender dancer's frame and large bust, but legs that no longer look the way she wants them to -- and a fairly hip wardrobe that nonetheless needs rejuvenating. "I'm aging," she mutters en route to the Walden Galleria. "This is not good."

A 38-year-old mother of two who is 5-foot-7, has an athletic frame and smaller bust with very wide shoulders, but long legs she is never sure what to do with -- and a wardrobe circa 1990. "I buy clothes every new presidential administration," she admits. "That's about how often I can bear doing this. It can't be helped."

Together, they tried on just about everything out there.

They hooted. They hollered. They collapsed into giggles. And, briefly, during a pants-trying-on session, they had to be taken to Jack Astor's for margaritas before resuming.

In the end, these were their findings.
Item: The Spandex/Lycra T-shirt.

Defining characteristic: Cling-city.

Where you're supposed to wear it: To work, well-covered by jacket or cardigan. Out at night, with slim jeans, pants or short skirt.

What it's supposed to make you look like: Like a smooth, curvy creature of grace.

What it actually makes you look like: "Like I'm about to teach a class in my new Danskin," observes our newlywed, who seems distinctly uncomfortable. "Like I stole my boyfriend's daughter's shirt," sighs the taller one, also busily tugging and pulling. Both are struggling with what might be termed "bra issues." What do you wear under something this clingy? Even so-called "T-shirt" bras present unsightly strap and hook lumps.

The pros: It certainly is a form-fitting look.

The cons: It certainly makes you afraid to eat. Ever again.

To buy or not to buy? Maybe one -- but unless you're cut and buffed like a diamond, prepare to wear something over it. These things cling to every inch of excess you.
Item: The three-quarter-sleeve, tailored blouse in stretch cotton -- white or colors.

Defining characteristic: Form-fitted shape exposes forearm, cleavage and, if you're not careful, a little ab as you reach to the top shelf for extra copy paper.

Where you're supposed to wear it: To work, under a crisp suit; then, post-work, to happy hour, untucked, unbuttoned a bit more and paired with strappy sandals.

What it's supposed to make you look like: A funky, fun club chick.

What it actually makes you look like: Like you left it in the drier too long.

The pros: It can flatter almost any female form as long as you get the absolute right size.

The cons: Until you're used to the snug fit, shorter sleeves and higher hem, the urge to tug is overwhelming. "I want to rip this off," says our 38-year-old.

To buy or not to buy? With a skirt, jeans, suit or shorts, it does turn out to be surprisingly useful. Try on a dozen and get the best-made one you can afford.

Item: The dressy T-shirt/sweater with deeply scooped neckline or deep V neckline.

Defining characteristic: Cleavage.

Where you're supposed to wear it: Any place you want to be relieved of the burden of being appreciated for your wit.

What it's supposed to make you look like: "Swoopy and graceful," read one advertisement, "exposing a delicious expanse of feminine beauty."

What it actually makes you look like: You're gunning for a promotion, free drinks or a lock on a New Year's Eve date.

The pros: If you got it, one of these certainly makes it easy to flaunt it.

The cons: If you don't, one of these certainly makes it easy to . . . uh . . . tell.

To buy or not to buy? How brave are you feeling?
Miscellaneous accessories
Item: Feathers.

Defining characteristic: Found in dress-up boas or in trim on suit cuffs, hems or necklines.

Where you're supposed to wear them: Retro parties, Club Marcella, Madonna video shoots.

What it's supposed to make you look like: You're a zany, fountain- jumping party girl.

What it actually makes you looks like: "Ow, I don't care what it looks like, ow-ow-ow, take this off," snaps the younger of our two models, examining her synthetic white-ostrich boa and finding sharp plastic binding it together. The pros: Feathers do tend to soften the face. Even if this is chiefly by hiding large portions of it.

The cons: They itch. They get in your mouth. And they render anything coming out of your mouth sort of moot: "What does she know, for God's sake, she's wearing feathers."

To buy or not to buy? If you have the cash for this kind of goofy stuff, go for it.
Item: Neo-bohemian/gypsy/Indian look.

Defining characteristics: Prints, deep autumny colors, feathers, beads, loose and flowy look.

Where you're supposed to wear it: Cher's concert, folk-art shows, lounging at rock star's country manor or Edwardian estate.

What it's supposed to make you look like: Grand Funk Railroad groupies, only cuter and healthier.

What it actually makes you look like: Grand Funk Railroad groupies who have yet to throw away her clothes or even change them.

The pros: Good for PMS "fat days" when you know that you can't cut a hole in your bedspread, slip it over your head and wear it to work -- yet you yearn to.

The cons: It tends to leave the impression that you're still coping -- or trying to but faring rather poorly -- with various issues related to Jerry Garcia's death.

To buy or not to buy? Your call.


Item: "Floating" gem necklace, ring or bracelet.

Defining characteristic: Gem -- usually a diamond or some other cut stone -- threaded onto clear wire to look as though the stone is simply "floating" on the neck or ear or finger.

Where you're supposed to wear it: Out to something very dressy.

What it's supposed to make you look like: A woman who has jewels mysteriously floating over her body.

What it actually make you looks like: "Like I have this creepy, disembodied stuff all over me," says the mother of two, donning several pieces and frowning. "Yeah, but it's sexy in a creepily disembodied way," protests the 32-year-old. "Although, from far away, if you don't see a chain, people think, ew, did she get a diamond tattoo at her throat or something?"

The pros: Done well -- say, with multiple levels of stones -- it creates a very ethereal look for a formal evening. Especially with a dark, strapless gown.

The cons: Done poorly, it creates a very cheap look that suggests you stuck some rhinestones on fishing line and ran out the door.

To buy or not to buy? Try on, try on and try on until you find a perfect piece.
Item: The stretch mesh/webbed choker.

Defining characteristics: Delicate web of lace or mesh embedded with gems or beads that stretches to accommodate the circumference of a bicep, throat or, if one must, a forehead.

Where you're supposed to wear it: Coffeehouse, club, martini bar, "Titanic"-theme party.

What it's supposed to make you look like: Feminine and romantic, like you just stepped out of a Jane Austen novel.

What it actually makes you look like: All three, and then some.

The pros: Almost every woman looks good in a choker, especially ones this feminine. And judging by the stares our women got in these, guys think so, too.

The cons: Unless you have Linda Hamilton upper arms, wrapping one of these around your bicep will almost certainly inspire people to recall their second-grade teacher's arms as she wrote on the blackboard -- and then to regard you with some measure of pity.

To buy or not to buy? Absolutely. Instant romance and allure for $12 to $20.


Item: Skirt with matching long jacket.

Defining characteristic: Suit-jacket hem is extended so that both pieces are the same length.

Where you're supposed to wear it: Work, it seems. Especially on "take no prisoners" days.

What it's supposed to make you look like: "Girl power!" crows one ad featuring a lanky model thus dressed, with hip out-thrust, jacket flung back.

What it actually makes you look like: "I feel like a flasher," mutters our newlywed friend, emerging from the dressing room in teal skirt and matching long coat, and gazing in the mirror. "Ha! 'Calling Nurse Ratched!' I look like a lab technician."

The pros: It is a new look. And you may yearn for the extra coverage come winter.

The cons: It's an awful lot of material. And somehow it's tough to shake off the image that you're cold and simply keeping your coat on.

To buy or not to buy? Try a few on. If you've some height and are slender, a well-cut suit like this, in the right fabric and shade, may be just the change you want.
Item: Long heathery skirt with drawstring waist.

Defining characteristics: Slim, tweedy, form-fitting.

Where you're supposed to wear it: We frankly had no earthly idea.

What it's supposed to make you look like: A cast extra in your town's production of "Brigadoon"?

What it actually makes you look like: "Scullery maid," observes our smaller model in a gray version of this. "There's something very Amish going on here." Our mother of two, wearing the same style, nods in agreement. "Put a Mr. Coffee filter on my head, and I'm what's-her-name in 'Witness.' "

The Pros: Heathery fabric is nice. So is the longer skirt look (except when it's so narrow that you wind up walking with geisha-like steps). Also, with a few of these and a pair of knee-high boots, you can forget about shaving your legs from November to May.

The Cons: Most of these are cut so severely that you wind up looking sort of bunchy.

To buy or not to buy? Pass -- at least on the cheaply made versions. An Ann Taylor or DKNY version might make a world of difference -- but also gut your budget. A basic black long skirt can take you further.


Item: Low-rise pant with plain front and wide, flared legs.

Defining characteristic: Low-slung waist, fly front, sleek cut.

Where you're supposed to wear it: To work, on more casual days; on a funky date; to the clubs.

What it's supposed to make you look like: Some lean leggy thing that just flounced in off the streets of New York or London.

What it actually makes you look like: "Like I should be saying, 'Hi, can I take your order?' " snickers our petite-yet-curvy 32-year-old. The look is too "waitressy" on her shorter frame. But our taller woman's leg length makes this look work, though the snugness of most of these type of pants render them inappropriate for the office.

The pros: In black, a well-made pair of these will take you right through the winter, and can be dressed up or down.

The cons: If you've been skipping the butt-tuck exercises, one quick glance backward in a pair of these will announce that rather plainly. Also, major hem-jobs are needed on most pairs -- unless you plan to buy 3-inch-high wedge sandals.

To buy or not to buy? Worth it. Maybe even two pairs.
Item: Rolled leg utility pant.

Defining characteristic: Canvas pants with various snaps, buttons and zippers, which alter their look.

Where you're supposed to wear it: On campus, beer blast, creek-walking.

What it's supposed to make you look like: A J. Crew ad where everyone's engaged in something athletic wearing adorably rumpled yet incredibly well-made clothing.

What it actually makes you looks like: An Outward Bound reject. "If I show up to work in these, tell my husband to come get me because I will be insane," says our newlywed. "If I show up to work in these, kill me," returns the other.

The pros: Got a teen-ager? Here's one way to make her happy, at least for a few minutes.

The cons: Don't make the tragic mistake of thinking you can slip on a pair and be mistaken for said teen.

To buy or not to buy? Pass.

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