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SPRING PLAYTIME -- CASUAL, SPORTY AND FUN

Ah, spring. No, make that, ah, spring weekends.
Whether your favorite laid-back look is Levi's and
T-shirts or long floral skirts with a great pair of sandals, everything simplifies come spring and summer. Especially in the off-hours.

"Spring is when you want nothing more than to throw on a favorite T-shirt and a pair of jeans. It's as simple and sexy as it gets," writes designer Ralph Lauren in the introduction to his Polo Jeans spring collection.

But there's more to spring play clothes than faded blues.

Cropped pants, which slip in and out of fashion, are back. Flat-front khakis continue to be strong. And trend-watchers are making a big thing out of a small detail: drawstring waistbands.

"Drawstrings are very big -- on pants, shorts and dresses. They work well with flowing fabrics like linens and cottons. You probably wouldn't want to use them on wool," said Heather Ann Greeley, owner of Uncommon Threads, 779 Elmwood Ave. "Drawstrings are comfortable, and in the spring and summer, people want to be comfy. The clothes are easy to slip into. You put them on, tie them up and, bam, you're ready to go."

Certainly, drawstrings add to the comfort factor.

The fashion editors at Family Circle magazine call the drawstring pant "as comfy as it gets."

The experts at Ann Taylor pronounce: "Drawstrings are everywhere. A drawstring at the waist provides polished finish to a simple vanilla sheath dress."

Cropped pants make the trends list as well.

On the fashion runways, some versions are cropped slightly below the knee and paired, strangely enough, with tailored jackets -- not the most flattering look for many women, unless they happen to be 6 feet tall with supermodel legs.

Then again, cropped pants designed for casual wear can be sporty and fun.

"We are doing the flood pant by Joan Vass and the little pedal pusher slacks," said Pat Seitz, from Suzn O', a women's specialty store at 4476 Main St., Snyder.

One new look is to pair the pedal pushers, which are cropped to midcalf, with a top that resembles a mini sleeveless dress.

And instead of the baggy tunics of yesteryear that make a women look -- and feel -- as if she is hiding inside a sack, another option is to wear the pants with a top that is shorter and boxy -- a cut that Mrs. Seitz said is more flattering for most women.

As for colors and fabrics, "we're seeing more linen than ever and lots and lots of bright colors -- tangerine orange, lemon yellow, granny apple green, royal blue and fuchsia," she added.

In addition, there are the usual spring earth tones -- sand, khaki, sage -- as well as exotic plant patterns such as bamboo. Add to the palette every shade of blue; the sudden popularity of slate gray, and piles of pastels and sherbet colors,
and one can see that there is no shortage of colors to choose from this spring.

A word about accessories: Think natural, as in straw handbags, stone bracelets and pendants hanging from leather strings.

And, of course, everyone needs a straw hat and a pair of sandals -- from fisherman-style to ultra-feminine with little jewels, beads and flowers.

Thumb through the magazines or shuffle through the sales racks and another trend crops up: sleeveless dresses, sleeveless shells, sleeveless anything.

But while sleeveless sportswear goes hand-in-hand with warm-weather dressing, not every women is comfortable with the idea.

"When it comes to sleeveless, women of a certain age are paranoid. But it's hard to escape it because it's everywhere; everyone is showing it," Ms. Greeley said.

Her solution: Top off a sleeveless garment you love with a little sweater -- in a lightweight knit or perhaps even a crochet.

Or you can always tie the sweater around your shoulders for a little more coverage. "That's a big look right now," she said.

Finally, for those casual gatherings where you want to wear something besides shorts or pants, flowing floral dresses could be just the answer.

Do it right, and finish off the look with a pair of pretty floral sandals.

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