Cooling concoctions

The aim of summer dressing doesn't change much. Since the days of front porch swings and ukuleles, it's always been a matter of managing to look crisp, cool and collected, whatever the temperature and humidity levels might be.

And temperatures are bound to be higher this year, what with lowered air conditioning being mandatory, so dressing to beat the heat is essential.

One way to do this is by watching one's choice of fabrics. To mount the soapbox and sing the praises of pure cottons, linens, and silks: It's worth keeping in mind the hot weather advantages of these natural materials, vs. the disadvantages of synthetics. The natural fibers are absorbent (cotton especially so); they adjust to changes of body temperature, whereas man-made fabrics will not. They are also porous, thus allowing air to circulate freely. The differences in comfort may well make up for the time and expense involved in upkeep.

For those who fail to see the charm of linens that wrinkle after one wearing (fabrics that designers like Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren have given the stamp of approval), there is seersucker. This, along with other crinkly-surface materials, has made a fashion comeback this year. Other no-wilt fabrics that have returned include madras and various men's shirtings -- oxford cloth, for instance.

Looking crisp and fresh, these fabrics are some of the choices available in that all- American invention, the shirtwaist dress, here again as a top-rated style for the coming months. As a straight chemise, one of the versions now arriving in the stores, the shirtdress meets all the requirements for summer dressing.

The lack of constriction around the waist is a boon, of course, but with or without a belt, its lines are agreeable for practically any age or figure.An all-day, everyday type of dress, it comes short-sleeved or sleeveless, in pastels, bright, darks, graph-paper checks, and the many-colored stripes that are popular for hot weather this year.

Some shirtdresses have tiny collars in contrasting white, others have button-downs. Feminized shirt styles may have lace edgings, scallop embroidery, or little ruffle pleat trims. Any or all of these would survive the most arduous day at the office.

Since summer is an extension of spring (a short season in many parts of the country), the clothes coming into the stores now are generally lighter interpretations of the trends set down for spring.

The so-called "innocent" dress -- a frothy lace-trimmed concoction -- has its summer counterpart in flowered lawn, voile, or pastel crepe de Chine. Frilly and demure, with puffed sleeves and an old-fashioned air, it usually has a full skirt and a lowish neckline.

Ruffles and rippling flares are other flirtatious details that have been carried over for a summer run. Tropical prints and oversize florals, with off-the-shoulder ruffles or flounced hemlines with slightly south-of-the- border looks, are a contrast to the sweet rosebud-print ingenue dresses.

For the classic tailored look, there's "preppie," a tag that nowadays covers blazers, twin sets, madras plaids, front-pleated skirts, pleat-top trousers, and , above all, Bermuda shorts with knee socks and loafers. The jacket turnout with matching Bermudas has again been proposed as urban suit by serious designers. Young New Yorkers took to the idea last year, but other metropolitan areas have so far been laggard about following through.

Women whose clothes preferences center on sports separates (but who think Bermudas belong in the suburbs) might consider the dress with its own jacket as a summer option. A creditable selection exists, ranging from bright abstract print cottons with dark backgrounds to silks with the jackets and camisole tops in vivid color contrast to the wrap skirt.

Black and white graphics, asymmetrical lines, and color splits are all represented in the spectrum of summer fashion. Many of these trends are reflected in cotton jersey T- shirts with gathered skirts in coordinated colors.

However, the sweater with the hand-knit look (a reigning fashion that will be with us on through next fall and winter) is eclipsing the T-shirt as the voguish top to wear with a printed shirt. Cotton boucles (textured fabrics) in violet, fuschia, chrome yellow, or persimmon are among the hits that are already scoring with bright-eyed early-bird shoppers.

Offshoots of the status-y handmade pullovers creatd by Joan Vass and Perry Ellis, the boucle cottons come in cropped-waist shapes with accentuated shoulders and boat necklines. Worn with pleated or swirling swing skirts, they are alternatives to the bandeau and tube tops that fill the bill for summer's more casual moments.

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