A safari spirit captures Britain

Look hard for a true-blue traditional Englishwoman on the streets of Britain this spring. You may need field glasses. For she'll be in camouflage or in a leafy jungle print or perhaps even in full safari kit.

British designers have embraced Africa -- in shapes, moods, prints. You can get Bermuda shorts, safari jacket, bold T- shirts blazoned with lions' heads. The newest touches are gold. Piping on the clothes enlivens the quiet khakis and sands, as in lame-trimmed cotton cheese- cloth jumpsuits (sleeveless, with sliced low V-necks, elasticized waits) by Anne Tyrell. And gold moccasins are bounding down the pavements, often with white tights, more often high white socks as worn by district officers in the Colonial Service.

City shorts outfits look new and come even in traditional gray or white flannel. All the top designers love Bermudas by night, making them in slithery crepe de Chine, usually with U-necked tank top in a contrasting color.

Knickerbockers and jodhpurs, Pakistani pants, too, are having a field day among the young, and one of the instant conversation-openers is "Who's selling the cheapest knickerbockers?" With "Little Lord Fauntleroy" playing in the cinemas here, the mood is overwhelmingly set for a popular revival of the knickerbocker-plus- frilly blouse ensemble that Yves Saint Laurent, for one, has been showing to couture customers for years.

That frilly blouse is important, for it leads to the second strong look in British fashion for spring: the pretty pretties. Lots of these blouses and dresses come from India, where more and more British stores and boutiques are having exclusive ranges done cheaply for them. Pink-and-white checked Madras has a chestnut line running through to lessen the sugariness. Hem frills are rampant. Streaks of gold Lurex in a navy muslin dress by no means relegate it to evening wear, since gold is absolutely in for day.

Gold also gleams in the dramatic bold hand-knits that are becoming one of the major draws of foreign store buyers to Britain.

Egyptian motifs rule here, with lots of solemn camels, spiky pyramids, slivers of blue sea, across the front of a huge sweater. The machine-made sweaters with similar motifs are, of course, being worn by the young as mini dresses.

Minis came in most strongly as knits this past winter, particularly the style with a snug webbing at the hemline to make a cocoonlike shape. Now for spring young women are buying minis with sun-ray pleated skirts, or out-and-out Charleston dresses with low hip seams which were enormously important in Paris in January.

Milder hemlines for the less courageous are nevertheless shorter than last winter's -- many at midknee.

The trick for 1981 is to look a little lost and fragile in clothes too big for you. All the newest T-shirts are meant to be worn two sizes too big. They are still in very thin stripes and quite long. Many of the new blouses, even at highly conservative firms like Country Casuals, have a tab neck and sleeves chopped off just three or four inches below shoulderline so they stand out stiffly.

Prints, at last making a comeback show the victory of fruit over flowers. Even if you're not buying a new fruit-patterned blouse or dress, you can spice up your spring wardrobe with a belt featuring cutout leather strawberries or lemons. Animal prints, of course, go along with the great African safari mood in clothes generally.

But if you're a sophisticate (or a shopper who likes investment clothes you won't tire of), then the spring story for you in Britain is the astonishing influence of America's Calvin Klein. Since he opened his shop here last autumn, the British manufacturers have absorbed every nuance. Nearly every fashion range has some trousers, cardigans, and T-shirts in silky polyester at prices obviously less than Klein's pure silk separates. This is a nonchalant look that's fun to accessorize and carries a lot of impact.

The classic blazer is back stronger than ever, and the right thing to wear with it (evenings, warm weather, or both) is a silky camisole top or a strapless one. Add to that your Bermudas, pedal pushers, knickerbockers or -- playing safe -- a skirt, and then a pair of the new metallic leather flats that speed you toward that vanishing bus. And you're all neatly kitted out for spring 1981 .

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