Trousers: a versatile approach to the high fashion look. Designer collections offer countless options

IF some few avant-garde men are turning up in skirts (and who is more macho than those Scotsmen in their kilts?), more and more women are turning to trousers. While the sale of classic blue jeans was down over 4 percent last year in France, there are pants of every other description in the French ready-to-wear and couture collections for the coming season. It's such an easy approach -- practical for travel and holidays when you're jumping on and off planes and trains. The current crop encompasses almost every degree of formality with the ability to dress up or down with different tops and accessories. A brief history reveals that cave men did not wear pants, since no one had invented a needle and thread to stitch up the sides and center. Yet women have been conscious of their appeal ever since trousers gained favor in the Middle Ages for warmth and practicality.

Amelia Bloomer, the American reformer and leader of ``Women's Rights'' back in the 1840s, made history by inventing the garment that bears her name. A Parisian edict about that time decreed, however, that no woman could adopt this revolutionary attire unless she was pushing a bicycle.

The late Gabrielle Chanel is reported to have commenced wearing pants after she caught the heel of her shoe in the hem of a long gown during a visit to Venice. ``Coco'' apparently stumbled and fell into the canal, and the early beginnings of Ladies' Lib made another great leap forward. Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo popularized the trend in the 1930s, and Yves Saint Laurent gave them the final seal of approval when he launched ``City Pants'' almost a quarter of a century ago.

Current Saint Laurent collections, both ready-to-wear and couture, often include up to 40 percent or 45 percent of the models based on trousers. He constantly advocates classic tailored pants in dark-toned flannels or gabardine (all-season fabrics) for daytime, teamed to spencers or blazers worn with wonderfully feminine silk blouses. The ruffled necklines, bow, or scarf ties set off cascades of pearls and glittering sautoirs.

For evening there are softer styles with unpressed pleats mounting beneath the waistband, jump suits cut in one piece like a ski overall, and pajamas in silk crepe de Chine -- upscale dressing after dark with the comfort of sportswear.

Pants go right through the formal scene in most other collections as well. The flowing chiffons, sheer silk organzas, and shimmering flowered lam'es work in countless and unexpected ways.

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