Like their European counterparts, American designers are playing cagey for fall with across-the-board fashions. Other seasons may have featured diversity in styles, but they are nothing in comparison with the something-for-one-and-all assortment previewed during recent Seventh Avenue showings.
Designers appear to have engaged in a passing review of the last five or ten years, picked out choice items, and orchestrated them into a new arrangement of Fashion's Greatest Hits.
The customary guidelines regarding long, short, big, small, full, fitted, and so forth -- which usually emerge after two weeks of intensive clothes-watching -- fail to be drawn. Although the dominant skirt measure is just below knee, hemlines have no set length. Circular cuts are balanced out by slim ones. There is an abundance of different shapes: the tent, the bubble-shaped blouson, and the wide-shouldered sheath all have their place in the fall fashion sun.
Designers, it seems, are in no mood for chancy predictions or flat-out pronouncements. Nor are they indulging in the sort of kooky experiments that cand edge the course of fashion forward in new directions. Instead, fashionmakers have bent over backward to provide all types of customers with a bountiful cornucopia of safe, wearable clothes.
'Tis the state of the economy, they say, which accounts for this cautious approach. Except for the small percentage of women who always seem to have money to spend, American customers are holding tight to their purse strings. Concentration on tried-and-true styles for the multitude and luxury pieces for the inveterate clothes collector is therefore the consensus on Seventh Avenue.
Still, autumn 1980 ought not be envisaged as a trendless season that is mired in the past. Progressive designers like Perry Ellis have moved ahead with inventive knits -- although his mohair hooded shoulder capes, worn with gathered culottes or skating skirts and leg-warmers do have a Currier and Ives air. Others like Oscar de la Renta have drawn inspiration from Diana Vreeland's Hapsburg Empire exhibition (currently at the Costume Institute of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art). Escaping today's awesome realities by going Austro-Hungarian in velvet-collared loden with soutache Brandenburgs is an attractive option soem women may find appealing.
Who knows? Fantasizing a little (or a lot) through one's dress might lighten life. There are multitudinous possibilities for romantic role-playing. Those who choose this form of indulgence can dream along with Ellis and Ralph Lauren and wear a long swinging cape with a triple-tiered capelet, like and "Upstairs, Downstairs" British nanny, be Ivy League classic with Victorian overtones (a la Lauren), or dress like a court page with a lacy jabot at the neck and velvet breeches that end below the knee, a daytime or evening look proposed by many designers.
The unusually plentiful array of pants styles (divided skirts, knee-length shorts, bloomers, and knickers -- which are always shown over tights, Astire-type trousers, mid-calf croped pants, zouaves . . .) shows a disposition for change. We may be heading into a new pants-wearing era.
The scope of knitwear is another development that indicates the creative juices are flowing. Geoffrey Beene, who makes a pint of freedom of action in clothes, proposes elasticity as well as weightlessness in his collection. Jerseys are shirred and elasticized across the shoulders and along the sleeves -- emphasizing proportions while adding comfort. Joan Vass, the American virtuoso of hand knits, proposes living in sweaters -- in tunics over tights, dresses with tiered skirts, knitted coats, adn low-necked angora pullovers with taffeta pants. The sweater set, a spin-off of the traditional twin set, has been updated in classic cashmere, angora, mohair, silky rayon, and nubby boucle. The range extends from pictorial and abstract works of art to decorative open and three-dimensional stitchery. Outsized argyles and revised Scandinavian motifs are among the pattern up-datings.
The fabrics are different (color-flecked tweeds, velvet for day as well as evening, mohair round the clock) and the details have changed: upturned collars, wrapped necklines, pelerines and capelets, lacy neck-pieces, and passementerie trimming. But many old favorites also have been incorporated into the fall style picture.
It is a wise woman who has held on to her peasant shawls and her Big Look long skirts and smocks, who has kept her gypsy jewelry, or who didn't Goodwill er folkloric ponchos and capes or jettison her Pierrot collars. She will find use for them all. Aside from bell-bottom trousers, there are not many pieces from fashion's recent past that cannot be worn this autumn and winter.
Women tend to buy good quality now and they expect good service from their clothes. It follows that the inherent idea would be on with (not off with) the old, mixing it with something new. And that is the rationale for fall.