The return of elegance

Top of the news report: Elegance is back. Much ado is being made of this. Headlines proclaim its return. Trumpets sound, as a new First Lady whose like has not been seen since the Kennedy days ushers in a new epoch. Blue jeans will kindly retire to the ranch. up-scale dressing will henceforth be the rule.

Should this conjure up images of stiff clothes, lacquered hairdos, and ladies who lunch, let us put our minds at rest. We are not setting back the fashion clock.Once tight, formal, and rather intimidating, elegance has moved along with the times. Represented this spring in a generous assortment of pleasingly lighthearted clothes, the concept of elegance has been modernized to meet the needs of today's customer. In the majority, she is poles apart from the woman for whom fashion was all in bigmoney days of yore. obert Sakowitz, a Houston retailer, recently spelled out the difference at a New York meeting of The Fashion Group, the international association of top professionals.

"The new 1980s working woman no longer looks on shopping as a pleasant daytime pastime," he says, "especially when she's just had her hubcaps ripped off in your mall. She has too many alternatives for her nonworking active leisure time."

As Mr. Sakowitz points out, there are shoppers and shoppers this spring. He describes the top 5 percent as "innovative, self-assured, daring" -- the sort of women for whom the new pant styles hold no terrors. Mme. Innovative will be the first to try dhotis, jodhpurs, or voluminous Perry Ellis knickers, if she has not done so already. For her, the extravagantly ruffled or the exotically handpainted evening dress -- the more dramatic and unusual the better.

The second group is what the Texas merchant calls the "directional" client, who is style-minded but not apt to be experimental. Her type makes up 25 percent of the shopping public.

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