Beat the price squeeze and still have a designer look

The fall fashions are arriving in the stores daily, and it's not surprising that prices are up. Depending upon where you shop, you'll find increases of anywhere from 10 to 25 percent.

Prices have jumped, but there is a way to beat the system, especially when it comes to designer fashions. You can look as if you're wearing expensive designer outfits. And do it at a fraction of the cost.

Before we tell you how, let's take a look at a few fall separates and their price tags. Take Ralph Lauren's wool sweater-jacket at $600 worn with a wool skirt at $295 and broadcloth ruffle blouse at $210. Then add accessories such as a silver buckle belt, $220, and leather boots, $300. Total cost: $1,625. (Sounds more like a couple of mortgage payments.)

Now for the good news. It is possible to look as if you have a wardrobe of designer clothes and do it without breaking the bank.

The first thing to do is check out the better fashions and get a feel of what designers are doing in fabrics and styles. Then you'll be able to recognize launch is copied down to affordable prices. (Excepting beaded gowns where hand work is involved.)

These copies, as it were, can be bought anywhere from the moderate sections of department and specialty stores, to discount stores and boutiques that carry their own labels.

Happily, many of the American (and some European) designers have special signature lines, marketed to the masses, priced at $50 and up. For example, Geoffrey Beene has Beene Bag, Bill Blass has Blassport, and Anne Klein has Anne Klein for New Aspects.

In Anne Klein's new line, there is a blouse tagged at $60 which can be teamed with a matching skirt at $70. These separates are done in Silkessence, described on the tag as "the closest thing to silk that isn't." If one were to buy a crepe de Chine blouse from Klein's couture collection, it would be $130 and the skirt, $120.

Or, if you were looking at evening things, an ankle-length velvet skirt with a Blassport label would be about $120 and a coordinated polyester blouse about $ 58. A long, velvet skirt from the Bill Blass collection would be about $800 and silk blouse about $400.

as far as dresses are concerned, it's not unusual to see almost line-for-line copies. This season Lady Carol did a black polyester georgette dress with tucked bodice and crisp white collar at $58. It looked like a $300 Albert Nipon. Granted, the quality fabric and worksmanship weren't there but the styling was.

If some of these prices still seem too high to you, let's get down to some real finds.In a nationwide discount store, I nabbed a colorful cotton jacket at stores for $100.

In a famous Boston basement store. I found a pair of poplin-like Liz Clairborne culottes at $16 that a fashion editor friend bought upstairs (the same day) for $56. (I still can't figure out what was wrong with mine.)

For those too busy to shop for bargains, the next best thing is to shop sales. The major ones are at the beginning of June and December. Before you buy anything be sure to ask yourself where you're going to wear it. Impulse items often bomb when you try to work them into your wardrobe.

Still another idea is to zero in on the personal shopping services. In most cases, the service is free in the department and specialty shops that offer it. The fashion consultants claim they like the challenge of working with women on a budget.

Whether you're shopping yourself or getting help, keep one thing in mind . . . simplicity. Fashions that are free of frills and are done in dark colors look more expensive than the brights. By the way, it's best to stay with one or two basic colors. This gives more versatility. If you like brights, use them in small doses for such things as belts and scarves.

Some of the best dressed women in the world stick to this rule. Occasionally they might go wild and buy a dramatic red gown.

Halston, America's most famous designer, who dresses countless celebrated clients such as Elizabeth Taylor, Liza Minnelli, and Lauren Bacall, says wearing a red gown is a "drop dead" way to make an entrance at a party.

Next, if you're a home sewer or you knit, there's still more good news. We're headed into a big sweater season. You can knit a sweater yourself for about one-third of the cost you'd pay to buy one. Prices run the gamut from $20 to $100 depending on size and the quality of yarn.

Home sewers will be happy to hear that more and more designers are working with the pattern houses. At a recent breakfast for fashion editors, the Simplicity Pattern Company announced the introduction of new patterns by designer Adolfo. (He's one of the 10 whose patters are featured in Simplicity's catalog.)

The fact is, the most famous designer suit of the year, worn by Nancy Reagan, is now available. It is pattern No. 5193. The First Lady's braid-trimmed cardigan suit sells for 1895. You can make it for $40 to $80, depending on the size and the quality of the wool.

Almost anyone would recognize this suit, which was a spinoff of Mlle. Chanel's famous suit of the '20s. But for the people who don't read the fashion magazines, there are some specific things that Seventh Avenue is showing. Once you've learned them, it'll help you with your shopping.

This season watch for:

* Albert Nipon's tunic dresses.

* Ralph Lauren's tweed jackets.

* Perry Ellis's sweaters.

* Calvin Klein's smock dresses.

* Oscar de la Renta's dinner suits.

* Geoffrey Beene's coats with matching trousers.

* And wraps (once known as shawls) by almosy every designer.

It's important to note that a sense of fashion or a knack for it is a great plus in beating the fashion system. If you feel you don't have it, study the fashion magazines. They're a great way to learn how to team colors and also how to accessorize.

And, finally, remember that grooming is part of the total picture. More and more fashion consultants include beauty tips in their lectures these days. They cover everything from coiffures and cosmetics with their collections.

It makes good sense. As one fashion designer said, "Nothing dates today's fashions faster than yesterday's face."

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