Business suits with a personal touch

The business suit has taken on several new looks for fall, and they're all feminine.

There's now a wardrobe of suit options for working women, offering alternatives to the much-touted, man-tailored ''success suit'' of the 1970s.

''Women are making individual statements. There's a personal touch to their dressing, depending on what they want. Dictates have fallen by the wayside,'' says Patti McCarthy of Evan-Picone.

Personal shoppers are echoing the same story. ''Women want a different look. They feel they're established as serious careerists and now it's OK to be more feminine,'' says Linda Pearson, personal shopper at Filene's in Boston.

The mode of dress chosen by these women may differ according to the company or type of business. For example, at a prestigious Boston bank, women in the investment sections are wearing tailored suits, while those in the ''creative'' areas wear fashions ranging from wrap dresses to houndstooth suits.

A young woman in one of the creative jobs at the bank says she's going to buy a walking-shorts suit. These cuffed shorts are knee-length, and they are normally teamed with a matching cardigan. ''I plan to wear it to work and see what happens,'' she says. ''It's a great look with black, textured stockings and a pair of black pumps.''

There is a swing toward testing new looks. One attorney says: ''I'm wearing different style jackets and skirts . . . not just the basic business suit. I'm also buying print blouses.''

Another attorney, who has been practicing law 10 years, says: ''I'm wearing more color. I just bought a red suit. That's a big step for me.''

There's no limit to the dozens of styles geared to business women. Jackets are showing up in fitted, box, and high-fashion looks. And skirts are popping up in pleated, straight, full, and dirndl versions.

One of the best ways to get the most out of your fashion dollar is to buy separates. Not only can they be mixed and matched, but there's the advantage of buying the jacket in one size and the skirt in another. (Most women are smaller on top and bigger on the bottom.)

Prices are as varied as the looks. Well-made jackets start at about $120, while the skirts are tagged at about $68 and up.

Designer outfits, of course, are priced for those who make very good salaries. An insurance company vice-president says: ''I just bought a $490 David Hayes outfit - a red and black silk print dress with a black crepe jacket. It's going to have to last me some time.'' (Nancy Reagan has been photographed in fashions from this California house.)

Dresses - both one-piece and two-piece - are also playing an important role in career apparel. Best sellers are the silks. However, some of the polyesters look almost as good and cost a lot less ($90 instead of $235).

Dresses are doing so well, in fact, that designers are launching new lines. Albert Nipon recently announced the opening of ''Executive Dress,'' a division dedicated to the needs of the rising executive. Prices range from about $100 to

It isn't just the solid-colored dresses that are selling. Plaids are doing well, too. One of the most popular so far this season is a windowpane plaid by Harve Benard ($165). ''I bought it because I can wear it belted or not, and even put a blazer over it,'' says the manager of an antique shop. ''I could never wear one of those 'uptight' suits. They make me feel tough.''

The accessories that go with the new business suits have also been given a fresh look. No longer is the basic pump the only shoe shown with the suit. Stores are now showing sling-backs and toeless versions, with heels ranging from mid to high.

There's even news in the zippered-briefcase category. There's a drifting away from burgundy color. Although the color is still selling, there is a trend toward the many saddle shades and black. Cases with glossy finishes are more popular than those with dull finishes. Prices range from $70 and up.

''I recently attended a seminar for women reentering the market,'' says a former teacher, who has just landed a job in a college-placement office. ''We were told to buy an expensive suit and a good leather attache case. Well, I got a suit on sale at $80, and then I found a nice zippered briefcase, marked down to $50. I don't believe all that jazz about buying expensive accessories such as the 'success' watch. I did just fine in my bargain outfit.''

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