Over-the-Top Fashion

FOR much of the country, this month and the next few are the antithesis of fashion-consciousness: rubber boots, bulky sweaters, scratchy wool hats, and far-from-flattering long underwear.

But open any fashion magazine or even a daily newspaper and there among the glossy spreads and upscale department store ads, you'll see something different: glamour in full swing.

The emphasis on steep shoes, nipped waists, corsets under clingy dresses, smoothly waved hair, and bold crimson lips is clearly a reaction to the ``grunge'' look of not so long ago. According to Vogue magazine, ``Fashion's feeling celebratory.''

But what is the message being sent to women?

True, everyone has a choice about what he or she wears. After all, this ``retro'' look is just that - one kind of look. At one time, women's only option was to strap themselves into corsets.

But consider this: One moment women are encouraged to wear baby-doll dresses with knee socks, and the next moment they are shown in thigh-high stockings with stiletto-heeled shoes.

The latter look is certainly not practical. And for most women's lives, it's also not a very appropriate look. But even going on the simple premise that fashion is supposed to be fun, not practical, the images are derogatory. Women are being portrayed as either the picture of ``innocence'' or quite the opposite.

For winter and spring, the body is ``in'' - the perfect body, that is. The caption next to one photo in Vogue says: ``Under fitted suits or clingy dresses, a sleek one-piece girdle molds the body into perfect shape.'' The same magazine shows a ``sophisticated silk dress cut on the bias, then cinched with a corset for even greater curve-consciousness.''

The fashion industry sang its own praises when it moved away from the controversial ``waif'' look (tall, skinny, curveless). Is this really any better?

The rag trade has received a burst of attention of late with the release of Robert Altman's movie, ``Ready to Wear.''

Our own reviewer has called it a ``perversely compelling film.'' And perhaps that's what fashion designers are trying to be.

On one level, that's fine: Fashion is as much entertainment as anything else. But maybe next season, they'll think more about the message they're sending. Maybe.

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