Blame it on El Niño. We’ve blamed it for almost everything else, so why not the fickle winds of fashion, too?

The winds of change have blown through ready-to-wear like a hurricane, leaving in their aftermath an abrupt about-face of design sensibility. While the past few seasons have been about baring it all, fall/winter 1998 is about covering it all. It’s surely good news for all women north of Florida. It’s also good news for jewelers (see story on page 76).

The biggest change is a return to long skirts – not just slightly longer, but ankle-brushing, street-sweeping, hem-tripping long. Knits and tweedy wools are the fabrics of choice. The new skirts are wrapped and curved, with twists and turns of fabric, but there are no slits or slashes to show even an inch of leg.

Fashion industry analysts are hot on the look because they say it’s the one length most women don’t already own. Therefore, logic would indicate it’s a reason for them to buy. Retailers aren’t scared off by a totally new idea; rather, they expect the look to become an addition to, not a replacement for, the pants and shorter skirts most women favor. These skirts are “almost pants,” easy, comfortable, and long enough to enable wearers to get away with doffing the pantyhose underneath.

Fall is also the season of the sweater girl. Almost unanimously, designers are topping their ankle-sweeping skirts with sweaters. Sweater silhouettes are roomy, cozy, and fuzzy, with big, cuddly cowl or funnel necks. It’s like snuggling with a giant teddy bear. The other option is a trim cut that is close to the body but not too tight.

Cashmere is the fabric of choice, from luxuriously warm multi-ply weights to whisper-thin little twin sets. In some circles, the sweater all but replaces the jacket, though many businesswomen still don a jacket as a sign of authority. The newest jackets are softer, slouchier, and roomier, in keeping with the whole bundled-up-in-tweeds concept.

Some women fear a jacket worn with a long skirt will look a little Edwardian, but that’s not such a bad thing right now. As we approach the millennium, fashion is taking a definite glance back at the last turn of the century. Some designers, such as John Galliano for Christian Dior, are entranced with fin de siècle opulence and the silhouette of the shirtwaisted Gibson girl.

Luxury reigns supreme, but the new way to wear status is in a relatively understated use of fabric, whether it’s cashmere or other varieties of goat hair, such as mohair. The basic white shirt is made luxurious in pure Egyptian cotton. A little more obvious, but a “fur sure” way to look fashionable this winter, is with a touch of fur applied to a collar or an all-out fur top like a hooded mink “sweatshirt.” Fur collars, fur hats, and fur-trimmed gloves add luxe to the accessory department.

The season’s color choices center on gray, which stole the show last year as an alternative to black. It was a truly favorable option, as it appeals to women afraid to give up black as much as it appeals to those who don’t like black. Black, however, never goes away, and it’s important this fall.

The second predominant shade for fall is white, especially when tones of white are mixed with creamy off-white. It’s elegant, classy, and exquisitely feminine. It’s also totally impractical, expensive to maintain, and visually fattening. Nevertheless, it sells.

Red is firing up to be a major fall color, along with medium-toned blues, which look especially good with gray. Fabrics themselves continue to be opulent, with the ornate embroideries and beadings of past seasons still playing strongly for evening. Many knits are shot through with metallic threads or pretty devoré (cut out) treatments. Designers are still entranced with the possibilities of leather or, in this age of luxury, crocodile. Day/evening combinations, a popular trend in fine jewelry, are playing out in apparel with beaded twin sets over taffeta or chiffon ball skirts, or tweed coats over beaded dresses.

Shoes for fall go to either extreme. The new long skirts look best with flat or near-flat heels, while delicate high heels add a jolt of sex appeal to a pant suit. Again, crocodile is the ultra-luxe way to wear shoes or a handbag, which will be hand-held.


  • For jewelry, the fall/winter season bodes well for bigger pieces. Big, wrappy tweeds and cashmeres call for bold jewelry that can hold its own.

  • The delicate evening dresses and whisper-thin beaded cashmeres shown for night call for a dainty necklace to nestle in the hollow of the throat or an old-fashioned, neck-covering, multi-strand choker of beads or pearls.

  • The turn-of-the-century inspiration is an important theme in fine jewelry right now, and a sense of grandeur was present in jewels shown at the Basel, Couture, and JCK shows. Real antique jewelry or pieces inspired by the antique will look well with either delicate dresses or warm tweeds.

  • White metals, diamonds, and pearls are perfect foils for gray or winter white. To add a splash of color, try pretty pastel gems set in yellow gold. This should look especially pretty on winter white.

  • A new way to accessorize red is with rubies, emeralds, and sapphires set together in white gold or platinum. A mixed-gemstone piece looks fresher than a piece with just one kind of stone.

  • The mood is luxury, luxury, luxury! Fabrics are lush, expensive, totally warm, and sensuous. The whole feeling of luxury should carry over – beautifully – into fine jewelry, where a sense of grandeur and importance was already noticeable at the early spring shows.

  • Remember that the new looks are just one more option for your customers. Women will no longer meekly accept the fashion dictates of Paris, Milan, or New York. They wear what they like and leave the rest.

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