Spring Fashions: Relaxed Chic

Fashion has a new name each season. For spring/summer 1996, it’s “Relaxed Chic.” Shapes are slim and tailored, but without the supertight fit of “Retro Glamour” or the dowdiness of “Conservative Chic” in previous seasons.

Relaxed Chic’s chief asset is salability. The apparel industry has been in a slump long enough to know that fashion theater is fun, but there’d better be some practical, wearable clothes at its heart. Last fall, there were and this spring, there still are. Pieces and proportions remain small and fitted, but not as tight as they have been.

Many months ago, a fashion commentator observed in Women’s Wear Daily that the apparel segment of the fashion industry should take a cue from the fine jewelry segment, where style trends evolve rather than change abruptly. It seems they’ve done just that. Spring 1995’s Retro translated into fall’s Conservative Chic, and many clothes shown in this year’s spring ready-to-wear collections are a natural next step. Such progression separates trend from fad.

Here are the top trends for spring/summer 1996. Note: All photos are courtesy of Franco Rossi for The Fashion Group International.

Shine, color, fit: Fabric texture plays a critical role in fashion design. Whether it’s fuzzy mohair, rich velvet, slick leather or shiny satin, the face of the fabric is as much a design element as the cut and construction of the clothes. A change of texture turns a classic shape ultracurrent.

Shine has been popular in satins and silk charmeuses. It continues for spring, but it’s muted in silk shantung. Slubs and shadings add interest to the elegant, soft sheen of this old-time couture favorite, and its stiffness allows for crisp, tailored shaping.

The other fabric news for spring is a resurgence of jersey, some shimmering and some matte. Jerseys show up at designer and mass levels.

The return to shape and structure is a continuing trend. While not as tight as last year’s Retro Glamour looks or even some of fall’s offerings, this spring’s clothes do follow the curves of a well-toned body; jerseys especially reveal even the slightest overindulgence. Styles that don’t follow the body have solid structuring of their own, such as boxy, trapeze or fit-in-front/loose-in-back jackets. Luckily for those who like to indulge and don’t like to exercise, silk shantung and equally-stiff cotton piques are very good at smoothing and camouflaging. Spring jackets fall more loosely away from the body than fall’s did and few are belted or buttoned up. A favorite: Donna Karan’s “Kissing” jacket, so named because the front edges touch but don’t overlap.

Getting hip: The hips are the focal point of spring fashion, as the newest pants and skirts are worn low.

The late ’60s/early ’70s hip-hugger pants are reinterpreted in a slimmer fashion (no elephant legs) and cut higher on top than their hippie predecessors. In fact, the best way to describe many spring pants is “leg sleeves.” Any inclination toward flare is kept near the hem, with a smooth-fitting top.

Skirts drop below the waist and curve in at the hip, while the whole thing is topped off by a low-slung chain belt. The length is short, but professionally acceptable. Women who have ugly knees can cover them with skirts from Prada, Karl Lagerfeld, Ann Demeulemeester and Martine Sitbon. Women who like to show off their hard workouts can opt for styles such as Donna Karan’s mid-thigh lengths, the shortest on the runways. Skirts as a whole are generally straight; there are a few pleats and A-lines, and Karl Lagerfeld played with a bell shape, sort of like a short ballgown skirt, topped with a short boxy jacket.

The big hem news, however, is an option for ultralong. The Milan collections overflowed with ankle grazers; Paris loved it, too, and in the U.S., Donna Karan offers a new shiny patent jersey tube that can be scrunched up or worn to the ankle. Calvin Klein and Ellen Tracy, two commercially sound lines, also offer the look. The newest way to wear the length is in a straight, hip-riding skirt. Fashion forecasters are watching this length closely – it may take hold, especially in lightweight fabrics for summer, when the P-word (pantyhose) makes most women cringe.

Dresses are expected to remain important, with shirt and safari-style coatdresses enjoying a strong resurgence. Also popular are sheath and shift styles with matching jackets. Slipdresses are still around, newer-looking at Prada with a higher waist, ankle length and wider straps, in black and white.

Color and technicolor: While Star Trek and Buck Rogers weren’t the most accurate of fashion forecasters, this spring’s fashion has an element of cyberspace, especially in the color palette. Acid lime greens, wild oranges, electric blues, vivid lavenders and intense yellows vie for space alongside soft whites and sherbet pastels. Even Calvin Klein breaks out of his eternal fascination with mud to offer real, honest-to-goodness color. Pale-hued though it may be, it really is yellow and blue and green.

The Fashion Group International, a professional organization of executive women in the fashion industry, calls color the single most important aspect of spring fashion. The two main interpretations are solid color shantungs and jerseys, or mismatched prints, such as those seen at Versus by Gianni Versace and the always-offbeat Todd Oldham, Anna Sui and friends. Buyers expect the mismatched look to be more popular with the junior set than with older customers. But prints in general are important, with florals (ranging from Liberty of London-inspired to exotic tropical flowers) sharing space with stripes and plaids. White is this season’s “new black” (meaning the leading neutral color of the season). It’s also being worn in classic combination with black.

What this means to you: Most of spring’s fashions are commercially sound. Slim suits in silk shantung were already in stores for the year-end holidays, so look for them to continue in lighter spring colors. JCK predicts most of what appeared on the runways will make it to the stores. Hip-hugging pants and skirts will be worn to the office with tucked-in slim tops rather than bare midriffs. But after hours, those who are fit may bare a peep of tummy in a short tailored top. JCK agrees the mix-and-match idea will probably play more heavily to juniors, but sees prints as a practical addition to a solid wardrobe. JCK also predicts that even if women don’t care for some of the acid cyber colors, their presence should trigger a move toward brighter colors in general.

Finally, remember this point made in JCK’s fall fashion forecast: the profusion of nationwide retailers and new sourcing abilities means the lag time from runway to rack is very short. Most new fashions will hit your town at the same time as everywhere else.

Here are JCK’s jewelry suggestions for spring:

  • Silk shantung looks excellent with shiny or matte metals. Its radiance can enhance a gemstone’s color or provide a good contrasting backdrop. This luxurious fabric needs a luxurious piece of jewelry.

  • Shantung and other stiff fabrics such as cotton pique are fairly sturdy – visually and physically. They can take the weight of a brooch, as long as it’s not exceedingly heavy. Spring’s structured jackets and sheath dresses also are prime candidates for brooches. These fabrics are good choices to wear with bolder jewelry such as big necklaces or bracelets, as well. Short and bracelet-length sleeves on many outfits make this a good category to promote.

  • Jersey, on the other hand, is not a good candidate for brooches; smaller jewelry designs will flatter its simplicity and minimalism. Pearls are always a classic choice. Be careful that any necklaces or bracelets you show have no rough edges to snag delicate knits.

  • A lot of designers showed tight blouses with plunging necklines or open buttons. (Think John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever, the ’70s disco epic.) Most women probably won’t leave as many buttons undone as runway models, but delicate chain necklaces with beads or stations of beads are a good idea to fill a plunging neckline. These delicate looks are being worn on popular TV shows such as Melrose Place, Friends and 90210; they can be had inexpensively in silver and beads or, for the better-heeled customer, in gold and diamonds.

  • Fashion’s cyber-colors can spark interest in color for jewelry. Customers who are receptive to bright clothes may like colored gold or electric blue Para’ba tourmaline, intense pink tourmaline, peridot, yellow sapphire or cool tanzanite. Pearlized leathers and pastels are another direction for spring; consider various colored pearls to go with them. Cool gray is a leading neutral for spring and is well-complemented by platinum.

  • While runways weren’t bursting with jewelry, there does appear to be a return to accessories in general, especially sunglasses and chain belts. The latter involve a single chain worn low on the hip, so a few well-chosen pieces of jewelry shouldn’t compete with it. A well-heeled customer may be interested in buying a precious metal chain belt or perhaps a concha for an alternative take on the idea. Leather belts with precious metal buckles are increasingly popular; designers such as Henry Dunay, Frederica, Stephen Dweck and David Yurman have offered them for some time.

  • Hair for spring is straight and bleach-blonde; makeup is generally pale, though brown lipsticks may continue as an unexpected accent to pastels.


  1. Shine is the important word in texture, but it’s muted for spring in silk shantung. Look also for the simplicity of jerseys.

  2. In a nutshell, shapes are structured, but not as tight as last year. Pants and skirts are worn low on the hip. Skirts are short, but professionally acceptable. Colors are vibrant.

  3. Suggest that your customers try vibrantly colored gems with spring’s fashions. Polished or matte metal complements the fabrics of choice. Brooches and bold designs work well with shantung; more diminutive designs and pearls are well-suited to jerseys. Open necklines leave room to fill with necklaces. Single precious-metal chain belts go well with skirts and pants worn low on the hips.