Versatility: the key to fashion now

KATHLEEN MADDEN January 1 1980

Versatility: the key to fashion now

KATHLEEN MADDEN January 1 1980


Versatility: the key to fashion now

Edited by June Weir


Designers' sketches for modern dressing . . . how your life will change in the 1980s

As we enter a new decade, you want clothes that give you the most for your money . . . clothes that move from day to day, day to evening, with ease. Versatility has a new meaning in the '80s with clothes that go beyond sportswear dressing, separate pieces. Clothes that are truly versatile give a woman a complete look—with every combination. They're key pieces, not just random parts.

It's old-fashioned to wear a suit only one way. It's passé to feel you must start a new wardrobe each year. It's dated thinking to buy fabrics that work only one season.

American designers have always understood this concept of building a woman's wardrobe and not just outdating it for the sake of news headlines. As Betty Dorso, a leading California store owner, explained in November's View, “I love to mix something old with a new item and never look the same way twice.”

Here's versatility as seen by Halston and Oscar de la Renta, plus Bill Blass and Geoffrey Beene (page 102), and Anne Klein and Ralph Lauren (page 104). This is the way the 1980s versatility works.

Oscar de la Renta, right, makes some of the most dramatic evening clothes around. Yet his jackets work so well that many of Oscar's customers build a whole new wardrobe around one beautiful jacket. For instance, this spring he shows a pink jacket in a very heavy and stiff silk/rayon faille piped in black grosgrain. He shows a woman how to use this jacket as a base for three attractive alternatives. Over a ruffled chiffon blouse, in white or turquoise, he shows the jacket worn with a black wool jersey skirt for a tricolor effect,or with white gabardine pants for a bicolor mood. To change the look entirely, Oscar uses a black strapless top and a white short bouncy skirt in taffeta.

Halston, left, has always been quick to listen and learn from his private customers. A request for “a new jacket” or a “coat that travels” is quickly adapted into reality dressing in his ready-to-wear collections. Take the way Halston uses red. He sees it as a beautiful basic, especially in a red crêpe de Chine shirt jacket and bare black halter. Around these pieces he builds a wardrobe for day or evening with a white fibranne skirt, white silk honan pants, or, strictly evening, red crêpe de Chine trousers.

Women are increasingly aware that clothes must work,” believes Bill Blass, who travels across the country, gets to know what his customers want.

“American women are buying clothes that they personally find irresistible. It's perfectly obvious you cannot go on doing the same basics. That's boring. But you can do a classic jacket in snakeskin, embroidered suède, taffeta, or countless other ways and tempt a woman into wanting and buying this unique piece.” Of course, it's not just a jacket that Blass is talking about. The same idea of glamorous pieces that women find appealing can be applied to anything from special pants to one-of-a-kind sweaters, skirts. The shape may be classic, but the fabric or color is alluring.

Here, left. Bill Blass sketches a coral, snakeskin jacket with a white flannel skirt and a white knit sweater. For evening, right,he shows the jacket with a red strapless long dress and masses of coral jewelry. For restaurant dressing, Blass likes the coral snakeskin jacket with grey flannel pants and no blouse. Versatility—it's a complete look every time.

When clothes become more expensive, women become more demanding. They don't want to be locked into wearing their clothes only one way,” sums up Geoffrey Beene.

“Women are going to start building wardrobes the way men buy their clothes. It's not impulsive. It is thought-out. Each part of a man's wardrobe, from grey flannel pants to raincoats, adds versatility. Women are going to buy key pieces with an eye to great fabrics, beautiful workmanship, and individuality.” To prove his point, Beene sketches, right, the way he would slide around a sheer wool plaid jacket—over black gabardine pants and a black tank top for day-to-evening . . . over a double silk chiffon pleated skirt for restaurant dressing . . . or with a black gabardine skirt and striped chiffon scarf for on-the-go dressing. “Part of versatility is the use of year-round fabrics that are weightless and non-crushable. They expand a wardrobe.”

Ralph Lauren believes one of the prettiest ways to add versatility to your wardrobe is with a blouse. It's one of the best new accessories. Nothing softens look the way a blouse does.

At right, Ralph shows two ways of nonstop dressing, starting with a luxurious cream-colored linen blouse. “The Italian linen is very soft and lightweight. It is flexible and goes from day to evening,” points out Ralph. For day, he feels a soft suit look is ideal. The lace-trimmed lapels are worn out over a muted brown and terra cotta herringbone silk jacket. The dirndl skirt is in purple linen. Lauren adds a muted green cotton voile sash. For evening, wear the blouse on its own with mauve crêpe de Chine soft dinner pants. This time the sash is a deep aubergine crêpe with tiny wood violets.

Again and again, a unique blouse is the key item that a woman will count on to finish— or to make—a separates look.

To me, ‘versatility dressing’ is the only way to dress,” says Donna Karan of Anne Klein. “You have to start with strong basics. I call it the ‘closet concept.’ Then you buy a key item—a wonderful blouse, a colorful jacket, a great pair of pants—that comes in a fabric or color to accent clothes you already own.”

For spring, Donna feels a woman would make a wise investment if she bought a suède jacket in a pretty color. “I find suède totally seasonless. It also has a very sensuous quality.” Donna sketches, above and right, three ways this versatile jacket can move about in a wardrobe and always come up with a complete look. She starts with a black slim skirt, that grazes the knee, and a white silk blouse—adding a fuchsia suède jacket for drama. She sees a woman going to the office this way or heading out to dinner—and always looking attractive. For evening, she builds around a black sweater, black crêpe pants—wide, and ending at the ankles—plus the fuchsia suède jacket. Her third version: the fuchsia jacket over a two-piece cognac crêpe de Chine dress with fuchsia dots and pleated skirt. “For the woman who likes the feel of a belted waist and a loose jacket—this is perfect.”

What's in store for you in the 1980s



You will find ‘throw-away clothes’ a thing of the past. Your clothes will not be obsolete in a short time. You will want to be able to wear them through the seasons. I feel 'a new fashion for every season' is out. Fabrics will tell the story and design will take a second place. I will rely more on fabrics with surface interest—more body and texture.” —James Galanos, Los Angeles designer.

“The space-age concept is finished. Now we must face reality. Your clothes will depend on new thermal fabrics which are being developed because of the energy crisis. You will see new stretch fabrics used more intelligently, so they do not look vulgar. You will put greater emphasis on beauty treatments. When you travel, you will have a small suitcase of clothes, a bigger case filled with beau ƒ products. Women will not compete with money, but with beauty.” —Karl Lagerfeld, Paris designer.


“Your clothes for outside the office will get more and more fantastic, especially by night. You will be involved in quality and buying a few good things. You will be more concerned with the weight of your fabrics in the ‘80s, and the cut. You will want one piece to work in all kinds of weather. You will see an incredible new technology develop in terms of texture and fabrics and coloration.” —Mary McFadden, New York designer.

“Value is going to be the key word of the '80s. You will want to get value for your money in every phase of living.” — Jean Muir, London designer. Paris’ shopping complex in Les Halles


You will find stores giving greater attention to the individual customer. You will be able to put an entire wardrobe together in one personal shopping department with an expert, instead of going all over a big store. You will see an increasing number of services—such as beauty salons, skin care, and catalogs. There will be greater use of audiovisuals to educate the customer.” —Marvin Traub, Chairman, Bloomingdale's.

“As we go into the '80s, your spendable income for clothes is going to be limited and must be used with discretion. Clothes will be much more classical. With the strong interest in health, and more limited incomes, two growth areas will be accessories—to update your clothes, and beauty and skin-care products—to improve your appearance.” —Joseph E. Brooks, Chairman, Lord ' Taylor.

“ A store selling better-priced merchandise needs to have a total quality atmosphere—from personnel to displays—everything must measure up to high standards. The customer of better merchandise will buy more as a European woman—fewer clothes, more quality—and she'll make the clothes last.” —Philip Miller, president, Neiman-Marcus.

“Store designers and builders are going to be more energy-conscious. There will be more use of fluorescent lighting, owing to the energy crunch. In the '80s, stores will spend more on quality fixtures—such as marble floors, wood paneling, more natural materials—fewer plastics. Since merchandise has become more colorful, store interiors will rely more on subdued colors and built-in quality architectural fixtures.”—Joseph Cicio, vice-president of visual merchandising, R. H. Macy.

“American designers will have more of an effect on fashion in the U.S. than will Europeans. This is partly due to economics. We expect growth areas will be menswear, accessories, and gourmet foods. We have decided to triple our catalog business. Service will be very important. Our latest example of this is our new ‘Today's Agenda’ shop for the working woman—where clothes or gifts can be brought to you from all over the store.”—Steve Somers, president, I. Magnin.

“I believe the specialty store is ‘where it's at’ in the '80s. I feel a new department store will emerge. The closest thing I've seen is the new department store in Les Halles in Paris. Customers are starved for attention. We're going to get more specialized and give more personal attention. I feel there's a need for young designers. That's why one-of-a kinds have meaning now.”—Wilkes Bashford,specialty-store owner.


What's in store for you in the 1980s


My hope is that we'll have a one-hour evening network news program, preferably in prime time. Television news in the '80s will include more live reports from different parts of the world, as we have more access to satellites. I'm also hopeful that we'11 get away from the trend of the '70s, which has been to find people to read the news who are more familiar with a hot comb than they are with ideas. We'll return to using serious journalists instead of budding television stars.” —Tom Brokaw, NBC News, Today

“ When you buy a household appliance in the '80s, you're going to be able to get information comparing that appliance to others. The beginning shot of this is that all appliances will, by law, have tags on them saying how much energy they use.” —Betty Furness, consumer reporter

“Cities will continue to face financial problems. We'll have to concentrate on rehabilitating existing neighborhoods. We must emphasize public transit, partnership with the private sector, and more citizen participation in government. The biggest challenge to cities will be to remain what they've always been—places of enormous diversity, where creativity and ideas flourish.” —Carol Bellamy, NYC Council President


The video-disk machine—the newest way of viewing movies in your home—will revolutionize the recording and entertainment fields in the '80s. And, one hundred years from now the disks will not have deterioriated in quality, because of the use of laser instead of a needle for playback.” —Dr. Jules Stein, founder M.C.A.

“ You'll find ‘How-To’ books becoming more specific. If the subject is dieting, there will be one book, 'How to Lose Three Pounds' and another, 'How to Lose Thirty Pounds.' ” —Sidney Sheldon, author of Bloodline

“You'll see the electronic image—the creative video—constantly growing in importance. The video offers wonderful opportunities for the abstract and expressive image.”—Ansel Adams, photographer

“The new technologies will give you more ways to enjoy film in the '80s, including cable television and disk machines.”—Dennis Stanflll, chairman, Twentieth-Century Fox

“By the mid-'80s, you will see a reaction to blockbuster museum shows; museums will increasingly devote exhibitions to their own collections. Exhibitions of works on paper, which increased so greatly in the ‘70s, will really proliferate in the ’80s.”—William S. Lieberman, director of the department of drawings, Museum of Modern Art, New York


“Cable, coupled with video cassettes, is the future of television. I predict that, by 1985, 50 percent of all American homes will have cable television sets, and, by the year 2000, 85 percent of all home viewing will be cable.” —Ted Turner, owner of WTBS in Atlanta


“You'll see more superstars in the book business—authors that get multi-millions of dollars for certain books. The author-editor relationship, which has always been so sacred in our industry, will break down in the '80s. Authors will go where the money is.”—Joni Evans, editor-in-chief, The Linden Press/Simon ' Schuster

“You'll see more serious exposure of West Coast artists in the marketplace in New York.”—Henry Hopkins, director of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

“You'll be able to find unusual flowers, that are now only available in New York, in cities all across the country. You'll buy a single stem, put it in a vase, and it will look fabulous. When you do have flower arrangements, they're going to be much more spare.”—Pat Braun, co-owner of Mädderlake, New York


something special. That's what women usually say they want, when they're shopping for clothes: one special, wonderful item that can create its own outfit, that can turn a look around, that may be unique, that's got to beversatile. That's what we say we want; today, it's what American women need in clothes . . . and, increasingly, it's what they're holding out for. This spring, what's “special” is a beautiful blouse—to wear as a base for day, for work, for evening. An unexpected top. A jacket—that works over pants, skirt, or short evening dress. These are the pieces that are standouts in the collections . . . they're what's selling. . . and they're what American designers do best—whether they've planned them as movable pieces . . . or women have just made them so.

The average American woman in 1980, statistics say, is longer—taller—and leaner than the American woman of a generation ago. But that's the average woman, that's not everyone; and, today, more and more American manufacturers—even “name” designers—are taking a long, hard look at women's need for a wide range of sizes. What's resulted is the growth of—and more designer involvement in—the large-size market (Gloria Vanderbilt, for one, makes “women-sized” jeans) and, suddenly, a new boom in petite sizes. Small women, now, have more options in buying clothes cut to fit them—rather than just stalking stores for grown-up-looking junior sizes. Diane Von Furstenberg's “Petites,” her first under-5'48221; collection, debuted this fall, is expanding in scope for spring; when Bonnie Cashin put a petite-sized stormcoat in her winter coat collection, it was one of the best-selling coats in the entire collection.

What's special-and works more than one way. . . dressing any size body. for spring— summer—even next year

Tip from a sweater-lover: If angora fuzz is getting in your eyes—or on dark clothing, try sticking the offending sweater in the refrigerator for a few hours before you wear it. It's said to cut down on the fuzz count . . . but the sweater could come out a little clammy. . . . Seibu Department Stores, of Tokyo, have just taken shopping one step further: They've entered into an arrangement with Sotheby Parke Bernet to bring the auction house directly to Seibu customers. The main Seibu store in Tokyo will transmit bids and payments, then arrange the shipping of auction purchases back to Tokyo.

Watch: Tops on-the-move...“ romantic” looks...sleeveless looks...strong stripes...when to refrigerate a sweater!

What's coming for summer? Among other things, stripes: awning stripes, Roman stripes, pinstripes, wide ones; diagonals, horizontals, bi- or multicoloreds. You name the stripe, some designer has it: These are the cleanest-looking patterns you'll find right now. . . . Sleeveless, too, is everywhere— and looking wonderful: sleeveless jackets, sleeveless sweater sets, dresses, and blouses. For summer, there are lots of bare arms, undershirt looks, and halters.

Feminine touches . . . There's, happily, a wealth of them to watch for in the spring collections: special details that soften or romanticize clothes, add some flirt or a little shine. You see flounces and ruffles—embellishing skirts, blouses, dresses, even, unexpectedly, on sweaters; marvelous laces trim dresses, blouses, and camisoles made to peek out from under softly translucent blouses. “Jewels” or small pearls are showing up on blouses, scarves, bodywear, flirty “bras”; polished chunks of turquoise, amethyst, rose quartz, and jade are linking up as special belts, mixing with black or shiny silver to make bracelets and earrings. Mary McFadden is using semi-precious stones such as lapis and peridot as “buttons” on blouses. What she's discovered: The stones are a charming, lovely detail . . . and they're also, if you can believe it, cheaper than some buttons.

Kids' Lib—in clothes: If you think what women wear today tells a lot about radical changes we've seen in life styles, you should take a look at the current (through March 15) “The Age of Innocence” show at New York's Fashion Institute of Technology. This first major American exhibit of children's clothing shows what's happened in the past 300 years as the idea of dressing “children” evolved—children, not mini-people. Today's children's clothes are looser, freer, brighter, tougher, and equally enchanting.

While most of us are counting the days 'til we can put this winter's clothes into storage, fabric-makers have already determined what's coming for next winter. And what they seem to be saying ... from clues at Italy's massive Ideacomo fabric fair . . . is this: That next summer's stripes and geometries will go on into cold weather. That rainwear will be made from a host of new and innovative fabrics, in everything from classic Irish riding cloth to almost Saran Wrap-weight plasticized materials. Dark, rich jewel tones are the major colors, anchored, often, with black or some shade of grey. For night, taffetas and organzas will again be important; but now, they're enriched by patterns—small checks or stripes—woven into the fabric. The gold story? Lots of metallic printed onto dark backgrounds—or the reverse. The most newsmaking fabrics, though, could well be the new reversibles: the thinnest woven—not bonded—woolens; one side the subtlest stripe, the other a beautiful, totally discreet geometric.