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Wardrobe updates

In playing the updating game, it would be wise as a first move to lay out all the glad rags of yesteryear. The fun part -- deciding what you want to buy -- comes later.

One way to begin is to sort out jackets, skirts, pants, and other separates according to color. This will make the final assembly easier to organize. Neutrals such as gray, mauve, beige, taupe, khaki, and cream can be grouped together. Tops, including sweaters, blouses, shirts, and camisoles, can go in different piles.

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Since no one blanches at the idea of combining mohair with a silk print or velvet with tweed these days, putting an assortment of fabrics and textures in the same pile will not matter, as a general rule. When garments in related tones are side by side, they may suggest new combinations that had not before seemed workable.

Next comes the wedding-out process. The newest skirts are long, about midcalf length, and extremely full. A closely fitted plumbline skirt would be the first item to set aside. It might, however, serve as an underskirt for a tunic. If not, save it for another year if it is a good-quality garment.

Anything with heavily padded shoulders that would involve complicated alteration should be eliminated. Shoulder emphasis now comes from broadened yokes or puffy gathered sleeves.

Look over and try on chemise-style short dresses and A-line skirts. Both could perhaps be shortened and put to new uses. Dresses can sometimes serve as tunics over a narrow skirt. A short, full skirt might be made even shorter and worn over matching opaque tights (provided the owner is young enough to carry off that look). Big and blousy below-hip-length sweaters may be revived the same way. The trick is in lightly elasticizing the ribbing at the bottom of the sweater to achieve a bubble shape. Leg-warmers or ribbed wool tights go well with a tunic-length sweater.

Jackets that cover the hips will be harder to wear with the new full skirts than a short, semi-fitted style. Shortening a tailored jacket is a job for an expert tailor, however, so here again, the too-long jacket is a garment that might be put away.

Bell-bottom pants that are not too closely fitted through the knees and thighs may be cut off below the knee, gathered in with an elastic band, and turned into knickers. But this only works if the fabric is reasonably pliable. Trying to turn trousers into culottes succeeds only if the trousers were full and gathered to begin with.

Body shirts with long tab collars are not worth keeping unless they are pure silk and could be converted into a tank top or camisole. But a full-cut shirt with an outdated collar is still usable. It can be snapped up by wearing the collar up and wrapping the neck with a wide satin ribbon tied with a floppy bow under the chin.

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Shawls, capes, ponchos, circular skirts, long mufflers, and other such leftovers from the Big Look days of four years ago are money in the bank and should be resuscitated. Ditto midcalf tiered-ruffle peasant skirts, paisleys, folkloric items, dark tartans, and cowboy or flat-heeled straight shaft boots that have been on the shelf.

Among the looks to aim for are dashing cavalier or buccaneer, western Santa Fe, folk costumery, and old-time Russian. But combining tweeds and Shetland sweaters with a new ruffle-edged printed blouse, dressing up a dark suit with a metallic-shot shirt, or simply adding a leather cinch to a favorite outfit will help stretch the wardrobe.

Decisions on what to keep and what additions to make depend mostly on the overall tonal scheme. If this is limited to two colors -- beige and black, for example, or khaki and burgundy -- brights, pastels, and metallics can easily be added as accents or contrasts.

Almost every wardrobe this year will earn dividends from the purchase of a beautiful pure silk blouse, a white pure-cotton Victorian-style shirtwaist, a big swirling skirt perhaps with a lace-edged ruffled petticoat to wear underneath, a well-tailored culotte, or some corduroy or velvet knee breeches.

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