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Trousers suit Britain

If you're having a good look around at London's autumn fashion, it's clear that pants rule. For a great many of the best suit outfits are, in fact, trouser suits, not skirted ones. And they're trouser suits with a difference. The pants are in fact knickerbockers, breeches, culottes, and gauchos. They are not in most cases your old friend the slim straight up-and-down long trousers, though in truth, among a galaxy of pirates and Little Lord Fauntleroys, the old classic trouser suit might look wonderfully fresh.

Choice is yours this autumn -- more so than ever before. Would you rather have a box-pleated tartan skirt or one in the same colors but sunray-pleated all round? Both types of skirts go with the nipped-waist jacket offered this season.

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Since the big story is mix and match with a vengeance, you'll rarely see a suit of all the same fabric. A jacket of plain slate blue flannel or of a smooth blue and stone herringbone mix may be worn with the pants or skirt in a check, tartan, or a chunkier weave of the jacket cloth.

The extras are charmers. One line gives you chunky-knit sleeveless pullovers with each suit, often embroidered across the front with gold thread.Pie-frill necklines on the blouses, Princess of Wales-style, are a signal feature of the suit outfits from the best middle-price British manufacturers. Prices have, in many cases, remained startlingly stable.

And while the British manufacturers this year have excelled themselves in handsome suits (blouson being the major rival to the curvy jacket), leading stores are also challenging the home team by suits in fine herringbone by Ravens of Germany and snappy knickerbocker flannel suits by Cacharel of France.

Menswear fabrics look right for all this autumn's looks and here's where a shop like Options, the career woman's section of austin Reed, scores well. The firm simply runs up its own women's suits at the menswear factories it has always used, utilizing the spare hunks of men's worsted and tweed. This keeps the prices lower than some shops and gives a more exclusive look as well.

You've been wearing trousers all day and now, come evening, you'd like a change? Not a hope. The most chic thing you could wear to that party would be the very same knicker-bocker or culottes shape -- but this time in black satin, moire, or velvet. All the major designer names in London showed these as their major evening look, with the requisite frills-and-lace blouses, often with Chanel-style jackets. At the risk of driving an association into the ground, this is, of course, the Diana look. And it's significant that its main proponent, the immensely feminine designer Gina Fratini, has been chosen by the new Princess of Wales to make her an autumn wardrobe.

Suede and leather haven't been so strong for years and lend themselves superbly to the trouser fashion.Jean Muir's suede culottes, very long, were scribbled all over with gold printing. She reemphasized the dressy aspect of the outfit by topping it with a square-necked peplum jacket of navy blue moire.

This navy is a curious note but a popular one. Not normally an autumn colour , it is popping up all over the place, often combined (in a checked or diagonally striped wool) with cherry red. Apart from that, earth tones dominate all the way, with cobalt blue a sharp accent to all the beiges, mushrooms, camels, and rusts.

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America, Italy, and several top Paris designers all love the long skirt for autumn but Britain's the place where you can still show a little more leg. Hems are nearly all hovering, as usual, at midknee or just below it, though the mini gains strength among the yound and stars in most of the budget price ranges.

Glitter still shines and beckons, pipes wool garments, makes gilt leather leaves sewn onto loden or tweed. It's perhaps strongest of all in knitwear inspired by the world of King Arthur and sparked by "Excalibur" -- chunky chain mail styles glowing with silver Lurex.

And for all evening glamour, the long portrait dress with squared neck, puff sleeves, and perhaps a velvet bodice, reigns serene.

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