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Fashions begin to sizzle in Seattle

THE women of this Northwest city might -- just might -- put aside their deeply traditional gray, black, or navy blue tailored suits for a lighter, brighter look this fall. Clothes-conscious Seattle is commanding an ever-greater share of the fashion spotlight. In the past few years the city has moved into fourth place in the design-merchandising-marketing of affordable casual clothes in the United States, following New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

Known as one of the more conservative cities in matters of style, Seattle is now beginning to throb with fashion temptations that are far from tame. Store and boutique buyers alike have scoured world markets for more colorful clothes than have been seen here for years. And local designing seems to be following the same trend.

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Seattle women will find the season's new suits very fresh indeed, with contrasting skirts and jackets. The jackets are perhaps the biggest change of all to this suit-oriented city: They hug the body, defining the waist. Often of a fine check or tartan pattern, and collared in velvet, the jackets tend to team with a slim black skirt (a Bill Blass favorite) or with a soft full dirndl (Perry Ellis).

Seattle women could even be tempted to put aside their suits occasionally for softer looks for office and committee life. Nordstrom, among other stores, notes the comeback of the wool jersey dress.

``It's perfect for so many working women'' because it's less masculine than a suit, yet not too sexy for the office, says the store's fashion director, Sara Davies.

Sweaters for indoor or outdoor wear are being shown in two extremes: the snug, curved weskit or the huge near-tunic. Finding favor among the weskits is Ralph Lauren's version, with popcorn stitch married to cable stitch. In the near-tunic limelight is Anne Klein's bulky stitch in new yellow tones of sunflower and saffron. It's ideal for going about in Seattle's beloved boating scene, but this near-tunic number can go to the symphony, too, when paired with a midcalf amethyst skirt and touched off with cl assic jewelry.

Patterns? Of course. Plaids and paisleys, often mixed, are strong in every possible price bracket. They arrive in witty abundance from Seattle's young separates manufacturers, increasingly important on the national scene.

International News shows oversized cotton blazers in unusual plaids and checks (all lined in fine cotton), with extra-long sleeves meant to be rolled up.

Shine is the big message in the new separates coming out of Union Bay. Delighted with its discovery of a heavy rayon knit sweatshirt fabric in Japan, this company is shaping it into track tops and long, slim waistcoats, then teaming these with damask pattern knit skirts or with slim pants in the same color of rayon. The Japanese cloth with its silky shine has a warm sweatshirt reverse side, giving the tops plenty of body and coziness.

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Cotton tartan is fashioned into long cardigan jackets, quilted inside for autumn-day warmth and mixed with 1960s slim pants in the same tartan. Excitement comes in the ensemble's final two pieces: a prim-collared shirt in foulard print, topped by a chunky low-buttoning knitted weskit of paisley.

As everywhere, daytime skirt lengths run the range, but the ``safe'' and popular height hovers around the knee -- except for Perry Ellis, whose skirt lengths flutter at low calf. Seattle is not an easy town for the advocates of mini-length, but they'll find some short skirts at the young chain of Jay Jacobs, as well as sleek knee-toppers in Italian imports at Butch Blum.

After dark is when hemlines take a dip in this city, tuning in to 1985 formality. As can be expected, evening wear has its share of paisleys and plaids. Paisley comes in all sizes, often in brocade, teaming gold with black for skinny-ruched cocktail dresses or jackets to be tossed over the popular little black dress. The season's all-time plaid dazzler is the Chanel-look cardigan by William Pearson, made entirely of sequins that form a tartan worth the salute of the queen's own piper.

What does Seattle suggest in the coat line? Color, that's what. Coats come in fuchsia, teal, topaz, and sapphire blue. And coat shapes are strong -- and helpful.

Who among us hasn't a coat of indeterminate length, making it ever more difficult to team it with varying dress hemlines? But look: the new jewel-bright coats come in lengths varying from 3/4 to 7/8 to 9/10 lengths, allowing your dress to hang out below. How nice!

Squared shoulders are the theme for coats this season, but the overall shapes vary between three: the egg-shaped cocoon (a signature of Pierre Cardin); the loose and easy box coat; or, newest of all, the coat with a genuine curvy waist fit.

With all this on the fall schedule, Seattle is closing the door on its strictly classic image and welcoming in some colorful zest.

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