Originally created 09/25/96

Denim is entering the dark ages



For a long time, the best pair of jeans was an old one - weathered, washed, softened by time. Jeans with a rich past showed their age in worn spots where a slice of skin flashed through a curtain of shredded white threads.

Sandblasting, stone- and acid-washing were eventually invented, processes for the impatient in which chemicals and mechanical abuse created a texture that used to be a byproduct of hard living. Aged jeans bore the romance of experience. No self-respecting cowboy would discard a perfectly good pair of Levi's just because they'd faded. Anyone who would felt like a wimp.

In the sort of about-face that keeps fashion-watchers guessing, the newest jeans look, well, new. Dark indigo denim surfaced in the Chanel spring collection a year ago, very stiff and city slick. Karl Lagerfeld's trend scouts had their ears to the ground. They introduced the designer version because the street style was already on the horizon.

As the deep-blue colors have spread throughout the marketplace, they've been applied to the staples of classic American sportswear. There are peacoats, bell-bottoms, baggies and low riders, jean jackets and snap-front shirts in deep tones. Like faded blue, dark denim is a neutral that harmonizes with brown as naturally as black or bright colors. It turns preppy with an oxford-cloth shirt, James Dean rebellious with a smoky turtleneck.

A yen for dark denim provides an excuse to check out some of the new jeans collections for men and women, as well as old favorites. Todd Oldham cut the coolest hip-huggers. Mossimo's button-fly stovepipe jean begs to be cuffed. Calvin Klein came up with a mysteriously inky color. Polo Jeans Co. by Ralph Lauren offers a cropped boot cut. And light, dark or in between, there'll always be Lee and Levi's.

Zip it

Forget buttons, snaps, hooks and laces. The trendy way to secure your fashion image this fall is with zippers.

You will find them on jackets, dresses and sweaters as well as pants, boots and gloves - and in a wide range of prices and stores, ranging from discount giants to luxury boutiques.

Zippers punctuate the season's minimalist designs with the eloquent pow! of an exclamation point. On many outfits, the silvery or golden slash of a zipper is the only adornment.

Zipper technology, by the way, has come a long way in the past few years. The fasteners no longer rust, jam and break - which makes them reliable as well as quick, convenient and decorative.

Knight-Ridder