NEW YORK - The Lady in Red and the Men in Black might be famous, but their single-shade fashion themes get old fast.
This season, designers and retailers are offering a quick fix to those plagued by one-color outfits: piping. Adding a little line of color instantly updates almost any style, adding a crispness that seems synonymous with spring.
The spectator look with contrasting colors is most often associated with ladies' shoes but it works on career suits, sheath dresses, sportswear and other accessories, says Kim Roy, president of Ann Taylor stores. "It's fresh, clean and polished," she says.
Color contrasting isn't restricted by age, climate or body type, fueling the look's long life.
The traditional combination is white trim on an otherwise dark garment but Ms. Roy says that's a "rule" that can be broken several times over. She suggests khaki with black and black with red, or, when it's warm outside, wear a white or cream-colored garment with black or navy trim.
Coach has added pink and light blue to its collection of color-contrast accessories.
"Spectator is always 'coming back' but it comes back a little differently each time," says Reed Krakoff, Coach's president and executive creative director. He compares the look to the always-evolving summer stripes and fall plaids.
By virtue of its lighter colors, spring 2002's version of piping is more fun and playful than in the past.
Piping is popular both with designers and their customers because it can put a slight twist on a silhouette that is otherwise familiar and flattering, Mr. Krakoff explains.
"It's a trend that you won't decide is too trendy," he says.
You'll also get more mileage out of the clothes already in your closet by adding a single piped piece as an accent. It also can make a connection between otherwise disparate tops and bottoms, says Ann Taylor's Ms. Roy, allowing greater use of separates.
Designer Kate Spade says piping can either give a break to a brightly colored outfit or it can add a kick to an otherwise subtle look.
Color contrast gives you something to focus on, she says.
But, Ms. Spade notes, choose only one focal point. If you wear shoes with piping, stick to solid colors for your clothes, and if your jacket has piping, wear solid bottoms. She does allow for a patterned shoe or bag if it's subtle.
"If too much is going on, you don't know what to look at," she explains.
Ms. Spade says she sees piping as a "smart" detail, not a loud one, and she uses it regularly in her designs.
And, she adds, it always has a place in her closet. "I love a great crisp navy jacket with white piping. It's timeless and fresh at the same time."