NEW YORK - With the fashion world in such a romantic mood lately, lace has moved from bedroom to boardroom.
A lace collar or cuff on a blouse, or even a lace-trimmed camisole, instantly feminizes a menswear-style suit - another big trend for women these days. You'll also see more than traces of lace on lingerie, of course, as well as sportswear and eveningwear.
"It's definitely lace for evening this spring," says Michael Fink, senior fashion director at Saks Fifth Avenue. "Saks loves lace in faded pastel colors used in cocktail and evening gowns, all in a long and lean silhouette - no poufs."
On the spring runways, Monique Lhuillier, a lace veteran because of her bridal collection, showed a jade lace sleeveless pleated bodice sheath. Tracy Reese featured slim white jacquard pants with lace insets. Marc Jacobs previewed a pair of shimmering silver "pajamas" with lace at the hem. And Vera Wang embraced lace's lingerie legacy with a black lace "bed jacket."
Jill Stuart's collection was filled with delicate lace pieces that looked like they were rediscovered treasures from a trunk in the attic.
Stuart says she paid attention to the specific patterns on the lace because they convey a mood or message, and sometimes she'll combine several laces onto a single garment.
"The pattern may have a floral, Victorian or any number of handicraft qualities that greatly enhance your design and bring it to life," Stuart says.
Valerie Steele, director of the Museum at the Fashion Institute in Manhattan, says that lace always has been associated with luxury. In the 16th and 17th century, the lace trim often would be the most expensive part of a dress, she says, and men would wear lace cuffs and collars to show off their wealth.
Lace would be taken off old garments and reused on new ones. That changed during the mid-1800s when most lace began to manufactured by machines instead of by hand.
"Lace has gone in and out (of fashion) since the beginning of the 20th century," Steele says. "It's still extensively used in lingerie and eveningwear, and we're in the middle of a highly decorative period. Clothes have become more divided between really expensive and really cheap. When you're getting really luxurious and expensive clothes, you want something special and lace gives a craftlike detail."
Lace also sends a mixed signal - sexy because of its peekaboo quality, yet still a symbol of sweetness and innocence, which further enhances its position as a fashion chameleon.
"Today's woman likes to have a hint of lace showing under a white blouse or have the top of a lacy camisole show. It's modern, sexy and accepted," says Barbara Lipton, vice present and general manager for fashion brands at Warnaco. Brands she oversees include J.Lo by Jennifer Lopez, Lejaby and Speedo underwear.
The shift to "everyday" lace versus "special occasion" lace - the kind reserved for one's wedding dress or bridal trousseau - happened as women decided they wanted to feel beautiful and feminine each and every day, Lipton says, and lace has that effect.
Lace crosses all segments of the intimate apparel wardrobe - from panty to pajamas.
"It can be the trim or accent or the main fabrication. Garments can be constructed completely of lace, they can be made with rigid lace or with stretch.... Many have a special treatment that provides a softer feel. It doesn't affect elasticity or ease of motion, it just makes it feel softer," Lipton says.
Looking ahead, Lipton predicts the crocheted look will be popular.
"When you're choosing a lace, think about the subtle message. It's not about an age, it's about a mind-set."