Back in the old, old days, women tended to buy “outfits.” They often were from a single designer or manufacturer, and the pieces often were preassembled like children’s Garanimals.

But times have changed. And so has fashion. Now it’s about mixing prices and pieces, often in an unconventional way. Many women combine their wardrobes both from discount stores and specialty retailers. They want clothes they can wear to work and to a Saturday movie or Sunday brunch.

And, if they are smart shoppers, they search for versatile pieces from which they can accomplish many wearings by cleverly mixing other garments.

So with that mission in mind, if you can afford one thing to update your wardrobe this spring, consider a skirt.

OK, we know many women prefer pants as the best investment for the most wear. But we are in the middle of a powerful feminine era when even the automobiles have rounded shapes. Tailored suits have flounces on the hems. Ruffles flutter down the front of blouses.

It’s a challenge to walk 10 feet in a retail store without coming face-to-face with rose blossoms or mum prints. Pink is pervasive in everything from prom dresses to home lamps.

The skirt should have a soft, fluid look.

“Anything that moves was selling,” says David Wolfe, the creative director for New York consultants Doneger Group, speaking of retailing before the start of the war.

It can be a sweeping ankle-length skirt embellished with giant blossoms or a pleated knee-length khaki. It can be a short stripe or even a long polka dot silk skirt pulled from the back of your closet.

During New York’s Fashion Week, magazine editors were heavily into silky pale patterns or lace skirts, pairing them with boots and warm sweaters.

If you find the right print and color palette, one choice may be all you have to make. Just pair it up with last year’s wardrobe.

Choose your pattern carefully to be sure it is not so bold you’ll get tired of it. If it is truly memorable, you may not want to wear it often.

In any event, it may be mated with a soft sweater for casual nights. Put it with a denim jacket for a dress-down office day or a movie. A camisole or tank makes it appropriate for cocktail parties. And it goes to the office when mated with a linen shirt jacket or even a short, tailored seersucker jacket.

The right choice – whether you spend $30 at a discounter, $11 at a vintage store or $200 at a specialty shop – will get you through your wardrobe challenges.

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