There’s nothing like a shot of optimism to get the shopping juices percolating.

Though spring clothes typically begin to appear on the racks shortly after Christmas – their wispy fabrics and bright colors mocking us as we trudge through the snow in our lug-soled boots – it has been easier to ignore them this year.

The long, hard winter, coupled with an uncertain economy and the war in Iraq, made the latest fashion trends seem unimportant.

But with summer fast approaching and the war winding down, women are rediscovering the urge to shop. More than 80 percent of teen girls and women intend to shop for clothes in the next few weeks, according to a STS Market Research/AccuPanel consumer survey.

The draw? The bright colors, lively prints and feminine details that are the big trendsfor spring. And though it’s customary to see color and pattern in warm-weather clothing, this year brings an especially vivid display.

If you are ready to burst into a world bright with floral prints and every shade of pink, this is your moment.

Don’t worry that you’ve already missed out on the best stuff. What hits the stores early also tends to go on sale early, so there are plenty of spring bargains out there – and many months of good weather in which to wear them.

Here’s a look at five top trends for spring women’s wear.

Pink

It’s something of a cliche in spring clothing. But there’s no denying the almost universal appeal of pink this year, whether in dense tones veering toward fuchsia or in the palest shades better left for those still in infancy.

Banana Republic started its early-spring fashion presentation with a big dose of pink. So did the Gap, which quickly sold out of pale pink raincoats.

At Target, pink loungewear has the place of honor in the lingerie department and pink peasant blouses rule the sportswear selection.

Pink is the equal-opportunity color, a good match for almost everyone. And best of all, it’s a classic.

Prints and patterns

Cool neutrals? Solid colors? Please, how dull.

The spring racks are filled with prints and patterns-and the more colorful, the better. Dots from Donna Karan. Stripes from Sigrid Olsen. Tropical prints from Tommy Bahama. Floral prints from everybody under the sun-on every sort of garment.

A little bit of pattern goes a long way in sprucing up a wardrobe. Pair last year’s khakis with a polka-dot halter. Freshen up a plain tank top with some striped capris. Team a go-to-work blazer with a tropical-print skirt.

If this particular trend has a patron saint, it must surely be Lilly Pulitzer, whose candy-colored, print play clothes are enjoying a major renaissance.

Though Pulitzer started her company in 1960, she had never shown her clothes on the New York runways until she took the plunge last fall, during spring fashion week.

The cute, breezy style of her print shifts, golf skirts, capri pants and polo tops is right in line with the more feminine look of spring.

Ladylike suits

If the spring season has a fashion icon, it’s Jacqueline Kennedy, who wore and popularized many of the trends that have surfaced this year.

She was a particular fan of the ladylike suit, its primary features a pastel color, a knee-length skirt and a trim, hip-length jacket.

Beyond those key points, the ladylike suit can take many forms. The skirt can be A-line or pencil, the jacket topped with traditional lapels, a Peter Pan collar or no collar at all. The fabric can be smooth silk, textured tweed or crisp cotton.

In his spring collection, Marc Jacobs showcased this look with his boucle jackets and skinny skirts in candy-box colors.

The Ann Taylor chain offers a particularly varied selection of feminine suits, ranging from a pink tweed version with standard lapels to a mint green boucle ensemble with a Peter Pan collar. For variety, the trim jackets also look good over sleeveless dresses in solid colors or floral prints.

Cargo pants

Like leopard prints and pencil skirts, cargo pants are one of those fashion trends that make regular and frequent appearances. The interesting thing about cargo pants, though, is that with each incarnation, the trendiest cargoes have a slightly different persona.

When cargoes made their last big appearance in late 1999, they had a tough, military look-a nod to the uncertainty that greeted the arrival of the year 2000. They came in black and olive, in sturdy nylon or thick cotton, often with lots of hardware and high-tech mesh pockets along the legs.

When they came back last year, it was a much softer look, one pioneered by Nicolas Ghesquiere, the maverick designer for Balenciaga. Ghesquiere’s cargoes were trim and sexy, done in slippery satin and fitted tightly through the hips.

Most shocking of all, he cinched up the legs with drawstrings and showed the pants with stiletto heels, turning cargoes into the year’s hottest evening look.

Now, the softer side of cargo pants has filtered down to the mainstream, and Express stores have an especially broad selection. There are classic, ankle-length cargoes in khaki, dressy black ones in shiny satin, casual pink ones with a drawstring just below the knee. Cargoes come trimmed with embroidery or with flower-shaped cutouts along the leg.

The look is cute, young and cool, but it clearly screams “summer of 2003.” Don’t expect this trend to last past August.

Bright bags and shoes

There’s no easier way to add a jolt of color to a neutral wardrobe than to spruce it up with a colorful handbag and shoes. An uninspiring black suit becomes something entirely different when it’s worn with an exotic print handbag or strappy red shoes.

Handbags are a fountain of color, with plenty of choices at the inexpensive end. Target offers many cute bags for less than $20, including straw totes trimmed with butterflies and flowers, nylon carry-alls in sky blue edged with white and canvas beach bags in vibrant stripes.

Shoemakers at every level have also gotten into the game. In the designer bracket, Anne Klein offers sexy pink-heeled slides with pink and green petals fluttering over the toes. Coach has heeled thongs in apple green and loafer-style mules in baby blue. And Keds features a variety of canvas sandals, slides and mules in orange, navy, yellow, red, shamrock, pink and Carolina blue.

Yes, it’s finally the year when you can easily find shoes and a purse to match the pink in your new Lilly Pulitzer dress or the orange of your favorite jungle-print skirt.


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