Rather than move forward for spring, the majority of designers around the world elected to look back, once again revising the style of a past era. (Young designers, however, might be the season's saving grace.)
In recent years it was clothes inspired by the 1940s, the 1950s and the 1960s. Now it is apparently time for the 1970s. The trouble is, that was an era of truly tacky clothes.
The Italian designers started this craze last month. They opened the spring fashion previews by staging one big fashion 1970s love-in, complete with Beatles impersonators on the runway and enough hip-huggers, bell-bottoms, midriffs and bell-bottom jumpsuits to stock a communal hippie boutique.
The French designers followed suit. Their mod-squad offering included granny dresses, tunics, knit suits, bell-bottoms and midriffs, accessorized with love beads, peace-sign pendants and daisy chains.
The Paris collections also featured fluid fashions with lots of transparent fabrics, and garments with body-baring slits or cutouts fit for a modern-day Jezebel. More on that later.
Back to the '70s. That's certainly where the American designers were headed last week, too, as they unveiled hot pants, suede jackets, bell-bottoms and colorful rayon blouses, and acted as if this were something new.
Trust me, the smart shopper who really wants this look will go to Goodwill and skip the department stores. In fact, the 1970s Salvation Army look is big right now with the young club trendzoids, causing a run on secondhand clothes.
Obviously, the New York-based designers are hoping that trend will catch on with the designer customer used to dropping $800 for a jacket or $500 for a skirt. Should that customer - whoever she or he may be - be so inclined, there is plenty to buy. On the catwalks here were ribbed blouses, light and airy button-front overskirts, hip-huggers, midriffs, tunics with double slits and wide-leg palazzo pants.
Revived with a vengeance was the jumpsuit. Practically every designer, including Nicole Miller, Marc Jacobs and Betsey Johnson, nixed the once- popular clingy catsuit for the more versatile jumpsuit.
Some of the jumpsuits featured flesh-revealing cutouts; one design by Jacobs was cut so low in the back that half of model Carla Bruni's nude backside was on display. Then there were the jumpsuits with the plunging decolletage that signaled to the fashion faithful that breasts are back in Vogue.
The new jumpsuits were presented in a variety of fabrics: jersey, Lycra, chiffon, stretch flannel, rayon and georgette. The hems ranged from a slight flare to get-out-of-my-way wide-leg bell-bottoms.
Midriffs made a big comeback as well, especially in ribbed knits. Those planning on wearing this style had better start those stomach crunches now. The midriffs were often paired with hip-huggers, another body-conscious look that requires a flawless figure.
Maxi coats, tunics and jackets sliced out of light-as-air fabrics were popular for layering effects, and there were an awful lot of vests as well.
Adding to the float-like-a-butterfly effect were silk caftans, open-front chiffon skirts and pants with attached sheer overskirts.
Dresses mostly came in two varieties, both retro - the long, slinky knit
dress, often striped, and the semifluid granny dress in floral patterns.
Jacobs and Christian Francis Roth were among the designers inspired by Grunge, a hippie/punk rock music movement from Seattle. The two designers were leaders in the thrift-store grab-bag pack of Grunge-inspired fashions.
With the rock music blasting, the crowd applauding, the photographers jostling and the supermodels strutting, the 1970s fashions seemed to have some sizzle.
But take it out of that context, and what kind of clothes do you have? Those who wore them the first time around probably aren't of the mind or body to wear them again. And those young enough to think this is a fresh idea probably can't afford the designer version of these 1970s looks.
Happily, the New York collections weren't totally mired in the 1970s. Alternative trends did emerge, and some of them were on the money.
Macrame and crochet garments - vests, skirts, tunics and even pants - make an interesting addition to the wardrobe.
The transparency trend was modern and chic as presented by the U.S. design force, including Ralph Lauren, Miller, Johnson and Todd Oldham. Sheer blouses covered bra tops or nude skin. See-through skirts were worn with tap pants, bodysuits or thongs. Wide-leg chiffon slacks changed the silhouette from ultra slim to curvy and fluid.
The rage for long skirts slit to there carried over into spring. The sexiest numbers were skirts slit in the back and front, skirts slit in several panels and skirts slit on the side of one leg. Often slits ran thigh high - or higher.
The other popular skirt was the stretch hobble, which made walking especially difficult. Wrap skirts solved that dilemma nicely.
Short skirts, alas, have evaporated from the runways.
Also gone are peg-leg pants, animal prints and jacket dresses. They are replaced by flared pants, vests and cardigans.
Colors were down to a minimum - neutrals, lots of black, navy and white - although some designers such as Oldham went wild with colorful striped ensembles.
Eveningwear was where the American designers really got it right. Those slim body-hugging column gowns ruled, and they were as sensual as it gets, with sheer backs, high slits, cutouts, laced halter backs and T-backs.
The fabrics of choice for these columns were jersey, chiffon, georgette and silk. The most popular color was black, followed by navy, white and red.
By the way, the stars of the fashion week weren't the established big-name designers such as Bill Blass, Ralph Lauren or Calvin Klein. The most exciting and over-the-top shows were staged by young turks Byron Lars, Oldham and others who opted to show fun, whimsical fashion that may not set trends, but can delight those seeking something different.
Oldham's show Tuesday drew the likes of Spike Lee, Vanessa Williams, Lady Miss Kier and hundreds of groupies to a downtown loft, where he wowed them with a state-fair-theme show complete with colorful carnival gowns, harlequin- pattern garments and beaded hot pants. A drag queen was the star model.
It is Oldham and the younger designers who are pushing fashion forward as their elders wax nostalgic. To them goes the dark victory.