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The Skinny By Elaine Langlois

Fall Fashion Outlook

We've just returned from a gala to benefit fashion's own: models who are victims of runway fatigue or who've been rendered deaf by years of blow drying.

The evening began with an auction of rejected designs and celebrity castoffs, conducted by the stars themselves, who were badly dressed in extremely expensive clothes. Top models participated in an eat-a-thon, the clear winner Ms. Jaundice Mal-de-Mer, who bravely consumed 15 rice cakes.

The event concluded with a reality show-type contest. Designers were locked in a room containing a sewing machine, accessories, a spinning wheel, and straw and challenged either to spin gold or to produce something to wear that the average woman wouldn't sneer at.

Distressed denim. Once again it's time to drag those ratty old jeans out of the closet. Whether you call them "destroyed," "destructed," or "tarnished," jeans so tattered and shabby that Mom wouldn't let you wear them are back in style this fall.

If you're shopping for a signature piece, plan to part with more than $100 for that authentic pre-worn look. Our top pick: a $250 pair from the fabulous Mufti line. "We do it all ourselves," said owner Gelato Mufti proudly. "Every pair of Mufti jeans has been pounded with stones, rubbed with lye soap, soaked in an infested tropical river, nibbled by piranhas, run over with a tractor multiple times, balled up in a gym bag for six months, walked on, spat upon, cursed at, spattered with grease, and dragged about by purebred Alsatian dogs."

Military-inspired. If the look you covet is biker, Amelia Earhart, West Point cadet, or lady Gestapo officer, you cannot do better than this fall's offerings of military-style jackets, blazers, and trenches. Plan to spend a lot of time polishing your buttons.

Neo-equestrian. Look for tall boots, crimson vests, and jodhpur-like pants; harness-patterned shoes and belts; and silk frocks incongruously buttressed with leather straps. Accessorize with a horse (with gas prices soaring, a viable option). Round out your ensemble with a saddlebag purse and matching feedbags. Sling one around your neck and enjoy a quick if messy lunch.

Corporate chic. Autumn's workplace look calls for no-nonsense (OK, some nonsense) suits with tailored jackets and (of course!) nothing underneath. Not sure what kind of business you're going to get done in them. Our personal favorite: jackets that reveal your belly button.

Look for tulip skirts, the sort of thing that resembles pre-kindergarten efforts with needle and thread. Their egg shape is just so flattering to most of us, is it not? Like the skintight stovepipe pants and clingy jersey dresses that are also favorites this fall. Match with a boxy jacket and see-through blouse lavishly overdone in ruffles and bows. Finish with a perky color-contrasted bra or bordello-style camisole.

Footwear. Advice to designers: step out of your slippers and look down, to remind you of what feet actually look like. Ours, like yours, aren't shaped like arrowheads; yours are just a lot more hairy.

Pumps, flats, and peep-toes have narrowed to the point (no pun intended) that even the most farsighted of us, those who have been practicing foot binding for years, are finding ourselves hard put to squeeze our way in.

As with so many aspects of our personal appearance that might seem inevitable, like aging, plastic surgery offers a solution: a toe job, a simple amputation of the large and little toes, with brunch to follow. It didn't work for Cinderella's stepsisters, but it could work for you!

Store those salvaged digits in a Seal N' Save container in your freezer. If they shrivel and someone carelessly tosses them in with the chicken fingers or fish sticks, don't carry on. Protein is protein. Besides, scientists have cloned a dog, cats, mules; what's a couple of toes?

Accessories. Think big (and occasionally small). Top picks for handbags include hobo bags, saddlebags, purses patterned after messenger bags, and ugly fur-trimmed numbers seemingly snipped from flight jackets. Brooches are still in; also oversized bangles that can double as hand weights and hasten the onset of carpal tunnel. Look for clunky necklaces that, like the bell on a cat's collar, signal your movements to everyone around.

'Tis the season of silly hats. True fashionistas will be sporting turbans, headscarves, skull caps, trappers' hats with ear flaps, tall fur headgear (think Cossack or Cat in the Hat), and aviators' helmets. Bonnets with tasteful chinstraps not only reveal you to be in fashion's vanguard but also fight that triple chin (and you should try slapping yourself a lot every day, too).

Summing up. We leave you to assemble your fall wardrobe, as we totter away, bleary-eyed, to scope out pre-spring looks. Whether your personal color is eggplant, black, gray, or brown, and whether your tastes run from tart to tsarina or cowgirl to Victorian lady, you will find plenty of looks to choose from in fashion this fall.