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BONJOUR! AHOY! NAUTICAL LOOK IS IN WITH FRENCH FLAIR, MILITARY AIR

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The lure and tang of the sea has become inextricably mixed in the fashion world with the first green hints of spring.

For the past three years, the nautical look in women's clothing has been the first spring look to decorate store windows and one of the last to say goodbye to summer. Navy-on-white, black-on-white and the ever-present dash of red seem to be as crisp and eye-catching each spring as they were the spring before.But subtle changes appear in the nautical look from season to season. This season's nautical look has two strong overtones: a French flavor and a military air.

The French tones are seen in the liberal use of gold costume jewelry reminiscent of Coco Chanel's famous look. "To make your nautical look new this year, wear it with lots of gold and pearls," advises Nordstrom's Janet Howard. The blending of pearl necklaces with gold chains is a new trend that gives a cutting edge look to nautical clothes from previous seasons.

She also suggested adding a scarf, hat or beret to nautical clothes to capture the Parisian tones strong this year.

An alternative to layers of gold chains and pearls around the neck is layers of gold chain belts around the waist. "I think that look is now established as a classic," Howard said. "To make it new, wear multiple chains around the waist with maybe a great bracelet."

If you are wearing multiple chain belts, avoid wearing multiple necklaces too. You can use several chains to emphasize either the waist or the neck, but not both.

"We expect to do big business in chain belts," said Weinstocks' Kevin Winn, affirming that the look is more than a passing trend; it is a full-fledged revival.

Winn also recommended women use large gold earrings to update nautical clothes from past seasons or add the finishing touch to this season's new nautical purchases. "A lot of bigger, button-type earrings in golds or red, white and blue combinations are strong."

The second nuance in this year's nautical look is the decidedly military flavor seen in the gold braid on the shoulders and sleeves of many jackets and dresses and the abundance of short, double-breasted jackets.

Winn credits Ralph Lauren for starting the look. If you enjoy wearing longer skirts, you can capture the military flavor in tapered skirts instead of the fuller skirts of years past. Pulling plain buttons off jackets and replacing them with brass or gold buttons where appropriate can also update your look.

This year's nautical look almost has a costume flavor to it. Don't be intimidated by the military braids or nautical insignias on this year's clothes. Play with the campy, costume feel of them.

In keeping with the costume air, many retailers are selling nautical caps to set off the clothes. With their insignias, braid and nautical visors, the caps look like they legitimately belong on the head of a schooner captain. And they are selling!

One of the strongest trends this spring - and one that goes well with nautical jackets and accessories - is fluid skirts and wide-legged, flowing pants.

"There's a lot of movement and flowing fluidity in clothes now," Howard said. "Fluidity and femininity are the strong looks for spring and summer. To really make last year's nautical looks new, wear them with a fluid, wide-legged pant or a fluid skirt. Or wear a long jacket over a short skirt," she said.

Avoid pairing structured jackets with skirts that go below the knee, particularly matching skirts, Howard advised. The look is dated. "Go above the knee," she advised.

For women anxious to make one or two key purchases that capture the nautical look, Winn recommended a double-breasted short jacket, with or without an elastic band at the bottom, and a full, soft pant.