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It doesn't compare with the sensation of slipping into a satin gown or the pure escapism of leafing through a magazine layout by a top photographer, but fashion mavens are increasingly finding sites to browse on the Internet's World Wide Web.

After spending a few hours style surfing, my feelings are mixed on matters of online fashion. If you're in search of new ideas, opinions and sources, or if your business is fashion, you should make a habit of signing on. On the other hand, if you're comfortable with the fashion sources you already subscribe to and don't generally need advice on matters of style, you're not really missing anything.At best, the sites offer insider glimpses to the world of fashion and its major players, as well as more varied perspectives on style than you get in mainstream American magazines. At worst, locations are blatantly commercial (even though usually not set up for instant purchasing) and not packaged as attractively as the magazines or TV shows that inspired them or the daily newspaper you hold in your hands.

It's most fun to peruse the sites when they're irreverent and offer interactive features such as bulletin boards, the chance to talk back and fast links to other sources.

Computer users can spout off on what drives them crazy (lately, it's shrunken T-shirts) or what they love (Chanel's silver nail polish). Because people are free to post whatever questions or comments that come to mind, bulletin boards tend to have a more freewheeling feel than the gushing letters to the editor in traditional fashion magazines.

On the practical side, the advice offered on some sites deals with the issues that many fashion magazines dismiss as banal. In a current posting on fashion, for example, a working woman and mother asks what kind of wardrobe choices make sense. Instead of the Vogue approach, which would push $500 Gucci shifts, Jeanne Beker of fashion recommends such classic separates as black pants and well-cut jackets.

The sheer diversity of what's on the Internet also is appealing. No subject is off limits, and fashion pages from Canada, London and Europe lend an international flair. Still, that variety can drive you to distraction - with people on one bulletin board searching for everything from Swedish fashion models to a specific kind of fabric needed for a sewing project.

Designers and manufacturers are flocking to this new medium, but often are just staking territory while they figure out what to do with their sites. After initial forays on the Internet, both Donna Karan and Nicole Miller are revising their Web pages.

Expect to see this area expand as site sponsors try to cash in on the demographics of these browsers. The average Web user is 32.7 years old, and average income across all users is $63,000, according to a Georgia Institute of Technology study.

What's undeniable is that cyberstyle is a young, hot frontier that's bound to grow and change faster than designers can create new dresses to display on their Web pages.

Consider the statistics compiled by just one site. Fashion Internet, which bills itself as an online fashion magazine, joined the Web on Nov. 10, 1995. From that date to Jan. 29, more than 57,000 computer users visited the site.

"It's all about creating an awareness and trying to reach a larger audience, a new audience," says Marni Salup, Fashion Internet spokeswoman.

(Suzanne S. Brown is fashion editor at the Rocky Mountain News in Denver.)