Kathryn Bold is a regular contributor to Orange County Life

Summertime, and the clothing is easy.

No sharp edges, no constricting collars.

Clothes to wear when you're relaxing on the deck of a cruise ship, dining at a posh resort or sitting at a beach-side bar nursing drinks with little paper umbrellas.

Resort wear designers have their customers' comfort in mind. For men and women, they've chosen soft knits and washable silks that won't emerge a rumpled mess from the suitcase.

Oversized shirts fall loosely from the shoulders. Shorts and pants have comfortable drawstring or elastic waistbands that appeal to those who spend the better part of their summer vacation eating.

As another cheery send-off, designers have chosen fabrics in bright solids and bold tropical prints. Even if the weather's dreary on your island paradise, your clothes won't be.

Designers recognize that vacationers seek an escape from their rigid, 9-to-5 lives, and that carries over into clothes.

"Instead of a crisp, white shirt, men want to wear something soft," says Caroline Stubbs, men's clothing designer for Fenn, Wright & Manson in New York City.

She created a line of loose-fitting shirts in washable silk, a fabric softer than a chamois but less shiny than unwashed silk.

"The washed silk stops it from looking like a real Italian shirt," she says. "The shirts are very oversized and not tailored, so they have a wonderful feel."

They also travel well.

"They don't crease and they don't take up any room at all in your suitcase," Stubbs says.

One shirt features a tropical hibiscus print in rich chartreuse, purple and turquoise hues for $85. It can be worn with knee-length chartreuse linen shorts for $60, both at I. Magnin in South Coast Plaza, Costa Mesa.

Other pieces in her collection, such as cotton-knit shorts, drawstring pants and T-shirts, are easy to pack and wear.

Stubbs finds that men have become more attracted to bold prints and colors, so she's added bright, warm tones to her palette. Her linen shorts, for instance, come in raspberry, purple and teal as well as the traditional navy. Another silk shirt has an ethnic-style medallion print in orange and gold or olive, khaki and lime green. It's available for $95 at I. Magnin in Fashion Island, Newport Beach.

The carefree days of summer inspire designers of women's wear to cut loose. Several, including Andrea Jovine, James Tarantino and Geary Roark, had fun creating bright, sexy dresses that draw attention to tanned bodies with short hemlines, bare shoulders and exposed backs.

"Summer to me is fun and sexy," says Roark, the Los Angeles-based designer for Kamisato.

"I did a lot of polka dots, a lot of solids and brights. But whether it's a print or a pattern, everything is crisp and clean."

He created colorful dresses with simple lines and unusual back details--straps that crisscross the shoulders, or cutouts that expose a patch of skin. Some have long, full skirts; others have narrow, fitted skirts that hit just above the knee.

One red and white polka dot number has a full skirt that billows out from a fitted bodice with a bare back, available for $119 at I. Magnin. A similar dress comes in navy with gold embroidery bordering a V-neck and metal studs dotting a fitted bodice with a diamond-shaped back, for $195.

For travelers, a practical alternative to the dress is city shorts. Many designers came out with their own version of these easy ensembles, pairing tailored shorts with a long, loose jacket or a short, fitted one.

Roark has found a strong audience for his light-hearted designs.

"I'm going to stick with these fun things through fall," he says. "I'm becoming consistently less serious."

Other designers have had fun playing with fabrics. Their experiments have yielded clothes that can go anyplace.

Michael Glasser, owner of Compagnie in Los Angeles, delights in wrinkling, embroidering, sand-washing and dyeing fabric to give it a new look.

One of his most successful designs is a long, full skirt made of crinkled white silk, available for $90 at Cignal in MainPlace, Santa Ana.

"It happened by accident," he says. "I tried the skirt on a model and I liked it better wrinkled. They thought I was crazy." His customers, however, love the filmy skirts.

"I take the skirts, rewash them, tie them in knots and dry them. They kind of cling to the body, but they still leave a lot to the imagination," he says. "I don't do sexy clothes that show a lot of skin, but they do have an attitude."

Glasser enjoys manipulating material. Denim is stripped of its color, dyed unusual hues such as celery green or pink, then sand-washed so it comes out soft. He uses the fabric to make baggy jeans.

Styling by CINDY KASSEBAUM * Location: Queen Mary/Spruce Goose Entertainment Center, Long Beach * Hair and makeup by DEBORA WAIT, A La Mode Agency, Los Angeles

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