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The Sweater Set : KNIT ENSEMBLES ARE BACK--IN A ‘90S WAY: A LITTLE MORE LANA TURNER FEMININE, A LITTLE LESS JUNE CLEAVER PLAIN (NO PEARLS, PLEASE)

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

After designers revived bell-bottoms, platform shoes, hip huggers and other fashions from the ‘60s and ‘70s, it was only a matter of time before they got around to remaking that 1950s classic: the twin sweater set.

Unlike the bell-bottom fiasco, however, this latest effort to recycle a retro look has proven successful.

Twin sweater sets can be found everywhere, from tony TSE Cashmere in Costa Mesa to Target. Clothing buyers for fashion retailers say sweater sets are selling fast. The simple, fitted cardig1634628384 Twin sets are being paired with fall’s slim pants and long skinny skirts. They’re part of fashion’s return to femininity--hourglass-shaped suits, narrow belts, longer hemlines and A-line silhouettes.

“They’re a throwback to more ladylike dressing,” says Rebecca Shafer, consulting creative director for TSE Cashmere in New York City. “It’s a take on women in the suburbs at lunch--that ‘Sabrina’ moment. But it’s fresh, not old.”

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While the twin sets were inspired by the ‘50s, the ‘90s adaptations aren’t exact copies. They’re shorter and tighter than the originals.

“They’ve adjusted the proportions to give it a fresh twist,” Shafer says. “The sweater is slightly shorter; the sleeve hits just above the wrist bone, and it’s tighter. It fits more toward the body, so it’s sexy and younger. It’s revealing, even though it’s a twin set.”

Women have to be careful how they wear sweater sets lest they end up looking like June Cleaver. For an updated look, the sweater set should be worn with ‘90s accessories.

“You don’t want to see pearls with it,” Shafer says. “That’s really taking it back. To be modern, wear it with just a little tiny ear drop and keep the wrist light. A tiny, thin watch that is ever so delicate will work. Wear nothing on the neck. That’s too literal, too stodgy. You don’t want to be ‘50s about it at all.”

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TSE Cashmere in South Coast Plaza offers sweater sets made of pure cashmere, cashmere and silk blends and finely spun wool. The twin set in silk and cashmere ($335) and the twin set made of super fine wool with a tiny cable knit ($820) come in TSE’s early fall hues--midnight blue, black, white, truffle, ginger and a deep hazelnut.

While sweater sets are a staple at TSE, they’re new to many design houses.

“We started seeing them in the spring. Then for fall, every single designer offered them,” says Pamela Reynolds, a buyer for Nordstrom in Orange County. Ralph Lauren, Ellen Tracy, Emanuel and other designers put their spin on the sweater sets, which vary slightly; some have tiny cable-knit weaves, some have ribbing and some are flat knits.

They’re made from all kinds of fibers, from inexpensive cottons ($68 per set) to a cashmere sets (about $300), available at Nordstrom in Brea Mall, South Coast Plaza and MainPlace/Santa Ana.

Silk sweater sets, including a short-sleeved version ($35 to $45 for each piece at Nordstrom) are something Mom didn’t wear in the ‘50s. Technology has made it possible to produce high-quality silk knits, Reynolds says.

“I can’t keep them in stock,” she says. “Silk has a luxurious feel and a bit of a sheen, and it takes color really well.”

Sweater sets come primarily in neutral or classic colors, such as black, ivory, camel, charcoal and red, but so far the two most stocked hues of fall are pale pink and lilac.

“Wearing those with charcoal gray is the look,” Reynolds says.

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The return of sweater sets is linked with a strong showing of knits from all designers, says Gael Lauritzen, owner of 341 Bayside in Newport Beach.

“Knits on the whole are really popular. It’s all incorporated in the early ‘40s and ‘50s look--the longer, slimmer skirts or full skirts cut on the bias, the small waists and skinny belts. It’s very feminine, as opposed to the unisex look.”

She advises choosing knits with care. Not all sweater sets are created equal. Some will pill or stretch with time.

“Often you can tell just by the feel of the wool if it’s good quality,” Lauritzen says. “There are many different grades of wool and cashmere. When you see a really inexpensive price on a cashmere sweater, you’re not necessarily getting a great deal. They’re usually made of cashmere that is cut away [from the Kashmir goat] and left on the ground after the better strands have been combed out.”

341 Bayside has sweater sets of merino wool, cashmere, lightweight mohair, regular wool and cotton, from $60 to $250 and up for each piece.

“Study the density of the knit. If it’s too thin or loose, it’s cut weight,” says Michael Wu, owner of Cashmere Elite in Fashion Island Newport Beach.

A dense, high-quality sweater set won’t come cheap; it’s a wardrobe investment. Cashmere Elite has cashmere cardigans ($280) with the matching under sweater ($140 to $160).

“Baby boomers are appreciating cashmere. They want quality and classics. They’re tired of fashion trends,” Wu says. “Twin sets are a classic style. We always carry them.”

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