Formal Proposals Dressier looks gain ground; waiting for the European vote By CHERYL LU-LIEN TAN America's top designers are going formal for fall. The question now is whether European designers will take the same direction. The fashion world wrapped up the key New York shows with a pronounced push behind dressier, more formal looks, a contrast to the rumpled fabrics and layered ensembles of past seasons. Designers such as Diane von Furstenberg and Donna Karan had been expected to take that course, but even Marc Jacobs, known for always being ahead of the curve, showed similarly tailored designs and matching outfits -- his with especially elegant, elongated silhouettes. Now retailers and fashion-watchers will be eyeing the collections in the major European shows -- Milan's fashion week, which starts next Sunday, and the Paris shows, beginning the following week -- to see if the formal look continues to gather steam. Italy's Miuccia Prada has already hinted that she might favor an elegant aesthetic. "I want to reintroduce the concept of beauty -- a new sense of beauty," she said in a recent interview with The Wall Street Journal. In the U.S., designers say they're bringing back polished looks because they seem fresh again. "We were just feeling a return to dressing up," says Jack McCollough, co-designer of the influential Proenza Schouler line, which featured suits and put-together outfits. "Matching ensembles just feel really new now." Retailers, coming off a disappointing year of apparel sales, are generally embracing the dressed-up looks. Many say they are betting women will feel compelled to buy more new clothing and accessories for specific, put-together looks. "When you're taking the time to dress up, it's not just about a piece of well-tailored clothing," says Michael Fink, vice president of women's fashion at Saks Fifth Avenue. "Now you'll need a structured bag, too, and the must-have pump." Some also predict that Mr. Jacobs's new designs, which include elegant trench coats cut close to the body, crisp white shirts and dressy, tuxedo-style suits will have broader appeal than some of his previous, less mainstream styles. "I think it will sell to sophisticated women of 'a certain age' who never could, or would, have worn Marc Jacobs before," says David Wolfe, creative director of fashion retail consultancy Doneger Group. Some of the looks shown on the runways could pose a retail challenge. High-waisted pants and skirts, for example, can be hard for anyone larger than model size to pull off, some retailers say. Accessories will continue playing a big role in the fall. Ankle-high bootie-style or covered pumps, with the shoe encasing the foot almost entirely, emerged as a trend. Designers also moved away from platforms and wedges that have been ubiquitous in recent seasons. Instead, many showed slender stiletto heels. "The shoes are much more accessible. You don't look like you're walking around with these big blocks on your feet," says Linda Fargo, senior vice president and fashion director of Neiman Marcus Group's Bergdorf Goodman. Retailers also applauded a return to hats. Mr. Jacobs and Proenza Schouler sent out models in flapper-style cloche hats or wide-brimmed fedoras. Following are some of the key fall trends spotted on the New York runways: Matching ensembles: Polished outfits that look like they've been carefully put together from head to toe were the big story of the New York runway shows. Ms. von Furstenberg showed a patterned shift dress with a matching patterned jacket and Mr. Jacobs unveiled a series of pantsuits and ensembles that were reminiscent of Yves Saint Laurent's tailored looks. Bergdorf Goodman's Ms. Fargo says she believes these looks will sell well in the fall: "It's understandable clothing." Higher waists: After years of low-rise jeans, pants and skirts, designers are starting to offer a sprinkling of options with higher waists. The look was most often paired with this season's ubiquitous cropped jackets: Badgley Mischka showed one that extended to just beneath the bustline. While retailers expect women to embrace the concept of higher waists, Mr. Fink says in reality, the looks could be a hard sell. "It's not practical," he says. "Once you get up above the natural waist, it's a difficult silhouette unless you're model-sized. If you have any excess around your middle it's going to accentuate it." Dramatic shapes: Structured, voluminous shapes, reminiscent of '50s silhouettes like the sack, appeared on many runways. Many jackets, blouses and coats bore dramatic, pouf sleeves that were rounded at the shoulders and arms. Some designers, including Ms. von Furstenberg, did some pieces in the trapeze silhouette, which has been prevalent this spring. Calvin Klein's Francisco Costa showed several coats in an egg-like cocoon shape. Sari Sloane, vice president for fashion merchandising at boutique-chain Intermix, says she believes the eye-catching shapes will sell well as consumers have gotten used to seeing these large silhouettes, which started with the puffy bubble skirt in the fall. "There's definitely less of that, 'Oh my god, can I really wear that?' going on," she says. Shiny accents: Shiny metallic looks were a big trend for spring and designers are continuing to push it for fall. This time, the sheen isn't just reserved for accessories or evening looks. For fall, many designers, including Michael Kors and Vera Wang, showed daywear ensembles that incorporated shiny pieces such as a bronze blouse in a crushed metallic fabric or dresses featuring sequins or crystals. Shiny accessories, which are already a big trend for spring, showed up again for fall including metallic handbags. Deep colors: While black was a dominant color throughout the collections, the fall palette included several deep, complex colors, notably burgundy, emerald, purple and striking cobalt blue. On the softer side, gray was a popular shade to break up the richer tones.