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A 20-something at a suburban bridal shower brunch earlier this month wore one above the knee, paired with a tank top and stilettoes, turning heads even among the grandmothers. A 50-something at a Boston restaurant the other night paired hers with a cropped sweater and wedge heels, bragging that it camouflaged a multitude of flaws. And the look was all over the recent fashion shows for next spring, causing attendees to take notice.

Bubble skirts are popping up all over.

For some, the full-bottom shape is a hilarious reminder of the 1980s, when Christian Lacroix reinvented the pouf, leaving a generation of women embarrassed by their high school prom photographs.

But some of the more sophisticated new interpretations of the bubble make it clear that many of today's designers, from Marc Jacobs to Marni, could have an even deeper well for inspiration.

John DiStefano, associate professor of fashion design at the Massachusetts College of Art, says the first sartorial bubbles were actually worn by men during the Renaissance - think Sir Walter Raleigh and Shakespeare - who donned what were called "melon" or "pumpkin" hose stuffed with bombast material to accentuate their figures. Then women took to the look, incorporating bubbles in their sleeves, for example, well into the 19th century's House of Worth dress forms.

However, there was a modern breakthrough in the 1950s, when Cristobal Balenciaga, an architect who came to design clothes, applied shape, form, and structure to dresses using iconic bubble shapes that even Christian Dior emulated in his heyday.

Now that the young whippersnapper Nicolas Ghesquiere is designing for Balenciaga, he is reaching back into the fashion house's esteemed archives to see if there might be anything relevant for current style junkies.

What he's come up with is the bubble.

The question is, when will this one burst?

How to wear it:

Elizabeth Donovan, manager at The Garment District, a vintage clothing store in Cambridge, says young shoppers are interested in the 1980s version of the skirt, rather than the older styles. "If you want it to look more '80s I'd wear it mini with short legging and flats," Donovan says.

"But you can also wear it with a sleeveless shirt, heels, and fishnets to bring it more up to date." For day wear, she recommends pairing the skirt with a short fitted jacket.

c.2005 The Boston Globe

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