December 15, 1986 12:00 PM

Say hello to puffy, ruffly, flouncy and frilly, who represent not Santa’s latest reindeer but the hot fashion frenzy around the globe. Crinoline petticoats, tulle flourishes, flared dresses and bubble skirts have suddenly appeared as must-haves among those craving the right fluff.

Young, saucy “ingenue chic” is being hailed as a return to ’50s femininity. “It definitely does something to your psyche,” says Joan Kaner of Macy’s in New York. “You can’t put on one of the pouffy dresses and not start swinging around.” Adds Paris consultant Lysiane de Royère: “It’s a very naughty style. Diabolical angel, you might say.”

Trendsetting Parisians first shifted into full swing this year as a backlash against austere, streamlined evening wear that took the fun out of dressing up. “Everyone had started to look uncomfortable,” says Manhattan designer Willi Smith, “like you were going to a funeral for your body, as opposed to going out to kick up your heels.”

The fever spread. In London, noted designers Bruce Oldfield and Jasper Conran created elegant dresses with skirts made from yards of black netting, while Harrods reported balloon skirts taking off in all colors and price ranges. Buyers for American stores were similarly captivated, but they also worried that, if it proved too frivolous for U.S. women, the bubble would burst quickly. “If we bought every pouf that’s been shown, we’d have to widen the store by about three blocks,” says Blooming-dale’s Kal Ruttenstein.

Not all women can get away with adding flounce. “Youth is a question of spirit, but you have to stop somewhere,” says de Royère. “Playing the ingenue at 45—no, I can’t see it.” The style does, however, have a singular appeal to larger women. Observes Kaner: “Full skirts are perfect for hiding a multitude of éclairs.”

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