When you've dieted too long on fish and salad, you sometimes develop an irresistible craving for a sumptuously rich meal. Bring on the foie gras, cheese, hollandaise and chocolate souffle and hang the consequences.
So it is in the fashion arena. After the simplicity and gentility of the '90s, strong color, luxurious looks and embellishments have dominated the world of chic in recent seasons. This spring flashy in-your-face patterns are adding to the frenzy.
Not so long ago women started to move from black and gray into eye-catching colors such as fuchsia, yellow, pink, turquoise and lime green. Certainly color is still with us, but it's often mixed like a stew, into dizzying prints. Florals are a spring perennial. Animal prints are classics.
But the stores also are full of swirling linears, pop art geometrics, squares, camouflage and images you usually see only in dreams. In some cases several patterns are combined in one garment.
Accessories including handbags, shoes, socks and hair bands are popping up in oh-wow color prints. "Get graphic," In Style magazine advises readers.
Leatrice Eiseman, a Seattle-based color consultant and author, says the prints are, indeed, part of the evolution of the color cravings.
"It's been there, but before it was in blocks," she says. "But in the print, it's a new take on combinations. It's integrated."
The prints are probably the fastest way to update your closet. If you buy a print blouse or shirt dress, "people won't notice you're wearing last year's pants or skirt," David Wolfe, a retail consultant, said.
Prints have infiltrated casual wear and given new life to the trendy Capri pants of recent years, says Tina Hodak, fashion director of the May Co., the parent company of the Jones Store.
Graphics have long been classic for designer Nicole Miller. Famous for her pop culture print ties in the '90s, for spring she combined patterns such as leopard with bold florals. Her summer group has pebbles added to the mix, and last fall she (and Christian Dior) offered camouflage prints, an idea that has filtered down into mainstream and menswear markets.
It's the art of the design that appeals to Miller, says Meredith Wollins, the company public relations director.
"It's the mixing of all the different colors and patterns," she says. "It just adds flavor to the outfit."
Some of the newest prints seem, in fact, old borrowed directly from the '60s "sock it to me" culture. It's no surprise considering fashion's ongoing obsession with the past. Even the statusy logo patterns of the 1980s are back in force on designer apparel and Coach bags.
The appeal of retro may be comfort.
Overall, Kathleen McDermott, a Boston-based fashion historian and teacher, sees the print explosion as another symptom of today's eclectic postmodern culture with little significance beyond surface decoration.
"It's as if designers are rummaging through the closets of fashion history. They're picking what they like and mixing it up," she says.
On a final note, as trendy as the idea is, beware. If you are tempted to leap into patterns, a baby step might be more appropriate. Swirling patterns and giant flowers are not always the most flattering to the less perfect body than, say, Elle Macpherson's, says Leah Feldon, the author of "Does This Make Me Look Fat" (Random House, $24.95).
"I like prints in a shawl," Feldon says. "If you wear a solid color and a shawl, you can control it."