Sometimes it’s easier to talk about politics than fashion. Ask a Yalie on the street what he or she thinks of fashion at Yale and you’re bound to get an impassioned response, frequently negative. In an environment where minds are the rulers of the realm and everyone’s looking to state his independence more loudly than does the person standing on the curb next to him, it’s fascinating how quickly people discount the kind of statement that can be made with the basic cloth we use to cover our nakedness.

I like to see fashion as one of the three functional arts, joined by architecture and cuisine. Fashion is the art of choosing how we encase ourselves, and others’ first impressions of us are, whether we like it or not, tied into the things that we wear. What you choose to wear reflects who you are, even if you choose not to care what you wear.

So, for the fashion-conscious and fashion-daring, read on. For those who plan on wearing that wrinkled T-shirt that hasn’t made it from the floor to the hamper in three days, you might as well stop reading.

The fashion of spring 2002 has a carefree spirit and, like everything else, plays mostly around America’s colors — red, white, and blue. For women, the soft romanticism of fall’s peasant blouses and frills have transformed into camisoles and lacy slip-dresses. Look for more country looks in the light white cotton of loose blouses and skirts with eyelet trim — something easy to find at the new J. Crew, no doubt. Pair with a crochet or macram* belt.

If you invest in one thing this season, make it a pair of dirty or pale ripped jeans, something that looks roughed up, and you’ve got the new rustic spring look. Seven and Diesel jeans are offering great dirty and rustic looks, but you might not even have to look further than Gap for a pair of great pale spring jeans. Find a great stone necklace to go along with the Montana look — turquoise and jade have been particularly sought after this season.

The urban punk look that the fashion world was playing with in the fall has been replaced by a sweet, conformist style to reflect the patriotic fervor sweeping the country, emphasizing country goodness. Floral and fruity prints are everywhere from Marc Jacobs’s cherry tees on to the apple and strawberry flip-flops at Urban Outfitters. Red is also ubiquitous, with all its connotations of a playful American enthusiasm, from shirts to shoes.

Giddy surprises are popping up in shoe stores everywhere in the form of bright pastel straps; flat, lace-up leather sandals; and pointed-toe flats. The wedge heel is also back with a vengeance in wood and espadrille. And, if you’re really daring, find something with a big buckle. If the whole country look doesn’t appeal to you, try playing around with multi-colored or simple black and white stripes.

Spring has a lot to offer the male of the species as well, though don’t go throwing those corduroy jackets away just yet. They might serve you well on a cool spring evening over a pair of dark or aged jeans with a pale button-down shirt.

Red is a hot color in menswear for the spring as well in the form of red and white striped or checked shirts and tees, or even a fun soft orange for the extra daring. Multi-colored striped shirts and ties are as present in the world of menswear for the spring as they are in women’s.

For those wanting to spice up their look a bit, try a motorcycle jacket or a bomber, or even some distressed denim. And love the trench coat. Let it be your friend. You could even get one with a fun lining for wet afternoons. In terms of suits, seersucker pants and jackets are everywhere just looking for a Southern lady to escort home. I was also surprised to discover some khaki suits lurking around, for someone wanting a cleaner, relaxed look.

All that said, don’t go overboard. Though you see white suits everywhere, do not submit! Especially with a black shirt underneath — yikes. Leave it to Gucci and G.Q. And ladies, no matter how many times you read in magazines that animal prints are coming back, curb your desires. Spend your money on something that will last and not something that looks like 1990’s Versace warmed over. Even Vogue makes mistakes.

With all the cheery colors, patriotic fervor, and general playfulness of spring 2002 fashion, the best advice to give anyone looking to spice up his wardrobe is to have fun. Buy some sailor pants with crazy anchor buttons. Try on those pointy shoes you think look fun in the window even if your friends think you’re ridiculous. Be brave. Wear what makes you smile and you’ll never go wrong, no matter what the season.

Laurel Pinson is a senior in Davenport College. Look for her new fashion show, the Wardrobe, airing next week on Yale’s new televsion network.