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Brandon Thompson

Royal bride Kate Middleton got props for wearing Carrickmacross lace on her McQueen sleeves when she walked through Westminster Abbey in April.

But the delicate fabric, once reserved for big-day dresses and French lingerie, is showing up in the form of picnic-perfect sundresses, drapey tees and even bomber jackets.

"There's been a return to femininity in fashion," says designer Hilton Hollis, whose silver lace blazer is on the racks at Betsy Fisher in Washington. "After the recession, there were lots of black and gray undertones of sadness, but now everything is romantic. Lace gives a beautiful, Old World charm."

But the centuries-old craft, which also includes macrame and silk embroidery, isn't the demure stuff of Granny's tea party tablecloth. Modern shapes and unusual treatments (lace ballet flats, anyone?) mean it's easy to work into your wardrobe. "So many women associate lace with this dressy tendency, but you can mix it with jeans or leather jackets," Hollis says. "It's not uptight and prissy anymore."

"I like to put clients in lace tops. They layer under blazers for work or go alone for casual occasions," says Rosana Vollmerhausen of the DC Style Factory.

--Summer's "it" color (coral) meets summer's "it" fabric (lace) on an Allison Parris cap-sleeved sheath ($400, www.allisonparris.com).

--Look lacy and a bit racy in a BCBG cream blouse ($198) and Diane von Furstenberg scarlet trousers ($265, both at Bloomingdale's).

--Too much of a good thing is lovely when it's a lacy tank under a sheer Free People blouse ($88, Bloomingdale's) worn with a Beth Bowley "Bosky" macrame skirt ($118, Anthropologie.com).

--Rock two trends in a Theory "Tylie" summer maxi dress ($196 at Bloomingdales.com) and Aqua gray lace tee ($48, at Bloomingdale's).