Red, white and blue are the hottest -- and most poignant -- colors this fall

In the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the American flag has stepped up its profile. As a symbol of patriotism and resolve, Old Glory is flying high on everything from ties and gloves to bandannas and belts. ”Anything and everything that can be done with the flag is being done,” says Barbara Goldman of the Pittsburgh-based National Flag Foundation. ”No one can keep up with the demand.” That ranges from behemoths like Kmart to NYC street vendors.

Even fashion companies are waving the flag. Models in Oscar de la Renta‘s Sept. 17 show wore Stars and Stripes armbands, and a Donna Karan dress had a flag sewn onto the hip. Kenneth Cole, Old Navy, and Urban Outfitters are putting out flag T-shirts and donating proceeds to various charities, while Rhode Island-based Alex & Ani, whose fans include Katie Couric and Susan Sarandon, is offering red-white-and-blue tie clips, necklaces, and cuff links to support the restoration of lower Manhattan. Among NYC stores turning to stars and stripes are Henri Bendel, which is giving all its proceeds from star-spangled merchandise to the September 11th Fund; Macy’s, which is planning ”Show Your True Colors” window displays; and Ann Taylor Loft, whose mannequins show off the now-ubiquitous red-white-and-blue ribbons.

Also in demand are clothing lines that had already captured the flag. Catherine Malandrino’s fall 2001 collection, in an eerie case of foresight, was based on the flag. After Kelly Ripa wore one of Malandrino’s dresses for the Sept. 18 return of Live With Regis and Kelly, the line has been a near sellout at Bendel. At Macy’s, sales of Ralph Lauren’s Polo Sport flag-print apparel have also spiked, snapped up by both Americans and tourists.

Similarly, Americans are using fashion to pay tribute to NYC’s heroic fire department with items from the FDNY Fire Zone. ”We’ve gone from two to three orders a day on to 200 to 300,” reports exec director Mary Weitzman. Most popular are the T-shirts and caps, recently worn by the Mets and Yankees, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, and Paul Simon.

As for our most cherished emblem, ”flag season usually ends after the Fourth of July,” notes the National Flag Foundation’s Goldman. But ”right now it’s the one thing we can all wrap ourselves around.”