Heels got hysterically higher. Bags got unbelievably bigger.

And politicians - along with their spouses - made fashion headlines, more than ever, in 2008.

But the most surprising changes in style weren't ushered in with skirt suits or unembellished ensembles.

The biggest differences were seen on the scene.

What do I mean?

Flash back to two years ago, when fashionistas were at the top of their game. Still coming off the Sex and the City high, great jeans and floor-length maxis sauntered down red carpets in Los Angeles, New York and Philadelphia at a never-ending parade of midweek restaurant openings, movie premieres, and magazine launch parties.

These functions featured open bars, butlered hors d'oeuvres, and the over-Botoxed in BCBG, Anna Sui and Diane von Furstenberg dresses accessorized with Jimmy Choo shoes and Chloe bags.

These days, not only are the clothes much more tailored, there are fewer flashy events. Those that do take place, like a recent Walish Gooshe show at Plays and Players Theater hosted by talented designer Greg Taylor, feel more been-there-done-that-had-that-vodka-special and less cutting-edge.

"The scene is different now," said Nicole Cashman, an event planner and CEO of Cashman & Associates. Her company saw major growth during what I like to call the ista era by relaunching stylista haunts like Boyds and promoting the Borgata and the Pier Shops in Atlantic City.

"There is less focus on the megaclub," she said. "There is a return of the pub and dive bar scene. We are talking much less opulent - more people are focusing on charity events."

Speaking of less opulent, the industry's biggest stage - New York Fashion Week - promises fewer designers headlining under the Bryant Park tents in February. Betsy Johnson and Vera Wang announced last week that they wouldn't be showing their fall 2009 collections there because of the state of the economy. Other designers most likely will give smaller presentations - like those of Main Line-born designer Tory Burch - by having models walking throughout the crowds at smaller cocktail hours. Or designers simply may limit showings to their showrooms.

Don't get too sad. The sinking economy hasn't killed fashion - people still have to get dressed every day. And, Cashman said, people are still celebrating. It's just on a smaller scale.

"Yes, there is a Del Frisco's steak house opening, but these events are not the norm anymore," said Old City event planner and marketing guru David Neff of Neff and Associates. "It just doesn't feel appropriate."

In addition to the change in the social scene, we've also seen the demise of some of Old City's cornerstones in contemporary fashion.

Two months ago, Kimberly Anderson, owner of Kimberly Boutique on 16th Street in Center City, let go her fashion front man, Jimmy Contreras. Contreras talked up fashion on local news shows and was becoming a face of Philadelphia at runway shows in New York.

"During these economic times, the first thing people do is cut out the luxury," Contreras said. "Unfortunately, I was considered a luxury item."

New Year's Eve will be the last day Sansom Street's Echo Chic will be open. Owner Jennifer Ramsay was known for selling trendy party gear from skinny-jean pioneers Sass & Bide. The sinking economy combined with a higher rent forced Ramsay to close her doors.

"People just don't want to buy specialty items; they want necessities," Ramsay said. "People still want to look and feel good, but they are less glamorous partly because there is nowhere to wear these outfits to anymore."

So what's on tap - or not - for 2009? Contemporary looks, like Juicy Couture sweats and jersey matte dresses, are at the end of their run. I even predict that designer lines by celebrities will be few and far between.

Ironically the ista craze, which brought about a new lexicon including frugalistas, recessionistas and stylistas, will be dying out, too - these concepts were last-ditch marketing efforts to keep women shopping. With this economy, it's just not working.

Replacing the fashionista will be a woman who likes clothes but isn't so label-conscious. (Look around - she's already opting for plain shopping bags rather than monogrammed ones from Louis Vuitton or Tiffany's.)

But all this downsizing may just have a reward - the beginning of a fashion renaissance that forces designers to refocus their collections. The overblown parties will be dropped - at least for now - as designers return to what made fashion special in the first place: wearable clothes, not the scene to which we wear them.

Contact fashion writer Elizabeth Wellington at 215-854-2704 or ewellington@phillynews.com. Check out the "Mirror Image" blog at http://www.philly.com /philly/blogs/mirrorimage/.