Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Things to Be Thankful For

1. A proliferation of cashmere in every price range to warm up everyone from heiresses to working-class Americans. No longer the domain of high-end department stores and exotic mail-order boutiques, cashmere can be enjoyed by almost anyone courtesy of WalMart, Target, and TJ Maxx -- not to mention Lands End, Macy's, Lord & Taylor, Filene's Basement,, Bluefly, and the sale racks at Bloomies.

2. Not one but 3 years in a row of fabulous J.Crew designs that finally make a girl look, well, like a girl. With enough foresight to hire then newly-fired Gap head Micky Drexler, J.Crew embarked in 2003 on a journey to re-invent itself. The past 3 years have borne the fruits of their talented labor with somewhat pricier yet decidedly more desirable clothes. Whether you favor the luscious cornucopia of cashmere in every style and cut, the unabashedly feminine taffeta skirts, the retro swing coats and fitted jackets, or the endless variety of bow and jewel-trimmed heels, there's no denying that this is not the J. Crew we knew (and still loved) in college, or even back in high school. Also be thankful for the terrific mid-season sales and final clearances.

3. Infinite, vivid color choices from the above mentioned retailer that brighten even the dreariest of days and make the black-addicted among us rejoice. Honestly, I can't find this exciting a color selection anywhere else. Sure, Lord & Taylor has among the largest annual assortments of cashmere sweaters, but somehow, the colors never seem to pop quite like J. Crew's "poppy," "citron," and "lapis." Ditto for Gap's tees, Victoria's Secret's coats, and even Steve Madden's shoes. It's not that the other brands don't employ color -- sometimes beautifully -- it's just that J.Crew has mastered the art of mixing up completely unexpected color combinations and unique prints instead of relying on tried-and-true seasonal hues. That's why I keep snapping up red-and-white tile print ballet slippers, purple wool overcoats, yellow tartan print skirts, and azalea colored herringbone pants -- all in the somber fall-winter months. Who said we have to wear black all winter?

4. White after Labor Day -- and even after Thanksgiving Day; Emily Post be dammed. Winter white has never been more stylish or accessible. Invest in an ivory overcoat; trust me, it goes with absolutely everything you own. Be mod in off-white boots and patent-leather loafers and don't be afraid to wear your white sunglasses -- even if you don't live in Denver and ski 5 months out of the year. Insted of wearing boring gray to work, wear a suit of white wool cuffed pants and a white jacket, then dress it up with splashes of color or strategically placed black accents. There. Don't you feel like a huge burden has been lifted off your shoulders?

5. Shoes in all shapes and heights in fashion at the very same time. Need a lift? Go crazy with 4 and even 5-inch towering heels. Have a boot fetish? Stock up on knee boots, mid-calf boots, platform boots, flat boots, slouchy boots, cowgirl boots, ankle boots, and even short booties and wear them with pants, skirts, and cropped pants. Tired of squashing your toes in pointy shoes? Rejoice for round-toed flats, pumps, and platforms. Love to flaunt your tootsies year-round? Revel in ubiquitous peep-toes. Never have more options been acceptable in a single season.

6. Hemlines and inseams of all lengths in fashion at the very same time. Dare to bare all in teeny minis or go low with below-the-knee pencil skirts. Show some leg in a Bermuda short work suit or skip in the street in your capris. Better yet, try on a forties-inspired high-waisted skirt or trousers and belt the waist show some curves. Channel the sixties in a cropped swing jacket or return to your childhood in the eighties with a long shoulder-padded 2-button blazer. Personally, I'm just happy that tights are back in style so we can wear all those winter shorts, minis, and sweater dresses without freezing our buns off.

7. Pants for all body types. While it's nice to slim down for a couple of seasons in matchstick jeans, I sure do appreciate being able to eat during the holidays. That's why the return of wide-leg pants couldn't have come at a better time. Whether you favor cuffed legs, high waists, plaids, or tuxedo stripes, wide-leg pants are back with a vengeance (I'm guessing in retalliation for too many skinny jeans forced on us). So Katherine Hepburn, and so comfortable, I hope wide-leg pants stay for a while. Now, never fear, all you boot-lovers. The bootcut jean -- the enduring symbol of the nineties -- continues to proliferate well into the second millenium. Fortunately, we have more variations than ever on this award-winning design. There are boot-leg jeans with straight legs, bootcuts with curvy hips, low-risers as well as high-waisted sillhouetes. There are even boot-leg jeans in colored denim. Honestly, I don't see this shape going anywhere for the next decade. But my personal favorite is the versatile trouser jean. It makes it easy to match with all my favorite sweaters and the streamlined shape and so slimming, particularly in a dark rinse. But the real beauty of trouser jeans is their ability to transcend all but the most formal office dress codes. It's hard to argue with a smart tweed blazer paired with trouser jeans and pumps. Yet they can also pull their weight with silky evening blouses, metallic peep-toes, and cashmere cardigans when you just don't feel like wearing a dress to a holiday party. I really dig Calvin Klein's stretch flare trouser jeans (above). A hybrid of butt-flattering back pockets and a streamlined flat plain front, these truly go the distance from weekend live-ins to night-out winners to office Fridays. I used to cringe at price tags that approached $80, but with most sought-after "middle market" brands teetering between $150 and $250 these days, Calvin Klein's $79.50 bargain seems positively reasonable. Anyway, I cannot be thankful enough for trouser jeans. Please write your Congressperson to make this a mandatory requirement at all major retailers.

8. Increasingly fabulous faux-couture offerings from Target. With most everything priced under $50, everyone deserves a guilt-free spree. My perennial darling Isaac Mizrahi has outdone himself with gorgeous party frocks as well as stunning career separates. Edgier Mossimo keeps churning out knockout after knockout in both sportswear and accessories. I must confess that I purchased 3 pairs of Mossimo patent leather peep-toe pumps, wore them with suits, and received compliments on them from unsuspecting fashionistas! Also jumping on this year's stylish accessories' train were Lulu Guinness, Devi Kroell, Hollywould, and recent addition Loeffler Randall with some particularly fetching clutches (above). Newcomer Erin Fetherston, a California girl-turned-Parisian, breathed some fresh air into fall's collection with elegantly feminine shapes and simple but flattering sillhouetes. I adore the wide leg velvet cuffed trousers (left) in a je ne sais quoi China blue. Also available is the matching cropped velvet blazer with 3 buttons and a playful shawl collar. Wear them together for a full punch or separate and mix with tweed or denim pieces. Yes, this year was truly inspiring. Let's see what next season brings. In the words of Depeche Mode, I just can't get enough!

9. Women who kick butt, take names, and still dress like a lady. Condi Rice comes to mind. Laila Ali literally does all of the above in the ring. Venus Williams and Maria Sharapova on the tennis courts. Danica Patrick on the racetrack. Cathleen Black, the head of Hearst Corporation and the first female publisher of a weekly consumer magazine. Meg Whitman, President and CEO of my all-time favorite shopping destination, eBay. The over 350,000 women -- 1 in 7 soldiers and 15% of the total personnel-- who are serving in our armed forces. And the 400,000 women who served the U.S. as nurses, pilots, and in other capacities during WWII. Not to mention these trailblazers: Harriet Quimby, the first licensed woman pilot in 1911; the female WASP pilots of WWII who flew every airplane made; Jacqueline Cochran who broke the sound barrier in 1953; the first 6 women who became official naval aviators in 1974 (the army followed and the air force followed 2 years later); Lt. Col. Martha McSally, the first American woman to fly in combat in the 90s; Major Marie T. Rossi, the first women pilot to lose her life while flying in a combat zone in 1991 during Desert Storm; and finally Major Nicole Malachowski, the first female pilot who became part of the 2006 Air Force Thunderbirds team -- this Englishwomen channels Jackie O even in khaki uniform. Plus the countless other female warriors, athletes, business and world leaders.

10. The freedom to wear whatever we desire -- be it glamorous, sexy, or transgender -- and not be stoned, flogged, or beaten to death by angry medieval-minded Ismalic fundamentalist spouses, parents, or clergy who believe that women should be covered from head to toe and neither be seen nor heard in public. As you read this, be thankful that our men and women in the armed forces are fighting this very second so you can have the freedom to not only buy what you want with the money that you are free to earn at the jobs you are free to choose but also to wear (or not wear) whatever you fancy wherever you want. And speak out to your legislators and local authorities about the brutal repression and murder going on in, yes, our own backyards in North America. Shockingly, on our very own free soil, women continue to be violently victimized by their so-called loved ones for refusing to wear headscarves and for having the temerity to speak up after being violently raped. Read this and weep:

Have a happy Thanksgiving and be thankful for all you have!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Hooray for Hosiery!

I remember the day I first glimpsed bare legs on a grown-up woman on a blustery winter day. It wasn't a collegiate atmostphere where one finds the perpetually underdressed. Or on a high school athlete who is leaving field hockey or soccer practice without covering up in sweats. No, it wasn't even an all-too-common holiday party scene where the halls are decked with rosy-cheeked girls sipping on mulled wine clad in sheer silk dresses, strappy heels, and not much else to shield them from the frosty December air.
The scene was the middle of the day in our nation's capital where I labored at the time, poor and sharing a house with 3 others but happy to be involved in the exciting events of Capitol Hill. The victim (or should I say the perpetrator) was a gorgeous brunette with shapely limbs that were bronzed to perfection. She wore a short wool coat over a sweater, a knee-length pleated skirt, and dress pumps. She didn't appear to be shivering. In fact, she appeared to have been transported directly from San Diego, only clad in decidedly thicker attire. Horrified, I wanted to run and wrap my long mohair scarf around the surely freezing girl's legs. But too embarrased to sound like my mother, I stood and stared helplessly.

Could the madness have started that fateful season when Vogue magazine witnessed the first sightings of bare legs in winter? It was the fall of 1994, and I was barely into my second year of college. Sure enough, photo after photo cropped up in magazines featuring bare-legged gals prancing through city and country scenes, allegedly unaware that the temperature was probaly under 45 degrees. Not that they didn't look season-appropriate. Wrapped in snuggly scarves, cozy gloves, and woolen hats, they looked altogether toasty, except for their lack of adequate leg coverings.

If you're like me, the mere thought of going practically naked on the bottom gives me shivers. Sure, there are cool, brisk days when summer is just shifting into fall and you don a short skirt but quickly cover up with a cozy sweater. Or the unseasonably cold days when the temperature hovers at 55 degrees even though it should be spring already. And of course I can understand those active gals who sweat it out at the gym in short shorts (damn them and their svelte thighs) then sprint around grocery shopping and doing chores on a frosty evening.

But what I cannot understand is how a girl can purposely leave her house on a blustery mid-winter day completely devoid of leg coverings. When the thermometer dips below 40 -- or even 50 degrees -- my first instinct is to grab a coat. My second instinct is to wear long sleeves. And my immediate thought is to cover my legs and probably wear closed-toed shoes. It's not that I don't like to feel a fresh breeze on occasion when the inside of an overheated office gets too stuffy. It's just that, frankly, I freeze my tootsies off if they're not propertly insulated from winter elements.

I was watching one of my favorite shows recently, What Not To Wear, and Stacy and Clinton were rescuing a poor beautiful young thing in Colorado from severe work attire inappropriateness. This young lady had a promising career in human resources, had just married a handsome lad, and was very sociable and sweet. She had everything going for her except proper work clothes. She had a terrible habit of wearing the same wretched pair of black pants for 3-4 days in a row because she was convinced that she couldn't find any others that fit her, but what was really bizarre about the pants is that they were held together at the seams from crotch to ankle by -- safety pins! Now, that's wrong beyond a doubt. But what really shocked me to the core was her choice of shoes: she refused to part with a nasty, chewed-up pair of white (well, they used to be) platform flip flops. Yes, I said flip flops. She wore these to work constantly, along with the aforementioned black safety-pinned pants. Mind you, in rain and snow. Snow for heaven's sake!

What has this world come to? Can't a person have enough sense to cover their toes, let alone the rest of their feet, when walking ankle-deep in snow? But you've seen these people. The ones who refuse to adjust for the seasons. They believe that if they dress for summer, it just might feel like summer. Um, no, that's not likely to happen. But you probably will catch a cold if you continue to dress for a beach party in January.

Lest we snowball (pardon the pun) all the blame on the fashion magazines, let's examine the latest -- admittedly lovely -- edition of the ubiquitous J. Crew catalogue. Let's see. it takes no more than 7 pages to arrive at a chicly-styled shot of two fresh-faced models displaying the newest collection in an eclectic blend of colors and patterns. Argyle cashmere sweater? Check. Wool houndstooth mini? Goosedown puffer vest? Striped wool muffler? Check and check. Calf-hair leather gloves and tweed newsbuy cap? Check. Flannel bow-trimmed dress heels? Double check. Pantyhose or tights? Hmmm, not in this catalogue.

Incidentally, I visited the link for "socks & tights" in the "accessories" section of J Crew's website. I found 8 eye-catching patterned socks of varying lengths and one lonely pair of tights at the bottom, already reduced in price. Tights must not sell terrifically here. Hey, if you have superbly tanned, airbrushed legs, who needs tights?

Believe me though, I'm not the girl J. Crew intended when they haphazardly pair a plush wool coat with a colorful cashmere cardigan with an elegant silk skirt with a fetching pair of stiletto peep-toe slingbacks minus hose. The top part would look lovely. The bottom, however, would make people turn and stare in the street and young children hide their faces and cry. Rest assured, J. Crew, no one wants to see a pair of ghostly white calves glowing against a rich brown tweed skirt, or even pasty white knees creeping out of tall black leather boots. It's a little jarring, not to mention goosebump-inducing. Think about it. If it's cold enough to bundle up in gloves, scarves, and hats, it's probably cold enough to wear stockings. Or so my logic tells me.

Okay, my friend Anna has a perma-tan. She is the grown-up version of the Coppertone poster child, thanks to trips to Florida, the local beaches, and the neighborhood tanning booth. She could easily bare her legs in winter wearing nothing but sandals and a mini-dress and you would think nothing of it. I've seen her do just that when dressing up for evening functions in the dead of winter. Some girls can go bare and the world will celebrate.

I, on the other hand, have perma-pale syndrome. It doesn't matter if it's January or July. I'm going to have the same fleshy white legs as a freshly-plucked chicken. I'm so pale, if you held a mound of raw bread dough against my thighs, you couldn't tell where one ended and the other began. Well, maybe you could tell near the parts of my legs that have spider veins. But both would have equally pasty, dimply consistency. Now put both in a 45-degree refrigerator and watch the goosbumps form. All in all, it's not a pretty sight.

Fortunately for us of the pallid complexion, designers finally recovered from the long period of daftness and littered the runways with lots and lots of stockings. Red ones, blue ones, opaque ones, see-through ones. To be fair, this fabulous trend started last fall when all of a sudden, hosiery made a comeback. I'm sure that stock in Golden Lady Company, S.p.A, the company that manufactures Hue hosiery, soared. Like many great (and practical) trends, however, I was worried that this one would be short-lived. So far, my worries have been quelled. I am happy to report that the runways exploded with even more tights, this time incorporating the season's footwear trends.

God bless America, and God bless Reed Krakoff for infusing the Coach fall collection with loads of glorious stockings that are not only fun but flattering. What's even more wonderful is that they bravely pair opaque colored tights with printed peep-toe pumps. How whimsical! And, how very useful for those of us who wonder for the second year in a row how to wear all of our peep-toed shoes without freezing our toes.

Thank heavens too for retailers like Nortdstrom who, true to their Northwestern roots, recognize the need for functional and fun winter attire. Not content with simply black opaque tights, Nordstrom offers some unusual patterns to choose from. Match them with Nordstrom's always impressive shoe collection and you'll be the best dressed diva in town.

Want the ultimate in luxury? Check out Jonathan Ashton's cashmere subtly-patterned tights from British retailer Sock Shop. Available in 4 very wearable shades, these will massage your legs while providing a hint of interest under a solid or tweed dress.

Not into plaids, argyles, and polka dots? You can get your groove on with stylish cable-knit stockings or modified fishnets. My favorite? Cotton or wool ribbed tights. Nothing is toastier on chilly days, and the vertical stripes really slenderize your legs.

Also returning to the scene are sexy Hitchcock-era seamed stockings. They were sexy enough to propogate a generation of baby boomers, and they're back to add glamour to our much-needed wardrobes. Whether you favor stockings or full-coverage pantyhose, rev up the glitz factor with a sexy French seam running up the back of your legs.

Personally, I have a secret affection for stockings. Not just because they're sexy, but because I find them much more comfortable than pantyhose. My favorites are modern-day stockings that stay up on their own without the aid of garters. The fact is, it's easier to breathe -- not to mention digest -- when my potbelly isn't squeezed into a constricting nylon-spandex casing. Plus, there's the obvious (but not trivial) element of having to use the toilet and not needing to peel off pantyhose all the way down to my thighs, then have to gingerly roll them back up to my waist without stabbing a hole through them with my perpetually jagged nails. This is particularly annoying when you have to use a public restroom or are at a social function and you really don't feel like getting half-naked and trying to control the bottom half of your outfit from sweeping the floor. With stockings, it's simple. And, they do make you feel mysterious and vixen-like, particularly if you opt for a garter belt. No one has to know why you have a mischievous smile that day.

Normally, I stop wearing short skirts right about when sheer pantyhose become to, well, sheer for the weather. This usually happens around the middle of November, which is when chilly days, not just nights, finally hit the temperate Northern Virginia region, and the leaves actually turn red and yellow. I swtich to pants and long skirts that can be worn over boots, occasionally braving a short skirt when it doesn't look too silly with ribbed tights and winter boots. But this year, I'm inspired not only by the vast assortment of interesting hosiery options, but also by the carefree way in which designers are pairing bold colors with all sorts of winter tones. And, I am finally going to attempt to wear my beloved peep-toes with opaque tights.

Girls, let's all work together to bring back hosiery as a cold-weather staple! This is one runway trend that deserves to be seen for seasons to come.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Working Fall Fashion in the Sub-Tropics

Got the post-summer blues? I can relate. I get them every year. It's not that I adore sultry, steamy summers to begin with. But by the time August rolls around, I'm desperately seeking September. With its promise of a new season, glorious football, back to school for the kids (well, at least it's exciting for parents), and fresh crisp mornings, fall gets me extremely excited.

Retailers also love fall. They carefully work all through July and August to unwrap piece after piece from the new fall collection, hanging sharp outfits here and there interspersed between summer's cropped pants, candy-colored dresses, and the almost-gone swimwear on clearance.

Then, September comes and all of a sudden people are back in droves. Shopping for themselves, their children, and their homes, which they plan to spend more time in for the next 6 months.
So retailers pull out all the punches in September and display the best and brightest that fall has to offer. Soft luxe materials, plush warm coats, cozy sweaters, and sumptous leathers crafted into exquisite elbow-length gloves and bewitching crocodile shoes. Plus, the familiar fall-winter patterns return. Earthy tweeds, sophisticated houndstooths, preppy plaids, and a smattering of re-invented argyles and tattersals. There is the occasional new pattern that some enterprising textile designer comes up with -- see Banana Republic's "puppytooth" pencil skirt. Animal prints are lingering unusually long, with zebra, giraffe, and cheetah freshening up the past few seasons' abundant fauna varieties. The winter coats beckon with their dazzling jewel-toned selection: emerald green, electric blue, pumpkin orange, canary yellow, and the always enticing plaids.

Yet, I still manage to have the blues. I've bought this year's allowed additions to my fall and winter wardrobe. I added two punchy-hued J Crew cashmere sweaters back in August to spice up my suits and jeans. I am already sporting my zebra calf-hair ballet flats. I'm particularly excited to finally cover up my pasty legs that never quite saw the summer sun with lightweight pants. I'm even topping most outfits with a tailored denim blazer. I just finished re-sorting my closet, from sweaters to pants to shoes and even fall bags. The summer whites are in the spare room, the pink strappy sandals stashed under the bed, and summer's fine linens are packed away until next season (or a timely winter escape to Florida). I've got the fall suits hung neatly next to the cashmere cardigans, which take prime closet frontage. All my plaid and tweed pants and skirts are waiting eagerly to be worn with my crocodile shoes and bags. Last year's tall boots are ready to pair with short skirts and dresses. I've even invested in some of the new trendy
stockings to wear with skirts and all the peep-toed shoes I've collected over the past two years. I've practiced chic layering down to an art with silk tops, cashmere sweaters, wool jackets, skinny belts and decorative head scarves.

There's just one problem. It's an absolutely sweltering 95 degrees outside! It's already October, but the thermometer thinks it's August. The Washington region is experiencing a heat wave due to El Nino (or is it La Nina now?) or some other meteorological phenomenon. Some blame it on global warming; I'm still not buying that argument. But whatever it is, it's really getting on my nerves. Every year, I look forward to a long, eventful fall filled with crisp mornings, cool evenings, and colorful foliage. But every year, some new weather pattern cuts into my beloved season and fall is over before we even get to appreciate it.

And that leads the uninspired around me to continue to wear shorts, tee shirts, and flip flops. But who can blame them? It's hard to get excited about cozy sweaters and tweed suits when the thermometer hovers at 95 degrees, J. Crew catalogue be damned. So here I sit, staring at my impeccably arranged closet, yet unable to partake in the spirit of fall.

Fox 5 News just reported that retailers are also suffering. Sales expectations are high in the fall, but now that September has passed and October is advancing in days, pedestrian traffic is still not ready to head indoors to shop yet -- at least not for fall and winter attire. No one wants to think about plush coats and tall leather boots in this weather. It's not even cold enough to wear a sweater, let alone a beautiful tweed jacket. And as much as I'd love to bust out my never-worn burgundy Burberry Manor bag that I scored this past spring on ebay, it just wouldn't look the same without jeans tucked into last year's tall leather boots, or at least a pair of rich bordeaux suede tasseled pumps.

But you don't want to be one of those poor women at the office afflicted with with "way past season" syndrome. You know those women. They wear bare tanks tops and white linen skirts well past Labor Day. Okay, I can understand the first week or two of September. But once you hit mid-month and certainly by the start of October, you need to be dressed season-appropriately. And that means no pastel cotton sweaters draped over matronly blue floral cotton dresses. No beach-inspired attire of any sort. And for heaven's sake, no flip flops.

Fortunately, some retailers have ingeniously come up with a temporary solution. When you can't work the full fall fashion, at least look like you've tried. It actually possible to enjoy the crisp autumn look without sweating under layered garments or heavy fabrics.

Always practical Ann Taylor Loft offers budget-savvy and sweat-proof offerings. Take the very autumnal sheer printed v-neck blouse imprinted with colors of changing leaves. Pair it with seasonless stretch espresso pants, fabulous slight-platform patent kiltie mocasin pumps, and a chocolate suede shopper, and what do you get? The perfect fall tones in lightweight summer-appropriate fabrics.

Or, what about the mod little red dress in a year-round polyester-rayon blend? Mix it with a short-sleeved or three-quarter sleeved button-down shirt for a preppy fall classic. Add this season's hip mary-jane pumps and you've breathed new life into a classic shift dress.

Another great find -- and thrifty too -- comes by way of La Redoute, part of the RedcatsUSA catalogue family that includes Chadwicks and Brylane. Did you know that Redcats is a subsidiary of the PPR Groupe which maintains such fashion heavyweights as Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent, Bottega Veneta, Alexander McQueen, and Balenciaga? While this newfound knowledge doesn't automatically make me trust La Redoute to build my wardrobe staples, it can be a way to add a cheap basic when you don't want to shell out $200 for a jacket. Hence, I dutifully scan the catalogue just in case something pops up.

And so I noticed in today's newly arrived catalogue a lovely textured linen tie blazer in an earthy cafe-au-lait plaid for only $34.99! It also comes in a solid shade. Toss it on over brown pants or a skirt, under-cami optional. (Of course, if you're not planning to wear a cami, it might not hurt to button the jacket to the top.)

Victoria's Secret continues to be another wallet-friendly addiction. I used to worry about the quality of their clothing, especially for work or heavy wear. Well, in the past 5 years, their quality has stood the test of time. Not in the Brooks Brothers or Valentino sort of way where you shell out big bucks and get timless classics that will last forever. But in the more money-saving way where you spend $100 and get a great coat or $50 for a fabulous pair of pants that you can still wear 5 years later (assuming you don't chance sizes or buy anything too trendy). I personally have 4 Victoria's Secret winter coats that have withstood more than a few storms and trips to the dry cleaners. And, Vickie's is always on the forefront of great feminine trends. You'll rarely see heroin-chic grunge-loving looks in their catalogues. Most looks are designed to make women look like, well, women. And that means accentuating all the right places and offering an endless array of bottoms designed to fit almost every figure.

With more styles of pants than you can shake a stick at, and tons of well-fitted tops to boot, you'll channel sexy and professional in these outfits. Start with the Bridget-fit wide-leg seasonless stretch pants in Java Stripe, add a French-cuffed solid shirt, and layer if necessary with a thin merino v-neck cardigan. The total cost for this outfit? Just $137.50.

I also dig this unexpected combo. Mix a Kate-fit bootcut seasonless stretch striped pants in creme brulee with a cocoa flutter-sleeved polka dot blouse. Feminine and polished for $97.50.

Another simple yet definitely not ordinary look? How about the dramatic puff-sleeved cotton blouse tucked into heathered brown "fashionista" wide leg pants and cinched with a caramel croc-embossed belt? Exude effortless sopphistication and easy Tuscan charm for just $96.

Macy's is another can't go wrong destination for mod work attire, especially if you like the new crop of short dresses. I'm a big fan of this "O" by Oscar tweed belted cap-sleeved dress with the cutest little slightly off-center tie at the neck. The rayon/linen/poly blend can be worn year-round, and this 50s design is an elegant classic. Not a bona-fide steal, but at a sale price of $117.75, it's not bad for a glamorous Oscar de la Renta creation.

I also find myself strangely drawn to the Tahari black and taupe floral surplice dress with a side tie, also on sale at Macy's for $74. I normally don't like floral dresses, and they're certainly not my first choice for fall. But this large-print floral motif is unique and the pleated trim at the neckline adds nice detail. If you're itching to wear a floral dress, this is a great pick in muted black and taupe tones with strategic splashes of ivory.

Finally, there's no better way to celebrate autumn-- even when it's hot and humid -- than with rich fall accessories. Invite rich suedes, croc-embossed leathers, and sharp classic tweed varieties into your closet.

If you worship at the altar of Target as do I, then don't miss their latest smorgasbord of marvelous accessories. Not to be outdone by the talented Mr. Mizrahi, this year's designers-turned-outfitters-of-the-masses include London's Alice Temperley and Lulu Guiness, renegade Devi Kroell, L.A. diva Holly Dunlap of Hollywould, youthful CL by Chinese Laundry, and the posh accessories house Perlina.

How adorable is this Hollywould bronze brocade peep-toe pump for $29.99? It will take you from fall into the holiday season.

Red is a must-have for fall, especially this scarlet wide snakeskin-embossed headband with tasteful gold detailing for $14.99 -- the buckle is so equestrian!

Another signature fall shade is plum, and this plum frame bag with patent trim is a definitely winner from Isaac Mizrahi for $24.99.

Feeling ritzy? By all means, splurge on a quintessential fall tattersall weekend tote from Coach for $398. Infused with pink, orange, and celery colors and trimmed in tobacco leather, it's the perfect getaway bag for those country escapes to pick apples, go on hayrides, or stroll around the pumpkin patch.

Want to save $174? Opt for Brooks Brothers' edition in cotton twill with calfskin trim, on sale for $224. Then you can also afford the exquisite espresso suede perforated ankle boots on sale for $112.50 and the luxurious real-aligator brown heart-shaped key fob, also on sale for $59.

And, you'll still have change left over for a piping hot Pumpkin Spice Latte at Starbucks. Or, if the temperature continues to rise, an Iced Caramel Macchiato. Enjoy the first hint of fall and pray for cold weather to arrive. With all the gorgeous cool-weather fashion just waiting around the corner, I'll be heartbroken if fall passes us by!

Friday, September 28, 2007

Lions and Tigers and Zebras and Giraffes and Snakes, Oh My!

Just when you thought animal prints would finally go the way of the wooly mammoth, they seem to have reared their ugly heads once more. It's not just the gaudy home shopping network brands or the kooky avant garde designers. Literally everyone and their grandmother is churning out piece after piece of safari-inspired attire. Fashion's powers that be, from haute couture to high street, just can't get enough of this fad! Not content with brandishing leopard spots and tiger stripes, they have unleased the entire animal kingdom upon us. At first I let out a defeated sigh when I once again saw this coming, wondering if we're stuck in animal overload for all eternity. Then I figured, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. So, after perusing the latest offerings of fauna fever, I am happy to report that this season's offerings are even more exotic and eye-catching than the last few. To save you time and money, I've digested the selections so you don't have to hack your way through the jungle. Here are my affordable and wearable picks for this fall's working girl.

Zebra seems to be the most ubiquitous new animal in town. Some would say that zebra is the new neutral. And really, what doesn't black and white go with? I found this print so functional, I bought a pair of luciously touchable zebra-print calf hair ballet flats from one of my perennial favorites, Me Too New York (which, by the way, I scored on ebay for just $35!). If you're not familiar with this brand, they make the most comfortable, urban-friendly shoes with very cushioned insoles and thick textured rubber soles. Their ballet flats feel like tennis shoes but look much cuter. I own 3 pairs of the ballet flats. Honestly, after wearing Me Too's athletic-bottomed shoes, I'm spoiled for life -- I barely even glance at other brands of ballet flats. You can browse your fave patterns of Me Too's famous "Nevada" ballet flats on Zappos for $82.95 or at Lori's Shoes for $70.00. However, you can only buy the zebra-print ones at now for $79.99, as well as many other colors and prints for less.

You'll see no shortage of zebra in stores this season. From belts to shoes to purses, zebra is truly one of the most versatile prints. Dooney & Bourke, which has frankly gotten a little juvenile in recent years with their plethora of obsessively cheesy prints, has finally hit the jackpot with some smart patterns. Their zebra handbag line (right) is one of the best adapted and most wearable I've seen in that print.

Steve Madden manages to make basic black and white zebra look positively adorable in the "Brinkk" peep-toe wedge topped with a big bow (left), available at Zappos for $93.95. This style also comes in leopard print for those who just can't get enough. Of course, if you do opt for leopard, do your pocketbook a favor and skip the Zappos price tag in favor of Target's Mossimo "Dodie" leopard peep-toe wedges for a more palatable $24.99. Bargain brand Bandolino takes a stab with "Zasper", a lofty 3.5-inch calf hair zebra pump with sharp seaming and a strategic peep-toe (right), all for the sale price of $59.99.

Like your zebra a little off-the-wall? Opt for Steve Madden's "Barbi" (left) peep-toe flat for a refreshing combination of a brown/ivory zebra accented by vivid emerald green trim, available at for $79.99.

Continuing on the African safari, spottings of giraffe are becoming more frequent. This motif is simply brilliant! Slightly exotic and a little more fun, the giraffe print ranges from large geometric markings to small roundish splotches, and the background runs the gamut from stark white to camel.

Dooney (right) scores once more with its rendition of a bold brown giraffe on white in luxurious calf hair. And, Steve Madden nails it again with Lejune-G (left), a city-friendly 3-inch peep-toe pump in a slightly different colored giraffe pony hair, this time brown on beige. I'm also a fan of Linea Paolo's sumptuous brown and ivory "Germaine" giraffe pumps (right), another Nordstrom offering. Although the thought of wearing 4-inch heels in the city makes me think twice about the $119.95 price tag.

Cheetah, among the most prolific cats on the prowl (pardon the pun), gets a new spin in J. Crew's "Lucia" cheetah-dot print ballet flats (left). Although, at $238, I'm not exactly purring (sorry! I don't know what's gotten into me). Steve Madden once again comes to the rescue with their own fetching variation on the cheetah-dot print in the "Spirral" peep-toe flat (right)for only $31.99 at I guess there's more than one way to skin a cheetah (okay, now you can tar and feather me).

But J. Crew seems like a bargain compared to anything with "Marc Jacobs" in the name. And yet, I can't resist these whimsical "Mouse" print calf hair flats (left), complete with suede ears and nose, from the Marc by Marc Jacobs line. No one pokes fun better than Marc Jacobs. So if you have an overwhelming urge to laugh at the establishment, plunk down $355 for these tongue-in-cheek mouse-motifed flats at Nordstrom.

Feel like taking a trip to the outback? Get your hands on this bold "Kangaroo Jungle" print top (right) from Gwen Stefani's edgy L.A.M.B. label. Looking for a more subtle jungle fever? Even my fear of full-on animal print clothing melts away at this sophisticated spotted sweater from Classiques Entier (left), Nordstrom's house brand. Not quite leopard or cheetah, it's vaguely reminiscent of -- maybe a lynx? There, I just saved Gwen Stefani thousands of dollars in product research for next fall's designs.

Need even more refinement? You'll fall for this adorable Charles Gray pleated skirt (right) with a darling front bow in a subtle work-appropriate leopard print against a muted gray background, not terribly scary at $158. And although I generally abhor lound prints on large expanses of drapey fabric, I find this Momzee zebra-print kimono tunic (left) strangely sophisticated to wear with skinny jeans, wide-leg trousers, or black cigarette pants. I know it's designed as maternity wear, but I think this fluid empire-waisted piece could look good on most anyone, and at a clearance price of $29.99, most anyone can afford this.

By the way, animal print doesn't mean you have to give up your primary colors. Check out this stunning jewel-toned dress from Kay Unger (right), surprisingly affordable at $149.90 at Also, this ruby-red tunic from Michael Kors (left), just $79.50 at Nordstrom, turns up the sexiness quotient of a black suit. Yet another Steve Madden winner is this purple zebra-print camisole (right), equally sassy under a suit, cardigan, or bare for the evening. The sale price of $24.50 at Macy's is the real winner here.

Prefer your animals in small doses? I adore this snow leopard print skinny belt from Nine West (left), on sale for just $29.99. This is strikingly similar to Coach's ocelot line which previewed a couple of years ago -- Coach is always ahead of the game. Missed it the first time around? You can now catch Coach's ocelot coin purses and iPod cases on ebay (right). Don't forget umbrellas, accent scarves, and costume jewelry.

Personally, I can't get enough of snakeskin, particularly shoes, belts, and bags. The muted earthy tones make it a great neutral to pair with almost any color in your wardrobe. It's also more timeless than your run-of-the-mill animal print.

Nine West has the perfect answer to an office-friendly snakeskin: a 1.5-inch kitten-heel pump, "Sabyne" (left), with just a slight peep-toe and a thin ankle strap, at Zappos for $82.99. Pair with any color pants or solid skirt for a little exotic flavor in your daily work routine. Want to add another inch? Try Bandolino's "Barb", a pointy-toe pump with cutouts in either black-white or brown-camel snake (right), on sale for $39.99. Need even more height? Step out in Isaac Mizrahi's for Target Riley snakeskin 3.25-inch pumps (right), also available in black-white or brown camel snake for just $29.99.

With your $53 savings, splurge on JC Penney's metallic clutch (left) for $34.95, available in silver, bronze, gold, and pewter, plus Target's beige snakeskin headband (right), $7.99, and red snakeskin hinged bracelet (right), $12.99.

Happy hunting, and beware of the leopards lurking around every corner!