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!

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