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!