Sunday, August 26, 2007

Clear Vision

Guess what I'm oogling in this Via Spiga ad?

The clear plastic umbrella.

Umbrellas are such a frustrating accessory. On the one hand, they're almost not an accessory at all, since they exist purely to serve a functional purpose. But on the other hand, if you're lugging one around with you, you want it to be stylish, or at least, not so glaringly unstylish as to detract from the rest of your look.

Manufacturers seem to have realized that there's room for more pizzazz in the umbrella department, but they always err on the side of the too printed, the too colorful, the too directional, the too flashy.

On the one hand when it comes to umbrellas, you want something beautiful, but on the other, you don't want anything absurdly eyecatching. An umbrella is no place to make a statement. Quietly alluring, it should also be cheap enough that if you forget it on a train or at a restaurant, you won't drive yourself half-mad with self-recriminations.

Lately I've defaulted to black, because I keep losing umbrellas and that's what has happened to be the least offensive option in the nearest store when a downpour starts and I realize that I'm umbrella-less. But for a while several years ago, I managed to hang on to a sturdy navy one, which was so completely neutral as not to clash with any possible look, and at least had the virtue of not being dull, ubiquitous black. But it still depresses me every time I reach for my bland black parapluie. As if the gloomy weather weren't downer enough, it's a constant reminder that I've tacitly conceded that this one part of my look doesn't matter.

All of which brings me to the umbrella in the Via Spiga ad. I have no idea whether it's actually sold by Via Spiga, or whether they're just using it as a prop. I'd want to check the price, the quality of the construction and the finish of the handle, as well as learn whether it's the kind of umbrella with a retractable handle that folds up small enough to put in a handbag (really, the only kind worth bothering with). I'm convinced that if Via Spiga doesn't sell one that meets all these requirements, it wouldn't be all that difficult to find.

So there it is, stumbled across in a single image: the answer to my umbrella woes! Not only will it flatter any look, it has moods of its own: ultra-slick/urban and nostalgic/child-like. The clear plastic is a genius solution to the problem of having something unique and infused with personality, but also something that blends beautifully with every color scheme and fashion mood and is likely to be affordably-priced as well. Now I just have to line one of these up before fall begins and the weather turns rainy.

Image from Vogue, September '07.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Head to Toe Black in Ad Campaigns

There are a couple of ad campaigns out right now that are making great use of head-to-toe black outfits. These first two images are in all the magazines right now because they're part of Gap's Fall '07 campaign:

I like this dress so much that when I first saw the ad a few weeks back, I went looking for the dress at my local Gap. It wasn't in stores then, but maybe it is by now. I'm craving a sweater dress this season, but nothing too trendy. For the past few seasons, because of the empire waist fad, it's been hard to find dresses that are fitted at the natural waist. (Shopping for summer dresses this year was such a challenge!) I think this Gap version is a simple, surely inexpensive way to work around the problem. It's so utterly basic that it could never hurt to have it on hand. At the same time, it has the potential to become a foundational favorite, depending on how it fits and the quality of the wool. I like the cap sleeves, which make it office- and winter-appropriate when topped with something long-sleeved. I think I'd be pretty quick to belt it, though it might look surprisingly good belt-free.

These next two pictures are from Moschino's Fall campaign:

Even though the first is an empire-waisted dress, I could see trying to work this item, since it doesn't scream "shapeless sack" or "maternity wear". I think what's helping it is the drape of the fabric, bubble hem and the gathering beneath the bust. There's a little more structure there than with the average empire-waist dress and the bare arms and decolletage would give some sense of the proportions of the body within. For me, it would likely remain an evening look, a way to refresh the silhouettes of my little black cocktail dresses.

Even better than the dress is the skirt and top combo in the second look. The blouse is just great: form-fitting, with delicate ruffles. I also like the textured fabric of the skirt and the overall shape.

I have a feeling that every August, after wearing pale colors all summer, I tend to look forward to the elegant simplicity of black. These images offer some nice ideas and inspiration for ways to wear the look this fall.

All images from Elle, September '07.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Knotted Belt

I like this unusual black and gold knotted belt. One of the magazines last month (Vogue? Harper's Bazaar?) ran a story about how 'in' black and gold are for fall. Well, I'm not sure about that...After all, did they ever go out? Gold accents seem perfectly classic and natural with basic black. For example, a straightforward black leather belt with a gold buckle is pretty standard.

What I like about this belt is that whereas it plays it safe in terms of color, it's flaunting an unusual knot at the front. I admire how structured and substantial the piece looks because of the knot's rigid sculpted contours and the width of the front part of the belt band. It's an accessory that could go a long way toward refreshing a simple black cocktail dress but I'd also try using it to define the waist of a hip-length black cardigan. Finally, I'd want to play up the gold trim by matching it with other gold accessories like gold shoes for evening, or gold jewelry at any hour.

Image from Lucky, September '07. Belt by Anna Vince.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Blouses with Ruffles and Bows

Yesterday afternoon I found myself with some time to kill while I was near a magazine stand, so I decided to browse the titles in seach of a promising-looking issue of a magazine that I don't normally read. The pickings were slim, so I settled on "InStyle Makeovers", the special issue of Instyle that comes out each fall.

A little background: Several years ago I was an Instyle subscriber. I've always been bored stiff by the magazine's fixation on celebrities but their fashion section and especially their monthly feature showing complete outfits laid out, sans model, used to have a solid focus on classic, high quality basics. That was back in the era in which they published their book about choosing and styling a wardrobe. About three years ago, something at Instyle changed, and even the fashion picks became so cheap and trend-driven that I'd flip through an entire issue without finding a single item that inspired me. But for a time after the regular issues of Instyle lost their clearheaded fashion sense, the fall special issue would sometimes feature a few gems. Well, I'm sad to report that that last bastion has fallen.

After dutifully plowing through the issue yesterday, there were only three images that inspired excitement amid a sea of indifferent selections and outright horrors. All of them are blouses with ruffles or bows. Now from where I stand, as long as you keep it tasteful and grown-up, ruffles and bows on anything are pretty hard to knock. Here's what caught my eye:

I love the French maid suggestiveness of this blouse. The ribbon-like strips of black add crisp definition to the boxy, pleat-like ruffles. Add a tailored black skirt (or pants, if you must) and black or white accessories and you'd got an outfit. Making sure there's some texture or shine to at least one of the black components of the outfit would kick things up a notch. I'm thinking along the lines of a satin pencil skirt, velvet pumps, a suede or patent bag. Sometimes having a piece that lets you avoid having to think about what to wear trumps having a piece with loads of versatility.

While I think vests are impossibly mannish, I do like the pairing of the blouse and cardigan. The cardigan is sort of grandpa-ish, with its grey cowl neck, but the glam femininity of the silky blouse and outsize bow is a fun contrast that creates a nice balance of masculine and feminine, casual and elegant. The color combination is original but not flashy. You don't often see that shade of orange. The open neckline and long bow seem like they would be create a flattering vertical line, too. (Also notice the cardigan's carefully thought out ribbing that runs horizontally on the sleeves but vertically on the torso.)

I like both these gem-hued blouses (ignore the bobbly white one), though I'm not sure I'd be content merely to pair them with jeans, as the article counsels. I think the amethyst one would be better incorporated into a work wardrobe under a cardigan or blazer and that the deep purple one would be perfect with a structured A-line, or possibly an even more voluminously flared skirt. The latter blouse definitely needs some sharp, simple and slick partners to tone down all those bows up top, but its inverted box pleats and heavy silk are already taking it in the right direction.

All images from Instyle Makeovers, Fall '07. Black and white blouse by LiseLotte Westerlund. Cardigan by Velvet. Orange blouse by Miguelina. Amythest chiffon shell by Nanette Lepore. Deep purple top by Rebecca Taylor.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Large Structured Bags

On my recent trip to Alabama, I made a much-regretted impulse buy. The saleswomen were so nice, the store was about to close and the price was so reasonable. I talked myself into it and am living to regret it. The item? A cream/putty-colored handbag with substantial gold hardware. There's a lot to like about the bag, especially the fact that you can remove the long chain handle and carry it by a short handle, or else you can unfold it and carry it by cut-out handles. So it's actually like three bags in one. But unless I can find a way to incorporate it into my fall/winter wardrobe, it's going to lounge neglected at the bottom of my closet. What I was hoping for was a new summer handbag, but with all that gold, it seems too blingy for my day-time summer clothes and the color is too muddy for them as well.

The trauma of pulling the trigger too fast on a summer bag has led me to muse about fall bags. I'm hoping to chalk my recent mistake up to experience and redeem my handbag-purchasing track record with a solid pick for next season. Here are some of the day handbags I'm eyeing. I notice that they're all large and structured, with short-to-medium length handles.

I probably like this bag because I'm mildly obsessed with diamond patterns, a trait I first observed while choosing fabrics for my apartment. Personally I wouldn't get a lot of mileage out of graphic black and white, but I imagine that plenty of people would.

Love, love, love the unusual but still neutral color on this one. Subtle gold hardware keeps it understated, while the cute, rounded lines and shiny patent finish are playful and vaguely mod.

Now maybe *this* is the kind of summer bag I should have gone for. The ivory color might not work as well for fall, but I love the unusual texture and the way the handle straps are looped though the hardware. The texture and the casual looping remind me of grosgrain ribbon. I also like that the hardware is utterly discreet but the structure and material keep the bag from seeming cheap. Ah, Bottega Veneta, how tasteful thou art!

My favorite thing about this bag is the so-subtle-you'd-almost-miss-them bows. They aren't too prissy, either. I could see this bag traveling through all four seasons.

Eye-catching tapered and ladylike shape. I'm a sucker for textured skins and this rich burgundy has such a luscious, ultra-glossy finish.

First image from Self, August '07; bag by Lambertson Truex. Second image from Harper's Bazaar, August '07; bag by Yves Saint Laurent. Third image from Harper's Bazaar, August '07; bag by Bottega Veneta. Fourth image from Lucky, September '07; bag by MiuMiu. Fifth image from Lucky, September '07; bag by Cole Haan.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

"Short Boots", not "Booties"

Please don't call them 'booties'. Booties are what babies wear. They're 'short boots', even if it's a more unwieldy term.

I'm planning to buy a new pair this fall, since I've been wearing my bronze Donald J. Pliners for a couple of years now. I like all three of the above styles.

The type in the first photo will, I think, be a better long term investment, since an ankle height boot is classic. They're basic black, but jazzed up with strappy cut-outs which are somewhere between dominatrix and a cursive culicue. Between the strappiness and the heel shape there's something vaguely eighties about them, but I can live with that. The heel height looks nice and walkable too.

The two styles shown in the second photo are much trendier and therefore seem far more up-to-the-minute in comparison. They'd yield greater glory now but have less staying power, so choosing them is a question of being willing to accept the trade-off. I've always paired short boots exclusively with pants and tall boots exclusively with skirts and dresses. I just don't like the hipster look of short boots with a skirt. But these ultra-low boots are practically pumps, so they might force me to reconsider my short-boots-with-pants edict. In the abstract, I prefer the gathered look on the cream pair, but the black are a way to get the style with screaming it.

First image from InStyle, August '07. Black ankle boots by Alejandro Ingelmo. Second image from Vogue, August '07. Cream boots by Christian Louboutin. Black boots by Sergio Rossi.