Fashion is undergoing a transformation not unlike that of music in the late 90s: Niche and "alternative" is slowly becoming "pop" as indies, forward-thinking talents, and mid-price labels are becoming as relevant as the tribe's previous leaders (Oscar de la Renta, Donna Karan, and the like). As such, the sheer number of shows held each year at fashion week has grown exponentially as an extraordinary diversity of talent has cropped up. One group's mini-dress moment is another's floor-skimming skirt trendsa, and so forth. The good news is, there now seems to be enough to make everyone happy.
Much as the fall season seemed to take its cues from a cultural recession without falling prey to its pessimism (hello, who wears strong-shouldered blazers and over-the-knee suede boots if they're really scared about their financial future?), spring—for most designers—brought the promise of rejuvenation. If anything, financial downturns are often good for fashion because they force designers (and boutique owners) to single out what elements of the various collections are worth investing in. The effects, I'll admit, were pretty varied—from Ralph Lauren's Depression era-inspired "chic overalls" and denim-on-denim styling (gag) to Rodarte's incredibly inventive MacBeth woman-warrior runway show (we'll never wear it, but holy hell). Spring has slowly become about something that feels special: a one-of-a-kind print, a peek of lace, or a feather-topped hat. On the other hand, it's a return to wearable basics in the form of sporty separates, pared-down silhouettes, and slouchy suiting.
For every trend in this piece that I think folks should get excited about wearing, there are at least two or three I think are outright ridiculous. I understand that runways and glossy pages are meant to be a kind of inspiration dressing, but there's little I find most people can do with a dress that completely reveals your underpants (maybe it's just me). I'm also not including other hot-off-the-catwalk highlights like feathers (looks fabulous, but I'd dare any girl to make it home from the LES in one piece), lucite platforms (also known as "props from Showgirls"), and leather shorts (so, so, so many reasons those words should never go together). Bottom line, think feminine farm girl or embellished tomboy and you won't be far off.
The sheer expanse of whites, creams and beiges across the fashion field this season is like a refreshing palate cleanser after all the tweed, jewel tones, and furry separates from winter. The little black dress has officially been supplanted by the little beige dress, creating a look that says a lot by saying a little—channeling focus solely on the wearer. I saw a friend at a wedding recently, wearing a crisp neutral cocktail dress that left one of her shoulders bare, and I thought, Wow, she looks fantastic (as opposed to my usual, Wow, that dress looks fantastic on her). Some of the best pieces are simple asymmetrical sheaths and cream lightweight separates: Rachel Roy and Narciso Rodriguez in particular sent some pitch-perfect examples down the runway, while Acne's minimalist cuts or Risto Bimbiloski's elegant silk dresses are more boutique-friendly options.
2. Dizzying Prints
If you can only afford to buy one new thing for spring, it's pretty impossible to go wrong with an eye-catching pattern. Not only will a single piece carry you a long way in terms of making a statement (how often is anyone wowed by a new blazer, really?), but the real excitement for the style-forward now lies in mixing prints in new and inventive ways—stripes and florals, color-block and swirling abstracts... you get the idea. Peter Som and Marc Jacobs are mix masters in their own right, but Thakoon, DKNY and the African-influenced Suno are also great sources for inspiration. Pick out a watercolor floral skirt, a tribal-print scarf, a multi-hued cardigan or a bright striped tank and you'll be surprised how often it'll come out of your closet and manage to make more interesting pairings with what you already own.
3. Mesh, Lace and Cut-Outs.
While it's true I would never recommend wearing a completely transparent skirt or caftan outside of your own home (I guess if you're heading to the beach in Miami or a sun-lit cafe on the coast of Mexico, that's fine), but I must tell you: there's a lot of skin-baring business going on this season. My advice would be to avoid the underoo-baring dresses, but consider incorporating the trend in the form of a mesh-topped dress (hey, it's the Winter Olympics, after all! Figure skating is back!) or a lace-embellished tank. Heck, consider going whole-hog and buying a diaphanous top that you can layer with a tank, or investing in a dress with some sexy, well-placed cut-outs or corset-like detailing. Think ballerina, not stripper. That said, a lingerie upgrade might well be in order.
4. Sparkle and Shimmer
In some categories, it's pretty easy to see how the recession has influenced the city's fashion in new and interesting ways. In others... well, sometimes you just have to look at the person next to you and shrug your shoulders. This season, the shoulder-shrugging items in question include head-turning pieces like head-to-toe sequin minidresses, silver harem-inspired pants, and metallic shorts. That's right, cuffed metallic shorts. And you know what? The 3.1 Phillip Lim shorts look pretty freaking chic, actually. Do they seem completely inappropriate given some people are still looking for gainful employment? Maybe. But dammit, we're talking about fashion, here—let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater. A little shimmer and sparkle can go a long way, and in this case, a lot of sparkle can go even farther.
5. Sporty is Sexy
Last year, the city was introduced to an entirely new addition to the "upscale" clothing market: sweatpants. Yes, sweatpants. Cult French designer Isabel Marant introduced a pair of simple, clean-cut gray sweats that could still fetch over $250 on eBay (I checked), and Alexander Wang had the audacity to create (and sell!) $225 sweat shorts. Now, while the high-price market for sweats continues to amaze and befuddle, the reverberations within the industry have produced some creative results. Proenza Schouler paired shimmering evening skirts with wetsuit-inspired long-sleeve shirts (creating a funky, surf-to-cocktail party effect), while Rag & Bone went the schoolboy blazer route. Alexandre Herchcovitch even made a football-shaped clutch, while Wang one-upped his Spring 2009 sweatshorts with padded-shoulder sweatdresses for Spring 2010. In all iterations, the concept takes a very singular slice of Americana—our earnest sportiness—and gives it a more chic spin, with upscale materials and clever tailoring.
6. The New Power Suit
Fall's suiting was all about strong shoulders, slim-cut trousers, and overall sharp silhouettes. The bold look telegraphed confidence—the kind of confidence that says, "Don't screw with me, I mean business. Even if these shoulders are a bit ridiculous." Spring's take is softer around the edges, favoring silky fabrics and relaxed shapes. The jet-set suiting is part pajama, part traveling to St. Tropez on a private jet—does that sound too silly? Well, maybe it is: I'll be the first to admit I never expected a matching silk blazer-and-trousers suit, paired with a slouchy white tee, to look quite so chic. If Fall did business over a martini at a downtown bar, Spring closes the deal outdoors holding champagne. A simple pair of sack-waist silk pants is an easy way into the idea (paired with a blazer or cardigan you already own); or Vena Cava has a seriously wearable faded black suit with cropped pants and an effortlessly chic blazer.
7. Long, Loose Braids
Bet you were wondering where the whole "farm girl" thing was going to come into play, weren't you? Well, here goes. It's rare that a single look in a runway show can set off a thousand imitators anymore, but it does happen—take Isabel Marant's sold-out-instantly studded ankle boots, for example. It's even more rare, however, that a hairstyle can so take a community by storm, and yet that's exactly what the loosely-knotted side braids that all the models wore in Alexander Wang's Spring 2010 runway show did. It's a little bit sexy-milkmaid-meets-girl-next-door, and a little bit I-can't-afford-to-get-my-hair-done-anymore. Either way, it's dead sexy, and the look has since spread everywhere from Hollywood red carpets (Rachel McAdams rocked a braid at the premiere of Sherlock Holmes) to commercial campaigns (Zara's Spring 2010 advertisements feature a model with just such a messy, side-swept 'do). If you've got the locks to play with, by all means give it a try—especially on the aforementioned "dirty hair" days. If you don't, we'd recommend some cheap clip-in hair—it sounds cheesy but more and more gals use them for just these sorts of playful occasions.
8. Hats, Hair-Pieces, Bows, and Ties
We're not sure if we love this trend because we secretly fantasize about some of the outfits we wore in elementary school (velvet bows and plaid skirts, so dope!) or if we're more Team Blair than Team Serena in Gossip Girl, but we're ecstatic to find hairpieces making a comeback. It really started with the oversize bows at the Marc by Marc Jacobs runway show (So cheery! How could you not feel good about life with a big ol' pink bow on your head?) and evolved into all manner of artistic headwear—from fan-like feathers to origami-like sculptures. Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters are great resources for headgear both flouncy and architectural (and at reasonable prices, to boot). For the truly devoted, Lower East Side-based Yestadt Millinery is the real deal: custom-designed pieces from ostrich-bedecked headbands to ruffled turbans to straw-and-ribbon cocktail toppers.
9. Flats and Low Heels
Lovers of height, have no fear: There will be platform sandals aplenty this spring (some even worn with socks for the cooler days, if you've got the gumption to try the look), but it seems the pendulum is finally starting its journey back to slightly more modest footwear. And if you've heard the one about high heels in a recession, you know economic recovery can't be far behind. Whether it's the end result of two years of aching feet or the desire to showcase eye-catching spring fashion paired with something less, well, distracting... who cares. We're just relieved flats are back, and look forward to snapping up some studded ballet slippers or low-heeled sandals we can pair with our cut-off jean shorts and full-skirted vintage floral dresses. Sigerson Morrison and Loeffler Randall have consistently brilliant rosters of simple, wearable flats and low wedge heels on offer, or take a peek at Opening Ceremony's in-house label for colorful sandals and lace-up styles.
Most people, like myself, see the word "clog" and get all goose-bumpy with flashes of middle-school awkward phases, My So-Called Life, and too many people wearing CK One. But let me assure you, these aren't your middle school (or high school, for that matter) clogs we're talking about. The next generation of clogs range from updated styles with tassels at Rachel Comey to huarache-like details (and seriously fashion-forward, cocoon-like silhouettes) at Opening Ceremony. In some cases, this spring's clogs are really only clog-like—they're more like charming lace-up boots with wooden heels. I'm obligated to point out that high-end versions are also available at Chanel. (That's right, Chanel clogs.) Whether you dig it or not, I'm just trying to keep you in the loop.