"I buy leggings by the cartload," says Vera Wang, who loves to combine items from her "very, very luxury" collection with those black basics. Comfortable, easy, flattering ("I'm petite, and they're elongating")—they are her signature: "I wear them with ballerina flats or dressed up fierce at night with a beautiful top and high, high heels." Outfits aren't her thing; Simply Vera Vera Wang, her inexpensive collection, is based on pieces people can mix endlessly and creatively—high-end with low, dressy with casual, boyish with feminine.
She seems genuinely thrilled to be reaching more women (a lot more: Kohl's has nearly 1,000 stores), with not only bread-and-butter classics but also whimsical, fantasy-driven things like the embellished tank dress ($138), above. The raised waist and floaty skirt are genius for lower-body camouflage: Beneath the satin and tulle is a woman who identifies totally with rock-bottom practical issues. She too has "fat" days ("Let's not kid around—dark colors always take off 10 pounds"); comfort is her holy grail ("If everything could be stretch, I'd be a happy person"); and she's always rushed, which means no-hassle clothes you can "throw on and go."
Less formality, she thinks, is one secret to aging well (another: wearing less makeup). What makes the line modern isn't just sensible prices but generation-bridging allure: "My 13-year-old daughter tried to steal a Simply Vera top from my closet. It looked great on her. It looks great on me too. That's the real democratization of fashion." Clothing and accessories from Simply Vera Vera Wang can be purchased at Kohl's stores and online at Kohls.com.
Start with chic black pieces (which ground any outfit), then apply Vera's free-spirited strategies: A shot of color or sheerness gives a combination character, as in the pleated skirt ($64) and ruffled purple blouse ($58) on Kaili McDonnough, 28. If a top seems too full, belt it up.
Keep It Thin
Bulky fabrics tend to be fattening. Vera likes to vary texture: a silky tee ($34) with a polo sweater ($48) and easy-on-the-hips wool A-line skirt ($64). "Hotness" is 38-year-old Keicia Derry's verdict on her trendy ankle boots ($90).
Tights, $12. Ring, $175. Satchel purse, $75.
Balance Out Your Proportions
On Yoon Paik, 25, a two-tone pencil skirt ($64) blooms into a silky blouse whose poufy sleeves are very au courant ($54)—and add fantasy touches (the elasticized belt has tulle-and-paillette trim) so things don't get too serious.
Tights, $12. Mary Janes, $70.
Surprise Mixes of Casual and Dressy
A cable-knit sweater-coat ($78) and navy tank dress ($88) mean extra mileage for party clothes. "Wearing the dress with the cardigan could give it a whole other life," says Nancy Viglione, 44. Pretty much everything looks sleeker with black opaques ($12).
Mary Janes, $70.
Polishing Your Act
Well-crafted staples and artsy, romantic elements mingle uninhibitedly in Simply Vera Vera Wang's accessories collection (there's also lingerie, plus "soft" home goods such as silk-cuffed sheets and cushy towels). Short, snappy leather gloves ($60) have a ladylike presence; ditto a patent leather frame purse ($55) that's nicely compact (asked about shopping mistakes, Vera admits to falling for a "big, heavy bag" she can't even lift). If you aren't into glitz but would happily risk a bit of shine, try sparkle-plenty satin flats ($60) or a lightly gilded gauze wrap ($38). Rich, subtle colors—bronze, raisin—go well with black and with one another.
One Coat, Four Ways: Day-to-Night Action
A sleek coat with that up-to-date anorak shape ($128), in champagne or black satin, can work multiple ways. It's splendid over a striped, gem-studded shell ($58) and tie-waist skirt ($68). Kaili's fave is the patent leather frame purse ($55).
Tights, $12; Mary Janes, $70. Ring, $175.
One Coat, Four Ways: Informal Office Material
The coat becomes an upscale trench over a poplin blouse ($54) and straight-legged pants ($54), punctuated by strapped metallic flats ($60). Closely related shades make layering ridiculously easy: "I love gold, beige, and white," says Lea Sorensen, 47.
One Coat, Four Ways: Weekend Chic Sidesteps Sloppiness
"Casual doesn't mean dumbed down to nothing," Vera says. The coat's shine and pleated pockets are a hit with Susan Hersh, 44. High-heeled boots ($130) give stature to doubled-up tees ($34 each) and five-pocket denims ($50)—Vera likes skinny stretch jeans.
Necklace, $125. Belt, $30.
One Coat, Four Ways: High-End
Pieces like this elaborately jeweled brocade dress from the upper-echelon Vera Wang collection (available at select Neiman Marcus stores; 800-365-7989), don't intimidate this coat, which looks confident on Jocelyn Taylor, 42, with a cinched waist and turned-up collar.
D'Orsay heels, $70. Ring, $250.
Style Kicks Back
"We aren't in the age of the Tudors anymore," Vera says. "There's no ease if everything's fitted within an inch of your life." These sumptuous fabrics and relaxed shapes can go to work or a party—or both. From left: Susan's brocade coat ($138) is an opulent topper for black jeans ($50) and a tie-front shirt ($54). Flats, $65. Rings, $75 to $100. Vertical color-blocking on a long-sleeved sheath ($128) makes size-4 Jocelyn look taller. D'Orsay heels, $70. Ring, $250. A foil tee ($34) and gold brocade skirt ($68) on Lea show their metal under a swingy short-sleeved coat ($128).
Necklace, $375. Slingbacks, $70.
Play with Your Clothes
Putting neutrals together looks mighty sophisticated, but it's hardly rocket science: "There's no wrong way to mix those colors," says Vera, who delved into black and a deep, inky navy for the poufy jacquard skirt ($98) and shirred-neck jacket ($78). (The jewel-accented pale mauve shell ($54) is almost a third neutral.) If Yoon owned the jacket, she'd loosen it up "with jeans and cute flats"—not that Vera would mind: "I'll do leggings with a great top; my daughters do jeans; a friend, maybe trousers. The whole point is to encourage women to be creative."