Isaac Mizrahi with model wearing gold tank

Photo: Roger Neve

1. The Glitzy Tank
With its matte sequins and uncomplicated shape, this top lets you shine.

You don't normally think of sequins as practical, but there's a simplicity and restraint to this shell that gives it surprising versatility. "It's like a luxurious accessory—great for evening with a dressy long skirt, or an unexpected bit of finery for daytime with jeans or a pencil skirt," says designer Isaac Mizrahi, pictured in the studio where he shoots IsaacMizrahiLive!, the show featuring his new lifestyle collection for QVC. Metallics, in fact, can act almost like neutrals, adding luster to anything you wear (like these separates in tender spring colors from Mizrahi's regular line).

Shell, IsaacMizrahiLive!, $160. Jacket, pants, earrings, and shoes, Isaac Mizrahi New York. Cuff, Kara by Kara Ross. Bangle, Alexis Bittar.

Lisa Axelson with model wearing Ann Taylor blazer

Photo: Roger Neve

2. The Easy Blazer
Keep the professionalism, lose the primness, with an attractively relaxed jacket.

Wanted: A work uniform that's both feminine and authoritative. Found: "An updated blazer that's softer, less crisp and structured," reports Lisa Axelson, senior vice president of design, Ann Taylor, right, from her midtown New York showroom. She wears the jacket ($228) with a print dress ($158). On the model, the single-button version ($268) looks beautifully nonchalant over a lilac petaled shell ($88) and handsome trousers ($128). For formal occasions, the jackets can also suit up with matching pants or a skirt. Pale neutrals like these, Axelson says, are terrific for seasonal transitions: "Wear them with black or dark denim now—when it's too soon to do light colors head-to-toe—then mix with similar tones later."

Necklace (on Axelson), Ann Taylor. Bangles (on model), Vicki Turbeville. Belt (on model), Ann Taylor.

Tracy Reese with women wearing printed jersey dresses

Photo: Roger Neve

3. The Printed Jersey Dress
Comfortable and kind to curves, a one-piece makes color an everyday pleasure.

For busy women, there's nothing easier or chicer than a dress. "On Monday mornings, I almost always grab one," says designer Tracy Reese, center, in a blue maxi ($295) that brightens her design studio. "Sportswear takes more time." Color lifts her mood ("It helps when you feel low or drab"), and she likes jersey because it's packable, flattering and comfortable. "More body types can wear a fabric that stretches and gives," says Reese. Dresses are also an excellent value; they can segue between events with a mere change of accessories: The blue, left ($275), and the red print ($275) get a slightly ethnic look from embellished belts, hoop earrings and bracelets.

Belts, Be & D. Hoop earrings, KC Designs, Me & Ro. Bracelets, Cara Croninger, Ben-Amun by Isaac Manevitz. Ring, Paige Novick

Jenna Lyons with model wearing J.Crew utility jacket

Photo: Roger Neve

4.  The Utility Jacket
Safari meets military in this classic that can anchor anything from jeans to a party dress.

"Borrowed from the boys" is the mantra for spring, says Jenna Lyons, creative director, J.Crew, seated, citing the rumpled, offhand charm of a casual jacket (on model, $110). Feminine clothes, she explains, seem fresher spiked with masculine elements—an oxford shoe, a big watch, a long cardigan ($70). And menswear fabrics are a fine balance for delicate shades and girly details like sequins (minidress, $495). Unexpected combinations are key: "The other night I wore an army green utility jacket to a black-tie event with a white tweed dress and tons of jewels," Lyons recounts. "I got a lot of compliments."

Lyons's clothes and all accessories, J.Crew.

Adam Glassman with models wearing a spicy palette

Photo: Roger Neve

5. The Spicy Palette
A pinch or two of warm color adds flavor to a basic wardrobe.

Bland clothing is as boring as tasteless food. Adam Glassman, creative director, O, The Oprah Magazine, pictured at work in the O fashion department, is wild about saffron, not to mention ginger, nutmeg, cayenne, mustard.... "These are colors that connect to nature," he says. "They make every skin tone look luminescent." Pick something in a strong orange, like this silk-blend halter, left, (dress and belt, Max Mara), if your complexion is dark or olive; paler types should choose a more subdued shade, like the marigold of this short, drapey dress, right, (Costello Tagliapietra, $1,500). Not that you have to commit to a whole outfit: An inexpensive update (a vibrant chain or T-shirt, say) is fine for starters.

Necklace, Ben-Amun by Isaac Manevitz. Bangles, R.J. Graziano, Ashley Pittman Collection. Shoes, Cesare Paciotti.

Martha Michelson, cofounder of

Trousers get accommodating, thanks to a slightly slouchier silhouette.

At last—bottoms that give the hips and thighs a break. They exude the edgy style has been known for since its debut in 2000, yet they're fantastic for all ages—from the subtly looser pair on Martha Michelson, cofounder of, top left (overseeing orders at the loading dock), to jersey harem pants, center, and silk crops with ribbed cotton trim, right (all, Elizabeth & James, from $265). Add a heel and jacket, and they get professional; switch to boots and a funky vest for time off. One caveat: Don't go oversized all over. "Wear these pants with a more structured piece or you'll look like a droop," Michelson says.

Jacket (on Michelson), Rag & Bone, $1,495. Tank, Vince, $85. Center: Blazer, Vince, $395. Shirt, Elizabeth and James, $245. Right: Vest, Rag & Bone, $300. Tank, Enza Costa (available in March). Ankle boots, Modern Vintage, $147. All,

How to look stylish on a budget


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