Break the Rules of Day and Night Dressing
Woven into tweed metallic gives this three-quarter-length topper an irresistible sparkle (Peter Som). Worn over a color-blocked jersey day dress (Riller & Fount, $154) clasped with a brilliant, wide leather belt (Salvatore Ferragamo), it's a perfect fit for Paula Patton, 32, a "let's give it a shot" kind of woman who likes breaking fashion rules and taking risks as an actress. This summer she shows her range in Swing Vote, a political satire with Kevin Costner, and the psychological thriller Mirrors. Earrings, Ippolita. Ring, Hugo Boss. Shoes, Yves Saint Laurent.
The Fort Knox
... of evening skirts, this opulent embroidered metallic creation has a mermaid-worthy train (Ralph Lauren Collection). The dressy bottoms in your closet might not be quite as lavish, but you can make them relevant in exactly the same way: with an unexpectedly casual, absolutely basic black cashmere sweater (Ralph Lauren Collection, $898). It's an offhand, unforced evening look that Paula calls "classic through and through: unfussy, easy, beautiful. You'll have it for life." Clutch, Mary Norton.
...mushroom brown—autumn vegetables inspired the rich, earthy colors of the season. Shot with metallic threads, this top is softly luminous, while the pencil skirt ("Such a timeless, elegant shape," Paula says) is even-toned (Alberta Ferretti, $665 and $805); knee-length suede boots (Halston) finish off the shifting textures. A gem-studded metallic leather belt (Emilio Pucci) is part of the current trend toward bold, emphatic "statement" accessories. "It's jewelry for the waist," Paula says. "A great belt can make an old black dress feel brand-new."
...for an election night celebration—or wake, if your man loses—might include this chic fit-and-flare strapless dress (Louis Vuitton): A flattering wool-wrapped bodice gives way to a billowing skirt of stiff, glistening silk twill. "I'm not the waifish model type," says Paula, "so I like things that are cinched at the waist and fuller on the lower body." Pale, warm neutrals—cream, oatmeal, beige—are beautiful on golden skin (grayer shades make Paula's look washed-out). Colors this light won't seem too summery for fall as long as the materials have substance. Shoes, Sergio Rossi.
A Tweed Dress
...(Liz Claiborne, $139) is the perfect work staple—very trendy at this leg-flattering, knee-skimming length. The shine here comes entirely from accessories: diamond studs (Tiffany & Co.), a silver leather belt crawling with gold-plated alligators (Terry Stack), and glossy red heels (Dolce & Gabbana). "You don't have to spend a lot to get something special," says Paula, whose secret weapon is tailoring—the right fit makes an inexpensive piece look terrific. (She also "reinvents" dated clothes with alterations.)
Take A Turtleneck
—this one is ribbed, striped, and very French sailor (Nautica, $69)—and shake it up with silver brocade capri pants (Emilio Pucci). Paula was dubious at first ("I'm not really a pants girl"), but the combination of fabulous and practical seduced her: "I didn't have a lot of money growing up, so I like the mix of high and low labels." Ballet flats (Dolce & Gabbana), a good proportion with crops, are Paula's preferred footwear for day; a self-described "klutz" in heels, she risks them mostly at night. Earrings, Tiffany & Co. Ring, Ippolita Sterling Silver.
The New Blue
...is a deep, bright navy, flattering on a whole spectrum of skin tones. Textural contrast is built right in to the easy-fitting wool smock top and skirt, both with silk trim (Myth and Ritual, $224 and $264). Pile on extra gloss with square-toed patent leather flats (Dolce & Gabbana). "I'm really into pieces," Paula says, explaining that when you mix and match, "you can make a dollar out of a dime and a nickel." Earrings, Tiffany & Co. Bracelet, Cartier.
...bloom in...the fall? Here's proof absolute that floral prints aren't just for spring—and that shine can work anytime: A slim pencil skirt with cloudy purple blossoms instantly becomes autumn-friendly when it's warmed up with a camel cashmere crewneck (Michael Kors, $995 and $795). Although this sweater isn't traditional—it's got an exposed zipper in back—you can do the texture-mixing thing with any old solid-color knit. A bow-shaped clutch (Valentino) and discreet gold jewelry (brooch, Rosello S.A.; bangles, Cartier) keep the gleam going. Belt and shoes, Michael Kors.