8 Affordable, Stylish Outfits from Unexpected Places
Now: Brimming with pattern and color
New creative director Isaac Mizrahi gave the label a facelift this year, adding wit and playfulness, sharp tailoring, and a lot more fashion awareness. There's an obvious correlation between his designs for Liz and his own ready-to-wear line: This tartan blazer ($179), fringed scarf, and long skirt ($149), linked by a predominantly blue palette, are a version of Mizrahi's mad-for-plaid fall runway clothes. "It's Scottish Highlands meets downtown Manhattan," says art dealer Nicola Vassell, 31. Sweater, $129. Grommet belt, Hyde Collection.
Now: A fresher, more eclectic mix
Although clothes with comfort and flow have always been this company's trademark, a new focus on sensuous fabrics is elevating its basic shapes. These silk-cotton cargo pants ($89) aren't just for hanging out; they dress up easily with a heel (Ralph Lauren Collection) and sequined wrap, and their softness plays well against a hip aviator jacket ($119). Handbag designer Sang A Im-Propp, 36, carries a subtly shaded bag from her own collection, Sang A: "For me, style is all about mixing high and low, new and old," she says. Tank, Soma Intimates. Cuff, Kara Ross.
Now: Dressy, fastidiously engineered jeans and separates
"When Gap started 40 years ago, jeans were really casual," says executive vice president of design Patrick Robinson. "Now they're a $300-and-up status item." Robinson's solution: the just-launched 1969 premium-denim collection, which boasts high-end Japanese fabrics and meticulous fit for $70 or less. "I was afraid I'd be wearing 'Mom' jeans, but these are cute and sexy," says fashion stylist Ann Caruso (far right), 42, of her skinny dark-wash pair ($70). Ann also likes the slim-fitting shirt ($50), leather vest ($228), and shearling-lined boots, the latter a collaboration between Gap and French footwear designer Pierre Hardy. Hardy also made the denim wrap boots worn here by jewelry designer Zani Gugelmann (near right), 32, whose no-frills style shows in the silky shirt ($60), puffer vest ($70), and lean jeans ($60). Her bullet-shaped, jewel-encrusted pendants (Santo by Zani) unscrew to reveal a tiny scroll on which you can write your own message. Socks, Falke.
Now: Sophisticated and polished
This strapless black-and-white bouclé dress ($90) combines a simple, feminine cut with menswear-inspired fabric; wear it with a cardigan or its matching jacket (not shown, $168) for an effortless work-to-evening transition. "I've never bought anything at Express except tank tops," says Ann. "But I love the shape of this dress. Who knew Express had clothes like this?" A bold, textured gold-tone necklace (Alexis Kirk) sets off bare shoulders; the above-the-knee hem is youthful but not too skimpy. Rings, Kenneth Jay Lane for QVC and Kara Ross.
Now: Glamour mixed with authority
"Corporate dress codes have changed," says Lisa Axelson, Ann Taylor's senior vice president of design development. "We no longer wear head-to-toe suits every day." More to the point are versatile separates: This blouse ($70) reflects a move to more feminine styles ("The deep color looks luxurious," Zani says); well-cut trousers ($110) have a modern shape. Belt, W. Kleinberg. Bracelet, Express.
Under a new design team, the label now delivers runway style for a song: little leather jackets, boyfriend blazers—and this snakeskin-print sheath (New York & Company Collection, $98). "It's got color and texture," says Sang A. Gleaming accents—a patent leather clutch (Sang A), mesh belt (Alberta Ferretti), gold bangles (Melody Rodgers)—add luster. Ring, available at Jennifer Miller.
Now: Posh instant heirlooms
No preppy critter motifs in J.Crew's lavish new fall accessories catalog: "A canvas tote is great, but no girl swoons over it—we want leather bags, satin shoes, sparkly jewelry," says creative director Jenna Lyons. Sang A likes the "vintage feeling" of these necklaces, combining glass stones and bows in an unusual smoky palette ($98 and $125). Top, J.Crew, $90.
Now: Ageless classics
Talbots had been growing older rather than better. Chief creative officer Michael Smaldone's (re)visionary strategy: Upgrade the fabrics, fine-tune fit, add "just the right amount of trend." Note the mixed patterns, instead of a matched set, of the checked jacket and houndstooth trousers ($219 and $149) on real estate broker Susan McGraw Keber, 55. Flower pins, Yuh Okano at Supplements NY and Balu. Scarf, Me & Kashmiere. Gloves, Carolina Amato.
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