white shirt and black pencil skirt

Detail Oriented

A familiar white button-down and black jersey pencil skirt are reinvented through small tweaks: the shirt's hidden buttons, Mandarin collar and bib front; the skirt's diagonal stitching. A slender patent leather belt adds a jolt of color and highlights the narrowest part of the body; skin-tone leather pumps fade away, visually lengthening the legs.

Shirt, Callula Lillibelle, $229. Skirt, Strenesse, $390. Belt, Meredith Wendell. Pumps, Jenni Kayne. Cuffs, Dannijo.

magenta silk shell

Form and Function

"Modern doesn't mean plain or boring," says trend forecaster and design curator Li Edelkoort. "The drama comes from cut, construction, and depth of color." This silk shell is not only meticulously draped and richly pigmented; it's made to move—a signature concern of modernist fashion.

Shell, Jil Sander Navy, $350. Necklace, Noritamy.

menswear staples

Man Up

Menswear staples get a smart, feminine spin. A cotton dress shirt is all business up front and elaborately smocked in back; the black silk vest comes attached to long white cotton lapels. Tapered trousers, roomy in the hips, have a single crisp pleat on each leg. An ultrathin cashmere scarf and oversize square bracelets inject personality.

8 Musts for a Modernist Wardrobe:
  • A white shirt: straight lines
  • A sleeveless blouse: voluminous; shiny; solid color
  • A jacket: clean lines; single-breasted; narrow lapels; strong shoulders
  • A vest: worn over a shirt or as part of a multilayered look
  • A cardigan: boxy shape; cashmere or wool
  • Trousers: structured; tab front; no cuffs
  • A skirt: straight-cut; no frills
  • A dress: knee- or floor-length; tailored; easy fabrics

Shirt, $365, and vest, $385, both Kal Rieman. Trousers, Lauren by Ralph Lauren, $90. Scarf, J.Crew. Bracelets, Raffaella Mannelli and Flutter by Jill Golden.

solid-color sheath dress

Shine On

A solid-colored sheath is brilliant in more ways than one: It's versatile, stands out without screaming, and complements every body type. This silk cotton boatneck version has slenderizing off-center gathers and an exposed back zipper. Balance the brightness with neutral accessories, like sinuous silver earrings, a horn cuff, a black-and-white clutch, and two-tone wedges.

Finishing Touches
  • Jewelry: architectural, chunky silver; geometric Lucite; simple pearls; a plain-faced watch

  • Bags: small, structured, unadorned purses; handheld clutches

  • Shoes: clean-lined, classic boots; ballerina flats; sculptural heels

  • Extras: opaque stockings; leather gloves; a headband

  • Sheath dress, Callula Lillibelle, $355. Earrings, Sikara & Co. Cuff, Monique Péan. Clutch, Khirma Eliazov. Wedges, Pierre Hardy.

    white knit dress

    At Ease

    This dress segues from a knit top half into elaborate, randomly draped layers of silk georgette. Though it's a natural choice for a party, you're just as likely to reach for it in place of jeans and a T-shirt on weekends. The off-white color invites standout accessories: a black silicon and silver-plated lariat necklace , patent leather belt, white-gold-plated bracelet, and supple leather ballet flats.

    Take a closer look:
    • Construction is a style element all its own. Workmanship is completely hidden (buttons disappear into a placket, zippers run alongside seams) or overtly exposed (seams appear to be inside out).
    • Silhouettes are either starkly linear (with an abundance of geometric shapes) or organic (flowing, lavishly draped).
    • The palette is mostly neutral (black, white, tan, silver), with splashes of strong, deliberate color.
    • Materials are high-tech and futuristic (often shiny and synthetic) or natural and barely processed (cotton, leather).
    • Stripes are about as much pattern as you're going to find. They look more graphic (exaggeratedly wide or narrow) than nautical.
    • Asymmetry is a hallmark—the hem of a dress, the cut of a neckline.

    Dress, Max Azria, $338. Necklace, Noritamy. Belt, Meredith Wendell. Bracelet, Replica for Jennifer Miller Jewelry. Ballet flats, Yosi Samra.

    crepe evening gown

    Go Boldly

    A pared-down look doesn't mean you can't come on strong. Case in point: this dramatic, slit-up-to-there crepe evening gown. High-impact accessories—metallic peep-toe pumps, a resin bauble ring on a square setting, and a gold bracelet of linked triangles—are as modern and as artful as it gets.

    Gown, Yigal Azrouël, $1,490. Pumps, Jerome C. Rousseau. Ring, Trina Turk. Bracelet, Paula Mendoza.

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