This fall, the chicest consumer is the cautious consumer. Not only is wearability getting lots of respect, but spending wisely is the biggest trend of all.
As a trend spotter for a major retailer, Stephanie Solomon, Bloomingdale's president of fashion direction, has had to adapt to the times. "I've never focused this intently on young contemporary brands like Rag & Bone, Helmut Lang or Rebecca Taylor," she said in a phone conversation, referring to well-tailored classic jackets and dresses that hover in the $300-$500 range.
"It's not only about the value. These aren't just interpretations of Chloe or Chanel; there's tremendous creativity there at good price points."
Ariel Foxman, editor of InStyle magazine, told the New York Times that her fall shopping list is focused on "classic basics that will work overtime. I'm looking for a camel sweater with a shawl collar, a watch with a black face and black strap, and a pair of military boots."
Never mind that Karl Lagerfeld showed far-out faux-fur "Wookiee" boots on the Chanel runway - the allure of classic pieces with value and versatility is the story of the season. There were far more streamlined classic camel and gray coats, skirts and trousers from Marc Jacobs and Michael Kors; cable knit sweaters all over the place, and a return to unembellished pumps and lace-up shoes and boots.
"There's been a global love affair with all-American heritage dressing, with buying good investment pieces," said Roseanne Morrison, fashion director of the Doneger Group, an industry research and analyst group, in an e-mail.
"Camel, navy and gray, brands like Sperry, Theory, Pendleton, Converse. Women haven't worn a beautifully constructed jacket in so long, it feels unique and special right now."
Recession or not, Bay Area image consultant Micki Turner (mickiturner.com) has always voted for versatility, though she's focusing on it more lately.
"The Union Square stores are carrying less merchandise than they used to, and I'm definitely seeing my clients buy more accessories versus one special piece they might love - but whatever it is, if it only goes with one thing, we usually don't buy it," she says.
Among the key items at Saks this season are chunky wraps, says Konrad Janus, special-events manager at the San Francisco store. "They can be worn just as an accessory with almost anything from a blouse through a dress, and the biggest wraps can be draped over (the) shoulder and substitute for a sweater."
Turner is a big fan of unusual scarves as an alternative to jewelry (lighter to travel with), and long tunics that can be worn with bare legs (for the younger client), tights or leggings, or layered over a turtleneck in the colder months. Add a necklace or a scarf for oomph.
"This is the kind of piece that just fits in. If you show up and people are dressed to the nines you look fine, and if people are casual you are fine. It is very versatile."
And here's a shocker: "I don't think black will sell as well this season as it used to," said Morrison, who thinks women will take to the softer neutrals, like camel, indigo or gray.
But too much quiet sophistication can grate on the nerves just as much as excess.
"You can't just only wear the classics; there's still a focus on special pieces from retailers, whether it's sequined, beaded or sheer," she says. "There's got to be something special, something feminine and sexy to bring to the table."
Waiting out a season without an update is probably not an option, Bloomingdale's Solomon says. "We're too programmed as a culture to want immediate gratification. I think a woman has to feel refreshed each season, but I do think that whatever that piece is, it should have a multitude of uses in your wardrobe."