"I base my fashion taste on what doesn't itch." — Gilda Radner
As we get older, many of us find ourselves feeling more and more like Ms. Radner — comfort almost always trumps trend. And for many of us, for a lot of the year, burrowing into fuzzy sweaters and layering with scarves and jackets feels cozy and looks cute, too.
But there’s no time like a change of season for a refresh. Spring and summer mean showing a little skin.
We wanted to find the best ways to let your calves, shoulders and knees see the light of day once more, while keeping comfort and style. So we looked to a retail chain, a catalog (because who doesn’t like to shop and try on at home?) and a boutique for advice on dressing for heat while looking cool.
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Here’s how to work the season's best trends into your wardrobe:
1. Add color “While this season’s ‘radiant orchid’ is not a color I am normally drawn to, there is something really fresh and modern about the pop of an orchid clutch or scarf with an otherwise neutral palette,” says Daneen Eaton, merchandising manager at Dovecote, a boutique in Fearrington Village, N.C.
Cindi Shapiro, the senior vice president of merchandising at Chadwicks of Boston, agrees. “Always update with color. This season our customers love mint and sea glass, coral and lots of shades of pink,” she says.
Chadwicks Tiered Dot Print Top, $34.99
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Garnet Hill, the catalog that stocks classic clothes with a twist and brands like Eileen Fisher, advocates adding seasonal accessories — footwear, scarves, jewelry. Another tip from the catalog is to buy the season’s hot item that mixes well with your wardrobe yet gives it a fresh look, like the pale denim shirt or a pair of Superga’s.
2. Build from the basics “Our boyfriend cardigan is a year-round staple,” says Shapiro. For Garnet Hill, a complete closet includes a “great pair of jeans, an easy T-shirt, a great Mariner stripe, a beautiful cashmere sweater, a classic blazer, a timeless trench coat and a versatile knit dress that can be worn for day and night.”
“My mother is an accomplished tailor and seamstress, and she taught me that proportion is everything,” Eaton says. “The must-own pieces that we encourage our customers to consider staples are those foundation pieces that will create their most flattering silhouette. Whether it’s a perfect white shirt, a great-fitting pair of pants or a luxe cashmere sweater, each customer will interpret this differently based on body type.”
3. Seasonal essentials Shapiro advocates “easy linen blend pants with coordinating cardigans, crochet sweaters, tunic tops, casual dresses in fun summer prints, maxis dresses and dresses to the knee or just below.”
Echoing the maxi dress as a must-have, Garnet Hill includes nautical stripes, updated tropical prints and ethnic prints on the list for this summer.
Chadwicks offers up summer sweaters as a stylish way to handle too much air conditioning and cover up in a way that’s not dowdy. The retailer recommends short sleeve cardigans, with sleeves going down to the elbow as a versatile option. Blazers in summer colors and fabrics are always good when you need a polished look.
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4. Manage the transition During the switch from cool to warmer temps, Eaton reminds us to “take note of shifts in length: when the sweaters get longer, make sure you update your tunic or tank with a longer length so the proportion looks right. And prints are always a way to stay current, this season paisleys, dots, florals and geometrics.”
"As we move into spring and summer, we find that lighter, airier fabrics make a big difference in the wearability of a garment during the warmer months," says Eaton. "As the temperatures rise, women gravitate to a looser, more relaxed fit in the way of linen pants and shirts and buttery soft cottons that feel cool against the skin. Cotton/silk blend scarves are often used as wraps to cover exposed arms or tied as sarongs over bathing suits.”
Chadwicks Elbow-sleeve Shrug, $29.99
5. Use illusion Finally, Eaton thinks “one of the most wearable trends this spring and summer is the use of 'illusion,' which is being incorporated into everything from skirts to dresses to bathing suits — sheer fabrics that still provide coverage.
“In some instances, it can be an elegant, age-appropriate way to do skimpy,” she says. For example, if you don’t feel comfortable in a black tank, you might opt for a black tee with illusion sleeves. I like to think of it as a ‘soft focus lens’ for the body.”