The majority of us in the Northern Hemisphere have spent the past two months huddled in our homes, clinging to last season's oversized parkas and desperately hoping for winter to just end already. But the aggravatingly beautiful people in the fashion world could not be deterred by Mother Nature, instead gallivanting about to trumpet their high-end plans for next fall and winter. And boy, do they have plans.
But what does all of this mean for the rest of us? The average American is usually baffled by what comes out of the various fashion weeks, where models of impossible proportions are photographed on runways wearing clothes that look more like costumes than career-wear. Multiple mixed tartans? Not on this working mom.
And yet... it's fun to be fashionable, and exhibiting an au courant sense of style projects the message that one is paying attention to the world beyond the office and elementary-school bake sales.
To get some practical advice on incorporating the latest fashion trends into a workable wardrobe, we turned to consultant Holley Shepard, who bills herself as a "non-celebrity stylist." Holley turned her eye for reality chic on this year's emerging trends and came up with a few suggestions for those who want to be both practical and stylish.
"Volume is a big trend this year and beyond," says Shepard. The runways were packed with long knits layered like so much pastry, and fashion magazines are featuring billowing silhouettes on both top and bottom.
"However," Shepard points out, "these looks have exposed midriff or other body parts to define the proportion. This is darling on fashion models and those with that physique, but everyone else needs to consider how to define proportion without showing quite so much skin. Fortunately there is a relatively simple formula for this."
Shepard's advice? Volume on top = narrow on the bottom, and vice versa. If you're going to wear a bulky, unstructured cardigan, do it over narrow velvet trousers or a long, clingy knit skirt. Rather not subject your bottom half to quite so much cling? Pair menswear-inspired, flowing-but-well-fitting pants (think Katherine Hepburn circa 1940s) with a knit top that hugs your upper body just right.
"The proportion formula is key," Shepard asserts. "A small person in all-big clothes looks even smaller, and a big person similarly outfitted just looks bulky."
Designers are having a love affair with deep, rich colors this year. Many showed gem-inspired looks monochromatically, draping models head-to-toe in brilliant garnet, emerald, and sapphire. While all this color is striking on the runway, Shepard cautions against the monochrome look in real life.
"It can be a little Dick Tracy," she warns. "A single jewel-inspired piece is a perfect wardrobe-pick-me-up, though. A richly colored blouse in a gorgeous fabric can revive an old pair of charcoal trousers, or add new interest to a classic black blazer."
"Not since Paris in the mid-1980s has so much buffalo check been seen on the runway!" gushed one particularly enthusiastic fashion critic on the heels of Paris' fashion week. Other reporters similarly noted the prevalence of plaids, checks, and tartans — often combined in the same outfit in deliberately un-coordinated colors.
"This trend continues through fall, particularly with plaids," Shepard notes. She's a fan, but acknowledges the look is not for the faint-of-heart. "My edit is to mix textures rather than patterns."
Think of combining a classic mid-length pencil skirt in a tweed with a belted coat in a bolder pattern, or a tartan jumper with fun, textured stockings in a contrasting color.
Shepard sees the mania for plaids, ginghams, and textured fabrics such as velvet and woven woolens as being driven by another important fall trend: classic Americana. This style was originally popularized 20 years ago by designer Ralph Lauren, among others. Sure enough, in addition to the above-mentioned buffalo plaid, 2014 fall fashion week saw a resurgence of cowboy hats, leather fringe, boots, and shearling on the runway.
"This can be a cautionary tale about playing 'dress-up,' as opposed to getting dressed," Shepard warns. A city-dweller in a Stetson and a fringed poncho and brand-new Lucchese boots is going to look like she's on her way to a costume party instead of work. At Chanel's wittily designed runway, designer Karl Lagerfeld addressed this issue by having his models stroll through what appeared to be a supermarket, wearing just touches of Americana — a buffalo plaid coat here, some fringe there. His message? When you put together an outfit, think about wearing it to the store. If you're going to look ridiculous in the produce aisle, tone it down. Shepard wholeheartedly agrees.
"Stick to just one piece of Western-inspired clothing or a single accessory," she suggests.
In the end, practical style is about adapting, not adopting, the popular looks that emerge from events like fashion weeks and designers' various seasonal lines. Buying too much on-trend clothing will not only put a big dent in your pocketbook without any long-term investment value, but it will make you look more like a fashion victim than a fashionista. If you see a look you like, buy one or two signature pieces of the best quality you can afford, and incorporate them into your existing wardrobe. Wear them often. Wear them out! Because if one thing's for sure, by this time next year, you'll be puzzling over a whole new — and different — set of trends for fall and winter 2015.