New York women dress well. This may seem unlikely, as their style priestess is Anna Wintour, a woman so laid back a colleague once saw her on the red-eyed flight to London wearing Chanel couture, sleeping straight as if she were still in the front row. Her signature is simple, however, and usually a one-piece mid-length dress that, hand-sewn for 200 hours by skilled craftsmen in a sense, is not that different from those proposed by 20th century designer Claire. McCardell, who is credited with creating American sportswear.
McCardell introduced a way of dressing that has never gone out of style; effortless and reduced, free and empowered. If there’s anything to be learned from New York Fashion Week, other than the fact that designers shouldn’t walk outdoors during hurricane season unless they want to drown in the front row, it’s that McCardell is the muse for now and dressing in style is about to get so much easier.
1. Apartments are the future
Yes, the uptown girl still has speed-dial car service and a stash of four-inch Louboutin “Kate” shoes in her wardrobe. But the era of high heel fetishism is over. A long time, awkward old friend: as McCardell once said, “If the shoe hurts, give it away.” It directly inspired Tory Burch’s stellar show, where models intentionally walked in sparkling silver slingbacks. Michael Kors, meanwhile, opted for barely sandals with skin-tight jersey evening dresses. Don’t you think an apartment can be sexy? Kors is here to prove you wrong. Sometimes a little tweak is all it takes to update your look – that’s easy.
2. The hair is finished
There was not a snap in sight. Instead, there were plenty of buns: the hair parted down the middle and neatly pulled back, emphasizing the swan necks and highlighting the cheekbones. Manhattanites are big on grooming – no matter the weekly hands, a dermatologist is de rigueur – but the younger generation know that helmet hair isn’t just dated but ages. Carolina Herrera, the latest Upper East Side label now brought to modernity by designer Wes Gordon, paired floor-length dresses with straight chignon, proving that a style you can DIY makes everything look younger.
3. Jeans suitable for the front row
When Vogue America’s executive fashion editor shows up at New York Fashion Week in jeans, sneakers and a T-shirt – a perfectly functional outfit that wouldn’t look out of place on a Saturday morning trip to your garden center – then something. It’s happening Up. It’s not like the era of street style strut is over, but now there’s a kind of compliment in not looking like you’re trying too hard. Denim does it. The jeans to wear are high-waisted and with a loose fit: Tommy Hilfiger has bleached them and combined them with a white shirt, tie and knitted jacket, the preppy top that balances the more casual bottom.
Tory Burch’s standout look, meanwhile, exuded a chic simplicity that would have made McCardell proud: faded jeans with a black blouse, rolled up and tucked sleeves, the waist surrounded by a thin black leather belt. Try it at home: cool shirts and smart accessories are the way to make denim look solid.
4. The blazer to put on everything
By now we are all dealing with the dress and there was plenty of it in New York, from the perfectly precise white tailoring by Michael Kors, sexy and slim, to a single-breasted dress by Gabriela Hearst so beautiful it was offered in both versions. in black and white. But a new key piece has emerged and it’s one of those things you’ll wonder how you managed to do without: the elongated blazer.
Not part of a suit, this is designed to wear anything – from a jersey headband and sarong from Kors (OK, maybe you could live without this) to shorts and a bra from Tom Ford (OK, that too).
The point is, however, that a truly great jacket – single-breasted, slightly shoulder-length, reaching down to the upper thighs – will work really hard in any wardrobe. Kors also paired the of him with a silk shirt and fringed midi skirt, a look so delightful it had every iPhone in the front row flashing.
5. It’s time to rethink knitting
Body consciousness was also in trend. But this wasn’t the provocative take (read: dressing up as a dominatrix) seen so widely at the latest round of European shows. Rather, this comes from a place of power, inspired by American designers like Rudi Gernreich, Halston and even Tom Ford from the 1990s, whose work celebrated women and the body.
The lightness and fluidity of jersey make it easy to wear (and pack), but the key is to look for garments that are striking but not tight. Jonathan Simkhai’s jersey dresses are draped rather than fitted to curves, flattering the body shape rather than outlining it.
Avril Mair is fashion director of Elle and Harper’s Bazaar UK