20th Century Revisited 

History repeats itself. All at once. And you can choose your era.

History repeats itself. All at once. And you can choose your era.

Fall shopping is fraught with temptation and budget peril. One fashion purchase leads to another. Better to keep your head down, avoiding everything and wearing retreads, than to look around and see the range of colorful choices. “If I buy this skirt, then I must have the sweater,” the thinking goes, “And, ooh, this jacket, in case there’s a serious moment, like a job interview, in my future.”

Then the sales clerk will naturally assume that the outfit must be worn with just the right shoes, or—more likely this fall—boots. And earrings with just the right sparkle, or a scarf that pulls out a subtle tone from the fall tweed. After a few years, you’ve got a closet full of dated looks.

Well, this fall, we enter a sort of no-fault, all-eras-accepted zone. Dated is okay. In fact, nearly every decade from last century is having a revival, so you can release your inner Claudette Colbert, Coco Chanel, Twiggy, Marilyn or Madonna. Just not all at once; sort of like channeling Sybil. As always, you can careen from classic to trendy, depending on your own sense of whimsy, lifestyle demands (that career thing) and budget constraints.

For Claudettes, there’s a huge resurgence of satin and an old-fashioned fabric, faille, with a sheen and movement that harken back to flamenco dancing or thumbing rides with Clark Gable. (A find: knee-length satin skirt at POSH for less than $70.) Look for lots of ribbon trim, from cross-woven grosgrain to a rainbow of satin sashes. Here’s also where corsetry details emerge. Did you happen to see that shot in your September issue of Vogue of Christina Aguilera in Versace? While that crisscrossed little satin number might not suit your budget or figure, there are like-minded alternatives that preserve the understated appeal. Also in this genre are the big coats with bigger collars, for lots of warmth in winter and attitude anytime.

Here is the mandate: Shorter skirts. There are a lot of micro-minis out there (time to check the knees) if you fancy a ’60s Brit chick look straight from Chelsea, à la Twiggy. (Browse at Bebe, POSH or Smack for lots of choices.) Pair with a turtleneck sweater—a classic that’s back in a big way, and one you can recycle when hemlines come back down—and a pair of Mary Janes with tights. Karley McKeeman at Bebe recommends their micros with the high fashion “horns and whistles,” like ropes of chains, which remove easily for those who “don’t love that edge.”

Legs with color are an easy way to update your look this fall—all shades: yellow, purple, green, fuschia—with spike heels in contrasting colors. Choose a graphic or sexy print stocking for plenty of leg interest. And a dark color can be as forgiving as candlelight if the knees have more than 15 years of mileage. More ’60s influence is found in the op art geometrics—even in black and white—and block colors reminiscent of the early Goldie Hawn on Laugh In—on shoes, stockings, fabric.

Sleek alternatives to the micro-mini include pencil skirts, skinny leggings or painted-on pants (here’s the reference to Marilyn) with a blouson parka and a little faux fur collar. Go easy on the faux, which will look dated in two years and ratty next fall. Or add leopard or chinchilla print accessories—a bag or pumps for a high-style '50s flavor. The proportion you’re going for is a triangle, either sleek on the bottom with width at the shoulders (which could mean ruffles-they’re everywhere), or a flippy, pleated or A-line skirt with movement around the knees and a little narrow sweater set. Long tunic sweaters are also a warm addition this fall.

The newest look with a sense of irony pairs Coco Chanel’s classic short jacket in a range of tweeds either with jeans for a Number One party, or a matching skirt for lunch with friends. These are fun and are everywhere, with some lovely versions at My Friend’s Place, like a blue tweed trimmed in pale blue satin ribbon. If there’s one look from this season that you must have, choose this one.

The big new accessory is the glove—also in multi-colors for snap and sizzle against a neutral backdrop, or to pull a punch of high fashion glitz, in all lengths.

I’ve been around a while, but I’ve never seen fall colors like these: pastels, with pink—soft, not hot—as the must-wear color. Pink suede pumps may seem a fashion oxymoron, but they’ll be more versatile than you think, taking you well into next spring. And everyone looks adorable in pink. If it’s all too Hello Kitty for you, use it as an accent color with black. Victoria’s Secret is even on the bandwagon, with some well-constructed underpinnings in black trimmed with pink ribbon. And half the Betsey Johnson boutique is pink, in her inimitably zany style.

At the more macho end of the spectrum is military-wear, starting with the cargo pant, updated with exterior hardware, from oversized zippers to backpack straps to rhinestones. Think material girl. There are bomber jackets all over—or their cousin the peacoat by Parameter at My Friend’s Place—in leather with outré hardware or quilted satin. Like the Chanel jackets, you can pair them with jeans or a pencil skirt.

Roy Wey at Smack on Elliston Place has a freeing approach to dressing. “I think fashion is meant to be disposable,” he says. “I want people to come in, pick something they can wear a little, ’til they get tired of it.” It’s a lot easier than amortizing a Roberto Cavalli over three or four years. And it takes the pressure off. “We’re a little edgy,” Wey says, “but affordable.” For example, there’s a camouflage mini for $32 and a green camo shirt for $28, in addition to lots of ’50s retro dresses with crinoline petticoats. The most expensive thing in the store was a glorious $115 velvet burn-out poncho with long burgundy silk fringe. It’s the only thing I bought during my research.

Wey promises he’ll get more in soon. All the shops expect the fall merchandise any day now. There’s a history lesson out there just waiting to happen.

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