Like a slick coat of polish over a bare fingernail, summer's new high-gloss accessories can revive even the most classic pared-down style. Whether it be a red-hot thin belt that brightens the waistline of a preppy polo dress or a little, boxy bag carried with a ladylike suit, upbeat details that look slippery when wet serve up fashion's latest message.
Patent-leather accessories are a more practical fashion investment today than a decade ago when the shiny stuff was reserved solely for warm-weather months and no respectable style watcher would dare be caught in it after Labor Day.
The new fashion guard has sanctioned patent's shine and wipe-clean wearability for all seasons. A few new accessories carefully chosen this season will work right into fall and winter.
This summer patent turns up in hats, headbands, sun glasses and flower pins. Models at Todd Oldham's fall runway show even sported paste-on patent eyebrows!
Now that the waist is once again a focal point in fashion, it's worth investing in belts.
"If anything's going to immediately update your wardrobe, you can count on a skinny [up to 1 inch] patent-leather belt to cinch everything from a jacket to an evening dress," says Rona Rosengarden, owner of the Treasure House boutique in Pikesville. "It's a key accent that is sure to continue into the next season."
With all the '60s mod influences turning up for fall, however, expect some belts to widen and drop to the hip. Who can keep up?
Not everyone wants to draw attention to a less-than-willowy waistline. Thank goodness for footwear.
"When clothing silhouettes change, the shape of the shoe always follows," says Nordstrom fashion director Heather Femia, who likes to see strappy heels -- "not stilettos" -- ground the latest feminine fitted shapes.
The classic black patent-leather Maryjane is not just for Daddy's little girl anymore. On a high heel, women can wear them with her party dress or to the office with a tailored suit. Fashion daredevils can click their heels together in ruby red patent, or go sophisticated with a glossy chocolate brown T-strap.
"More modern footing, like a sandal with a chunkier heel and bold straps, is especially smart in a bright color like red to give a jolt to neutrals," says Ms. Femia.
When it comes to glossy color, it's all or nothing. Color it bright or invisibly transparent.
It's about time designers started thinking more clearly. Shoes, jewelry, eyewear, bags, belts and hair accessories are all being carved out of lightweight see-through materials like plastic, vinyl, Lucite and resin.
"Clear accessories look especially fresh in the summer paired with white," says Ms. Femia. They also are the perfect solution to accessorizing hard-to-match colors. Dress up a bare arm with a stack of clear resin bangles, slip into a vinyl mule or show off a few colorful small treasures inside a see-through plastic tote.
Transparency is not as easy to maintain as it sounds. Neatness counts when the contents of a see-through bag are on display, and the barefoot charm of clear vinyl sandals always calls for a perfect pedicure. Plus, remember that when the temperature soars, it's a good idea to take cover with shiny synthetics -- you just might create a real fashion meltdown. Whoever said fashion was going to be simple?
Being responsible is another matter. Experts advise that every extra inch of hat brim can lower your lifetime risk of skin cancer by 10 percent. However, for those who can't resist sunshine, Kit Fellows of Kit's Millinery recommends "the tanning hat." It's a space-age polymer visor style that is supposed to block out 95 percent of harmful UVB rays, while allowing some tanning rays to pass through. What will they think of next?
ON THE COVER
Styling by Suzin Boddiford, Hair and makeup by Jill Turnbull for Etches Salon and Spa Modeled by Marcia Griffith for 3 West Casting, Red patent leather belt, $30, from the Treasure House. Flower pin, $20, and headband $18, both from Saks Fifth Avenue. Patent handbag, $25 from That Handbag Place. Patent sandals, $130, at Hess Shoes, Cross Keys. Wrap-around sunglasses, $130, from Bowers and Snyder. Andrea Jovine top, $155, and pants, $135, at Saks Fifth Avenue.