Savvy shopper

You Don't Have To Spend A Fortune To Acquire This Fall's Fashionable Layered Look

September 02, 2006|By Tanika White | Tanika White,Sun reporter

Officially, the calendar still declares it summertime. But this weekend, fall has arrived -- in stores, at least.

It's Labor Day weekend, and that means it's time to shop for a new fall wardrobe.

The prospect is thrilling for some and daunting for others.

A new fall wardrobe might amount to great outfits and accessories, but it could also mean sucking the fresh-from-summer-vacation bank account dry.

It doesn't have to be that way, fashion experts say. Fall shopping on a budget is not an oxymoron.

"In general, women want to be fashionable, but we don't want the guilt of spending hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars on a whole new wardrobe every season," says Amy Cafazzo, style expert for Marshalls. "So by picking a couple of key pieces and mixing them up with some of the things that are already in your wardrobe, you can be on trend and not break the bank."

We tested Cafazzo's theory recently, looking to see if we could find the staples of fall's looks at local department stores, mall-based specialty stores and retail outlets -- rather than at more expensive boutiques and specialty stores.

And we shopped even before the world of retail was awash in fabulous Labor Day sales. We can only imagine the savings now!

"I can't wait for the sales," said a window-shopping Elinor Ross, 28, of Randallstown, who was on her lunch break at Towson Town Center recently, pre-selecting what she wanted to come back and buy this weekend. "There's a lot out there that I like. It seems like every store has something that I want."

The good news for wide-eyed sale-hunters like Ross is that many of the most prevalent trends for fall can be achieved without spending a lot of money -- which, to us, means under $100 for any given item.

Probably the most easily attained trend -- within those parameters -- is the layered look.

"Since layering is a big trend, it's the one that lends itself to pulling things out of your closet and incorporating [them] into the new pieces you may buy for fall," says Andrea Lui, public-relations manager for Old Navy.

When most fashion experts talk about layering, they have in mind sweaters and knit materials, which are everywhere this fall, at every price point, and for men and women.

At the Gap, we found nylon and acrylic wrap sweaters, with smart V-necks, for $34.99, and cropped-sleeve cable-knit cotton and wool sweaters with a single button (perfect for snuggling in) for $39.99.

A must-have shrug

At the Kenneth Cole outlet in Arundel Mills Mall, we spotted a must-have cotton and rayon fine-gauge cable-knit shrug for $49.99.

And at Marshalls, we pulled from racks all manner of long, coatlike sweaters (to cover suits or dresses or jeans and T-shirts, for that matter) for around $80.

On runways and in fashion magazines, models have been draped in much pricier versions of all these -- piled-on sweaters in varying shapes and cuts and more. They've sported turtlenecks and cowl necks under long sweater coats. Sweater dresses topped with chunky shrugs. Wrap sweaters over fine-gauge sweater tanks.

All that material may scare some shoppers. We're used to trying to slim down with our outfits, not bulk up.

"Layering is an important trend which can be daunting to a lot of women," says Nicole Phelpf, executive editor at Style.com. "So if women want to try that trend out, the first thing to think about is to buy a pair of leggings and/or skinny jeans. That very slim, cigarette-pant look is going to be very important. And on top of that, you can really start playing with proportions and volumes."

Skinny jeans by Seven for All Mankind can cost upward of $180. But Gap has skinny-fit jeans that hug just as well for $58. And Old Navy has skinny jeans for $34.50 and $39.50. It even has skinny capris, for these still-warm days, for only $29.50.

And leggings can be purchased for next-to-nothing. Ann Taylor Loft has capri-length leggings for $29. Nordstrom's Brass Plum department has hemmed pairs for $22 and pairs with ruching at the hem for $25. Old Navy's got leggings for $12.50.

"Leggings are the perfect transition piece, particularly for September and October," says Genevieve Yraola senior fashion market editor at Shop Etc. magazine. "I'm going to be buying like three or four pairs just to stock up."

Another way to cover the legs this fall: opaque or ribbed tights.

"Talk about a cheap way to update your look," says Phelpf of Style.com. "It's really affordable."

And any fashionista will tell you that this fall a crisp white blouse is an absolute must-have. This is a good thing for penny-pinchers. White blouses can be purchased at reasonable prices just about anywhere: Old Navy, Target, H&M, Marshalls, Ann Taylor Loft. Anywhere.

One of the favorite finds of our pre-Labor Day shopping spree was a beautiful white-on-white embroidered blouse with fabric-covered buttons at White House/Black Market, marked down from $178 to $39.99. (Thank this writer for leaving it there for other, more deserving shoppers.)

And be sure to always check the clearance racks -- jumbled there in between the castoffs are usually great bargains for the patient shopper.

At the Kenneth Cole outlet -- on the clearance rack waaaay in the back -- we found crisp white blouses with a clever keyhole twist in the front for 50 percent off.

Which brings us to boots.

This is the season to really rock boots, in all shapes and styles. Flat boots or boots with a low, chunky heel. Platform boots. Wedge boots. Slouch boots. Riding boots. All these are popular and work well with fall's clothing trends.

And, good news, even boots can be purchased for reasonable prices. On that same tucked-away clearance rack at the Kenneth Cole outlet, we found flat boots for $99. And at Marshalls, all-leather equestrian boots are selling for about $70.

"Everyone wants it [boots]," says Cafazzo of Marshalls. "It's a must-have."

tanika.white@baltsun.com

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