Dress Code: The Summer-to-Fall Transition

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"So, if I had to pick the minimal wardrobe to buy for this in-between weather," someone wrote to us, "what sort of items should I be purchasing?" Glad you asked!


Now, in many parts of the country it's going to be leftover summer for a while (before that plunge into winter) while other places stay San Francisco-temperate year-round. It's all very well to dream in tweeds and plaid, but for most of us, that autumn weather is still a warmly-hued dream. So, what to do for this tricky in-between weather, when it's too warm for sweaters but your summer clothes just feel...wrong? Think of it as a fun challenge. And inspiration never hurts (for me, Liebe Marlene's Rhiannon is the layering muse.) Here are a few ideas. As ever, intended only as the loosest of suggestions!

  • The Light Jacket. The light jacket is the linchpin of the Fall — or Spring, for that matter — wardrobe. As to the kind, that's up to you: a trench, a blazer, a sweater-jacket, a classic denim, an army jacket...any of these should be a good weight for those days when morning and evening are getting cool. Throw said jacket over your more structured summer dresses on the weekends; wear them with jeans and a tee; even with shorts.

  • The Boot. The boot is something you cannot wear in the dog-days of summer, which makes it all the more pleasurable now. A pair of Fryes or any loose or slouchy boot with summer staples like shorts and dresses brings them into September. Ankle boots work just as well — and have the advantage of working with jeans even before it gets really cool. A loose boot of any height or heel looks cool, casual and pulled-together with a bare leg — yes, wear socks underneath. Save the skin-tight boots for tights weather; anything else is seriously uncomfortable and looks anything but casual — unless, of course, you're going for that. In which case, carry on.

  • The Oxford. While this isn't about what trends to buy this season, it can't be denied that an Oxford — menswear-flat or retro-high-heeled — is available everywhere, at a range of prices. And it's a great fall basic: great with jeans, or skirts, tights or bare legs — if you buy one shoe, this comes close to being all-purpose.

  • Tights. I am a big believer in stretching summer clothes into the fall — well, within reason. While you're not going to want to wear them until the barometer's in the low 60s, tops, opaque black tights are your friend. Worn with shorts, skirts, dresses, and, yes, even high-heeled sandals, they look cool, confident and autumnal. (And, indeed, can be worn to good effect with the boots and light jacket for a total September Song vibe!) Socks are, of course, a fraught issue. I firmly believe that the right sock, with the right sandal, can be both cute and practical. But I respect traditionalists on this front.

  • Scarves. No one's gonna want wool around her neck, but this is a season where a big, drapey scarf — in thin cotton or something a little heavier — gets really practical and helps you feel a little less summer vacation. Wear with your jacket, sure, but it's also nifty casually looped around your neck with a light dress — and in a pinch, can always work as a shawl if the temperature drops.

  • Long-sleeved black tee. Hey presto, that summer dress has become a jumper. As the barometer drops, upgrade to turtleneck!

As for getting double duty out of your summer stuff, what works into fall? Well, it's really up to you, but in my opinion, plenty. Especially: printed dresses, shorts, black sandals.

That said — and is totally personal — but I like to save certain things for summer. Flat leather sandals, any shell jewelry, those formless dog-day dresses...these, for me, only serve to remind me that the beach and the long summer evenings are gone for another year.

And what do you suggest? How do you deal with the not-quite-season? Tips, please! We can all use 'em!

For all of our handy Dress Code guides, go here.




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