Every season, we women face a sartorial challenge. Many of us love fashion and see it as a fun, creative expression of self. Others among us just want to look our best. Whichever camp we fall in, we not only want to look good, we want to look stylish—and appropriate.

That can sometimes be a daunting task. To look current, it’s usually necessary to add a few new pieces to your wardrobe each season. But chances are, you want to get a few seasons’ wear from those items, and you don’t want to break the bank. It can also be a challenge to translate the latest trends into looks befitting a woman no longer in her 20s. (Jeggings? Oh, please!)

Many of us are just starting to shop for fall (in which case you may want to pick up something camel, and perhaps leopard). But the fashion industry already has its eye on spring. Having a sense of upcoming trends can be helpful, allowing you to buy summer pieces on sale now with the upcoming season in mind, and to perhaps pull out something from the back of the closet that’s suddenly right on-trend.

I recently attended several of the New York shows and can offer a preview of what’s in store for the spring fashion season.

White was the predominant theme at Fashion Week for Spring 2011: It was everywhere. I guess you could say that white is the new black. There were also several other sub-themes within the white credo, and in other aspects of the collections. Minimalism was a theme in many of the collections, particularly Calvin Klein, Narciso Rodriguez, and Reed Krakoff’s second showing. Another one was sheer—not only sheer white (which can be tricky to wear), but beautiful prints and florals. Many collections showed lovely dresses, long and short, with this theme. Lace was another popular motif, not only as trim but as an overall pattern. And for colors other than white, coral/orange seemed to be the most favored shade.

But for now, let’s focus on the overriding leitmotif of white. I was lucky enough to see the Michael Kors show, which was mobbed—with good reason. Kors is one of the few designers who spans the ages: many of his designs work for women from 20 to 70. And since he always seems to have his finger on the pulse of American culture, his collection tends to be a barometer of what’s to come. His style for spring is California-casual chic, with a looser, longer fit, and he embraced the white theme with gusto.


There were none of his usual sheath dresses with ultra high heels, but rather a beach-inspired look with lots of luggage-leather belts and flats. Many of these styles will work for the over 40-woman. A white trench, a long white cardigan, relaxed white tops and long, casual white skirts—all easy to wear and easy to find. If you’re thinking accessories, be sure to snag one in luggage leather.
Calvin Klein’s collection by Francisco Costa is, as usual, an exercise in extreme minimalism. There was a variety of lengths and refined shapes, all executed with elegant precision, spare and unadorned. The ¾-sleeve, loose-fitting car coat would be an elegant and versatile piece to own. Wear it as shown over cropped white pants for a casual look, or over a pencil skirt or easy sheath with heels for dressier occasions. And the long, satin bias-cut dress would be a knockout for someone who’s diligent about going to the gym.

On the other hand, Narciso Rodriguez, another proponent of sophisticated minimalism, showed a fluid, easy jacket over flowing pants, a beautiful look that works for almost anyone. The key is for each piece to be—you guessed it—a coordinating white.

I wish I had seen the beautiful Oscar de la Renta show in person. He channelled a little Balenciaga (his mentor) for this luxurious collection. Note his use of the lace motif. And see those belts? Accessories are going to be huge for spring—belts, bags and shoes. And of course, he gravitated toward white. Now, very few of us can actually afford Oscar, but we can let his designs be a guide.

The tailored, belted, slightly longer dress will probably be available in many guises, at stores like Talbots or Ann Taylor. If you have a white lacy concoction of some variety from seasons past, this spring is the time to bring it out. And don’t forget Lloyd Boston’s advice about tailoring! That’s how you make it modern.
Although Carolina Herrera’s glamorous collection included lots of color, she gave a nod to the requisite non-color of the season. And like Michael Kors, she infused her own sense of ease for spring. Again, the chic, simple V-neck dress is a classic that should be available at many price points. The key to the other look is the generous volume of the jacket and pants—but the jacket must be belted, as it is here, or the silhouette is not defined. This is a very forgiving, chic ensemble that would work for many. It would also look fabulous with chunky beads at the neck, for those of us who prefer minimal exposure in that area.
Ralph Lauren’s updated Western look (left) could easily be accomplished with what you probably have in your closet: white jeans and a man-tailored shirt. All you need are some great accessories, whether metallic (as shown here) or the luggage-leather theme from Michael Kors. Derek Lam’s perfectly proportioned American sportswear classic ( right) is a look that could take you easily from the office to evening. Wear it daytime with the ubiquitous luggage-leather flats or low heels, and for evening with black or metallic sandals—so easy and so chic.

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So when you’re thinking about your spring wardrobe this year, make sure you have something white in your closet. And if you can, plan to add a fresh belt and a pair of shoes. It should be simple (and fun) to capture the new ease of casual chic with a great neutral palette as your base.

(All photos by Marcio Madeira/firstVIEW. Use with permission.)