Ever notice that although summer heat usually means exposed body parts in minimal clothing, somehow fall styles seem sexier? Maybe it's that old-fashioned idea our grandmothers touted - that it's more intriguing to leave something to the imagination. In any case, fall is here, and if you haven't assembled your cool-weather wardrobe yet, we're here to help.
Here's what some key Baltimore stylists and boutique owners say is on the fashion menu for those who care about what they wear.
Natalie Graham, stylist, designer and owner of DollHouse Boutique (525 N. Charles St., Baltimore, 443-874-7900; dollhouseboutique.com), says "black is the new black" this year for women, but the color should be juxtaposed with gold, gray and plum, and we should expect to see "lots of crazy plaids and checks a la Alexander McQueen" as well.
Graham, who designs much of her inventory and has done styling for celebrities such as Faith Evans, Vivica A. Fox, Vivian Green and Eve, says "grunge" is in, albeit with a softer, less downtrodden perspective expressed by such designers as Dsquared2 and Dolce & Gabbana. "More like a mellowed out rock star," she says.
And even though Graham says that this fall "classic girls have to sit down," she thinks there are some classics that should be hanging in your closet before winter. For instance, she says a good trench coat is important, as is a fitted black leather jacket. A solid pair of boots is also crucial, and this season both boots and purses have plenty of embellishment like studs and hardware, she adds.
Toni James, a stylist and the owner of Katwalk Boutique (243 W. Read St., 410-669-0600), has worked with Vivica A. Fox and Lil' Mo, and she has provided wardrobes for Mary J. Blige, Lil' Kim and others. She agrees with Graham's assessment of the fall palette but adds purple, burgundy and sequins to the mix.
"You can wear a sequined cami under a jacket for day time and shed the jacket for an evening event," she says.
She adds that women's coats this fall are tailored and close-fitting, mocking men's styles, and that clothing in general is "less girly."
James also sees knitwear, including dresses and coats, making a statement this season, along with silky jumpsuits and gowns.
She also favors her exclusive line of Bracher and Emden purses adorned with chains and fabric swatches.
Both stylists say that having a short bootie and shoes with open toes and cut-out sides or back will keep you current. Touches of real fur should be considered, they say, as should scarves with bold floral and animal prints.
James thinks fur-trapper hats will be big again this fall, along with sheepskin boots. Graham suggests women get a version of the combat boot with buckles and hardware.
For accessories, try one major bangle instead of a wristful of small ones, or a leather cuff with studs and a necklace adorned with fur or chunky rhinestones. Look for wide belts that help cinch all waist sizes, as well as small clutch purses that go from day straight through to evening.
As for the opposite sex, James says men can roll with some of the same looks as women, including fur-trapper hats, plaid pants and tweed coats. She suggests guys pick up a cable-knit sweater with wooden or leather buttons, and a short leather jacket.
Marc Sklar of Gian Marco Menswear (517 N. Charles St., gianmarcomenswear.com) says he and partner John Massey hope to satisfy younger consumers and entice some of their more conservative customers with edgier looks, along with reliable staples.
"During an economic slowdown, we could either hunker down or stimulate people to buy with newness, which always works." Sklar says.
He's excited about the unique looks and a "new sensibility" in lines from European countries such as Germany and Italy, as well as from Japan.
He expects lots of earth tones and pale grays in rich fabrics like flannel and cashmere.
Men's sweaters and jackets look heavy but can feel light this season, thanks to zip-out thermal linings. Men can flaunt jaunty looks with caps or sweaters that match the textural pattern of their scarves.
Even ties have more texture this season, Sklar says. They feature narrower shapes and fabrics such as cashmere and lamb's wool. Fashionable footwear includes suede boots in brown, black and navy, as well as napa leather jodhpur boots.
So, overall, what are we putting on blast for fall?
Women should take a few risks by mixing plaids and prints in a matching color palette, the experts say.
Don't be afraid to layer, but always remember to balance volume with sleekness. For example, if you have a blouse with huge sleeves, don't pair it with a crinoline skirt; choose a pencil style instead. Put a close-fitting tee atop a wide bottom.
Men should let go of those baggy pants and loose suit jackets (that look is so last year) and get into some trimmer shirts and trousers.
And with everyone pinching pennies, the store owners we spoke with suggest consumers invest in one or two big-ticket items that are well-made and not trendy, such as a great all-weather coat, Italian leather boots or a bold designer handbag (not necessarily logo-encrusted), and lots of items from off-price retailers such as Target, H&M; and Marshalls.
Leather bootie or classic boot
Leather handbag with hardware
Black leather jacket
Plaid skirt or slacks
Sequined or embellished top
Bold accessories: wide belt, print scarf or colored tights
Classic sneaker (Converse, Air Force One)
Leather or suede boots
Cable-knit sweater with wood or leather buttons
Warm coat with zip-out thermal lining
Scarf with matching sweater/cap
Narrow tie in textured fabric
Close-fitting suit and dress shirt
Tailored sports jacket