Neutral Territory

My chic NYC girlfriend — let’s call her “Miss Big City” — emailed me about the Chloe dresses she’s been coveting for her work wardrobe, and I sighed in empathetic envy.  Chloe has got to be one of my favorite labels (I have featured dozens of Chloe pieces in my past posts), and the looks are almost always work-appropriate because they tend toward the neutral zone.  In other words, you can pull off a serious high-fashion look without looking too loud in front of the boss.  We’ll call it camouflaged couture.

The past couple of runway seasons, for example, Chloe has gravitated towards ecrus, khakis, and other buff tones.

I like that Chloe combines two of my favorite looks du jour safari chic and blushing neutrals.  Such a global, wearable, and unfussy aesthetic.  The first item I’d snap up if my pockets were a little deeper these days?  3.1 Phillip Lim’s spot-on natural tweed-styled dress.  It’s easy, utilitarian, and posh at the same time and in all the right ways.

You can pick it up at La Garconne for a cool $675.  No one said staying neutral would be a cheap proposition…

For something slightly more in the “realistic price range” ballpark, I’m loving this natural straw-inspired Shoshanna dress:

The wood beading around the neckline adds just enough tribal-inspired pizzazz to take it from straight-forward to stare-worthy.  Plus — you don’t need to invest in a necklace…which is, in a sense, a shame.  I snagged a necklace with big wood cut-outs from H&M of all places a couple of years ago, and have received compliments left and right ever since.  (One of my girlfriends liked it so much, she went out and bought it a few days after she’d seen me debut it!)  I haven’t found anything exactly comparable, but I am just about ready to click the “Buy” button with this $59 wood bead bib necklace from Banana Republic:

I’d like to say that I’ve sustained a little pushback for my obsession with bib necklaces — some of you think they’re too bold and too much of a high stakes fashion risk.  I say: go for it.  Jewelry is an easy and relatively non-committal way to test the waters.  If you’re unconvinced, you can achieve a similar look with a longer wood bead necklace, like this one, by Kenneth Jay Lane (Bluefly, $89):

KJL has lots of wood jewelry pieces out, including some gorgeous organic-looking bracelets.  I’d just as readily go with this fun set of gold-accented bangles by French Connection, available for only $13 at ASOS or this wood-and-smokey-quartz cocktail ring by Marcia Moran:

They look almost artisanal — like treasures you might have found in an open air market in Africa.  You could pair them with some linen shorts  and a white blouson-sleeve top from low-key-luxe-beachwear label Calypso-Celle (“Savannah” shorts, $135; Dale top, $125):

If you’re not so much into the linen cargo approach, try some boy-scout-in-a-good-way twill shorts by the original buff-toned trend-setter Chloe (available now at The Outnet for $85)

and this lovely (and pricey — $345!) blouson-sleeved Rebecca Taylor tunic top:

To elevate the look and avoid any “those shorts look like a uniform” confusion, you’ve got to amp up the glam factor with a long wood beaded necklace (as in the KJL above) and some super-luxe shades, like these oversized Chloes (find them at Madison Los Angeles):

Throw on a pair of high-heeled espadrilles to complete the look.  There are literally dozens and dozens of fab neutral versions out this season (I’m especially keen on platformed variations — they’re right on trend).  PiperLime has an entire “New Neutrals” shopping section devoted to the style.  I’m obsessed with the Ralph Lauren Fidella wedge —

But more affordable versions are everywhere this season, from Charles by Charles David’s Rip Wedge ($95, these $49 recessionista treasures by Spiegel (label snobs everywhere are gasping, but…let’s face it, ladies: these are some killer shoes!):

Any of the above options would look lovely with a “cafe-au-lait” palette dress, like this Marc by Marc Jacobs (at The Outnet and on sale in a big way at $147):

or this sweet and easy-to-wear Theory tank dress ($295, Shopbop):

Looking for some arm candy?  You could go with the new It bag — Chloe’s Classic Flap Tote in a rich, worn-in brown leather — but you may go broke ($1,995).

Personally, I’d prefer an organic-looking straw or jute bag with my ecrus and oatmeals.  What about this awesome $130 “Brigitte” clutch by Zambos and Siega?

(You can find it at Shopbop.)  I’m into the wood handle — a mature update on the classic bermuda bag.  Alternately — and somewhat informed by the uber-stylish Jane Birkin’s quirky basket-as-bag fashion statement —

what about this cool woven over-the-shoulder tote ($72,

I’m so into it, I almost didn’t want to include it in this post (how selfish).  I think it’d be Kate Moss cool with a neutral anorak or cropped trench — I scored this military-inspired sage green iteration (“The Caprice,” now $89) on the sale rack at J. Crew two weeks ago and have had multiple anxious “where did you get that?!” queries since:

Ann Taylor Loft of all retailers has come out with some surprisingly eye-catching similar versions, including the ruffle-necked cropped trench that’s been featured in Elle and InStyle alike (under $100 as well).

Or, if you’re OK with dropping some big bucks, I’m drooling over this Tory Burch (around $400 — also comes in black trim):

Occasionally, when you’re lucky, the style differential between high-end and affordably-priced is miniscule, though.  Consider these comparably styled wedges: the first, by Valentino, hovers around $500; the second, by Steve Madden, rings in it an appealing $90.

It can be hard to remain neutral when a good deal comes to the table…


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