The sun is still beating oppressively down the sidewalk on my street every late afternoon, the cravings for chilled-to-the-bone guava-infused kombucha remain at their height, and my maxi dress and dark-wash cutoffs are still on maximum rotation in my wardrobe. But by the look of the check-out aisle at my local Stop and Shop, you'd think it was already time to find "392 pieces that'll make you fall for fall." At least this perpetual case of fashion time-warp is better than the Christmas craft ideas that have been creeping up on Pinterest since mid-July.
Truth is, the twilight of freedom, recreation and rejuvenation that is the end of summer has long known one cure and one cure only: new clothes. In my childhood, as I inevitably sunk into a yearly sullen depression as the Alaskan midnight sunlight began to wane and the fireweed blooms crept slowly to the tops of the stalk, my mother administered the one antidote that was sure to work: we would go shopping for new school clothes today, she informed me. But I wouldn't be able to wear any of those shiny new garments until the first day of school.
Within minutes, you bet I had my calendar marked for labor day.
Strangely, for a season which plays such an elegantly aging foil to the juvenile playfulness of spring and the nubile sensuality of summer, in the fashion world autumn is the epitome of newness. Collections of rich jewel tones and cool neutrals, spicy pumpkins and ravishing cranberries; the perennial arrival of scarves and knits and riding boots; the refreshing notion of wearing layer upon layer of crisp denim. Prim hemlines. Authoritative blazers. Fuzzy-wuzzy lush cashmere blanket-sweaters.
As a first-year grad student next month, I'm one of the lucky few of my recently graduated friends who has the chance to continue the tradition of a new wardrobe to match my fresh set of pencils and virgin pink pearl eraser. However, I'm not so lucky to be living without the anxiety-inducing threat of thousands of dollars of student debt, so it's not just the cashmere that's out of question according to my budget this year.
Luckily, using a few timeless pieces in combination with still-hot trends from this summer, anyone can create a look that eases into fall as gently as a crisp golden leaf floating down to a still blue lake - without breaking the bank. Here's how.
Straw hat, chambray blouse: GAP
Yellow beaded tank: Target
Geode pendant necklace: American Eagle
Coral round-toe flats: Old Navy
Striped skirt: Brass Plum
1. Simmer down spicy summer tones with cool blues. To keep you warm as the thermometer starts to dip while simultaneously cooling down your color palate, try adding a classic chambray button-up over your favorite bright-colored tank, or experiment with Oxford-worthy back-to-school stripes in combination with a pop of citrus hues. Don't be afraid to keep some of your favorite summer finds, like a beach hat or southwestern print, in rotation during the warmer parts of fall.
An accent of golden jewelry rings in the warm metallic tones of autumn, but an unexpected twist of turquoise and citrus keeps you looking fresh.
|Blue lace shift dress, chunky jewelry: H&M|
Black satin-y ruched blazer: Charlotte Russe
Leopard-print flats: Target
Nail polish: NYC In a New York Minute in 232 Lincoln Center
3. Tone it down with brown. Hot pinks and flirtatious florals were all the rage for summer 2012, but there's no need to give up on your new skinnies just yet - the floral trend has staying power and Pantone has named "Pink Flambé" 17-1463 as one of their top hues for this fall. To make a smooth transition to cooler temps and rich scenery, use classic neutral pieces like a brown belt for floral bottoms to match camel-toned kicks. The trick is to keep the pop of bubblegum pink as an accent that will make your earth tones anything but boring. Adding a dark midnight hue to earth-toned articles will also bring your flowers down-to-earth.
|Black leggings: Target|
Breezy tangerine blouse: boutique
Earrings, scarf, orange ring: gift
Green polka-dot wedges: Payless
Nail color: NYC In a New York Minute in 221 Spring Street
And just your luck, tangerine is the official "color of the year" according to the all-knowing gods of color at Pantone, so if you've got some favorite Vitamin C-rich pieces from seasons past, keep them alive straight into clementine season!
5. Add a timeless touch to your of-the-moment piece. Stud-spangled and military-inspired pieces were all over the runways this season, and their versatility and eye-catching textures will ensure that they play a big role in fall 2012. One surefire way to transition a look from a hot summer trend to a timeless fall favorite is to mix in a few pieces that harken back to history. For instance, if those hot-right-now T-strap booties have gathered just a tad bit of grime from the proprietary grass/mud/patchouli mixture at your hometown summer concert series, swap 'em for some sensible yet stylish flats that infuse your edgy attire with a more classic, work-ready feel. These and other vintage-inspired pieces like a chain necklace, a wide Bake-lite bangle or two, and dark hose to match the longer, darker nights ahead, will give you a look that's made to last. To polish off your sartorial time machine, paint your nails an ever-chic nude or deep velvety red hue and swipe on some cat-eyed liquid eyeliner.
|Studded navy dress: H&M|
Chain locket necklace, red plastic bangle: gift
Leopard-print flats: Target
Nail colors: Confetti Long-Wearing Color in 043 Heartthrob and
NYC In a New York Minute Color in 228 Chelsea
6. Take your look to the woods. Fall is prime huntin' season in many parts of the country, but if you're like most Americans after a summer of vacations, staycations and daycations, you've probably got little monetary means left to go on a successful hunt for new wardrobe elements. With natural earth tones and some warm tights and booties, however, you can easily soup up a favorite summer dress. The trick is to keep eyes away from dead-giveaways like breezy eyelets by squeezing the trigger on an earthy cardigan and ornithological accessories, like a blinged-out owl ring or a feathery necklace. And while a real hunting trip often entails an uncomfortable amount of boredom, waiting and shivering, you can keep your fashion quest interesting by mixing the feminine appeal of a dress with a pair of functionally fierce boots. To keep you warm from head to toe, add a pop of bright colored tights inspired by the great outdoors - like an ocean blue or woodsy green - and tie it all together with the talons painted to match.
|Black eyelet sundress: American Eagle|
Brown booties, leopard-print cardigan: H&M
Bejeweled owl ring: Forever 21
Nail color: NYC Long-Lasting Color in 140 Empire State Blue
|Tribal print maxi dress, coral espadrilles, brown bomber jacket: Target|
Sharktooth necklace: Payless
Blue and coral bangle set, large hoop earrings: H&M
Nail color: Sally Hansen Hard as Nail Xtreme Wear in 4860-61 Grey Area
8. Star in your own spaghetti western. If summer is all about nautical themes, breezy lightweight knits and Mediterranean hues, fall is the time to shine for everything Western and equine. If your boatneck sailor tee makes you feel as though you're lazing on the French riviera, why throw such a good thing to the bottom of your drawers for re-emergence 9 months later? Instead, dare to mix prints and marry your Euro-stripes with a flirtatious and flowery voluminous skirt and some wild western classic pieces (after all, if all of those straightshootin' outlaw cowboys never gave a second thought for the rules, why should we?) For brisk morning trots to school or work, layer a distressed denim jacket and trade in your summery Sperries for hardy cowgirl boots. To lasso the look together, take cues from your floral piece and incorporate fun, bright accessories that liven up your neutral and denim elements.
|Floral skirt: J.C. Penney|
Striped boatneck tee, ankle boots, canary crossstrap bag: H&M
Distressed denim jacket: GAP
Nail color: Sally Hansen Hard as Nails Xtreme Wear in 4860-27 Mellow Yellow
This post is dedicated to Helen Gurley Brown, 1922-2012. Foxy trail-blazer of fashion, pioneering sexual revolutionary and fierce feminist icon. You will be missed.