Best New Bag Styles

Nothing enlivens a ho-hum wardrobe like a new handbag. This season, we’re spoiled for choice with a host of must-have silhouettes, from the classic mannish messenger style, as made famous by Brit babe Alexa Chung, to the updated chain-strap bag that owes a substantial debt to Coco Chanel. “A handbag should stand the test of time, so it’s worth investing in a classic that won’t date with passing trends,” advises Prue Lewington, a style editor with The Sunday Telegraph who blogs at PrueSays.Blogspot.com

While over-the-top handbag hardware feels like yesterday’s news (just how many zips, grommets and straps does one person need, anyway?), luxurious textures are still the name of the game. Finishes like exotic skins, feathers, fur and gem-encrusted designs are guaranteed scene-stealers.

Daytime is all about slouchy, sexy cool. For the evening, we love switching to a dainty, vintage-inspired clutch. Whatever your handbag mood, we’ve hunted down a style that suits you. The season is in the bag!

Messenger Bags

The pleasingly masculine lines of the classic messenger bag continue to keep us captivated. “I love how the old-school Elkington bag was the inspiration behind Mulberry’s sell-out Alexa style,” raves Lewington. “We can expect to see more of the messenger silhouette through 2011.” Along with the Mulberry Alexa (opt for animal print to punch up that all-black ensemble), look out for androgynous styles from Brahmin and Givenchy.

Chains

Another style to watch for, as Lewington notes, is the ladylike shoulder bag with a hip chain that drapes across the body for a cool, off-duty look. Chanel’s quilted clutch is perfect because you can hide the strap if you want to work a more grown-up evening look. Marc by Marc Jacobs, Badgley Mischka and Prada also offer great cross-body chain styles. Given the enduring popularity of the chain-strap bag, you can shop vintage stores for affordable alternatives that no one else will be carrying.

Bright Colours

Light up your life with a coloured bag that pops. If you’re not prepared to fully commit to the colour explosion that broke out on the spring 2011 catwalks, opt instead for a splash of colour with a brightly hued tote bag. The key to this style is keeping things simple: the colour is the whole story here, so the more streamlined and uncluttered the design, the better. (Although, like everything else, there are exceptions to this rule: see Balenciaga’s gloriously over-the-top orange and pink snakeskin bag from the spring 2011 collection.) Choose a citrus-bright tangerine or lipstick-red for maximum impact.

Clutches

Oversized totes that carry everything but the kitchen sink have dominated the fashion world for the last few seasons, but the diminutive bag is making a serious comeback. Minaudieres, cocktail clutches and vintage-inspired miniatures were on the minds of designers from Marc Jacobs to Riccardo Tisci. The new collection from quirky-cool New Zealand label Deadly Ponies hones in on the small-is-beautiful ethos. “We made a move away from oversized bags to more petite, classic shapes this season,” explains designer Liam Bowden. For further inspiration, check out the adorable Mr. Flower Pouch style, or the ostrich-skin Mr. Bandit Snake clutch, with its fabulous tassel details.

Texture

Deadly Ponies’ Bowden declares: “This season is all about fur, animal textures and colours.” There’s nothing savage about these styles, though. “Playful tassels and classic equestrian detailing and hardware help refine the rawness of the fur,” he adds. Look out for exotic materials like stingray, snakeskin and feathers, which showed up in collections from Alexander Wang to Valentino. Bejeweled bags are also everywhere: Check out Matthew Williamson’s collection for Bulgari for pure, gem-encrusted bling that will make you long to be a princess for a day.

Photo Credit: @iStockphoto.com.PrairieArtProject

Top 5 Sexy Winter Style Essentials

Dressing sexy in the summer is as simple as slipping on a sundress and showing off a bit of glowing skin. But in winter, layers of sweaters and puffy coats can leave you feeling shapeless and invisible. Still, you don’t have to give up looking and feeling seductive just because the temperature is dipping into single digits. Instead, try these key pieces that mix cold-weather practicality with a heady hit of sensuality.

1. Sexy boots. This year’s extra-tall boots make for a sleek, shapely look -- especially when they’re paired with leggings or jeggings, or when they’re peeking out from under a slim skirt. Go as vampy as you dare, from knee-high to over-the-knee lengths. The higher the boots, the shorter you can go with whatever tunic, skirt or dress you’re pairing the boots with, says Erin Busbee, a wardrobe consultant based in San Antonio, Texas. Whether you choose flat, wedged or high-heeled boots, look for striking details like buckles, ruffles, lace-ups or fold-down tops. For snow days, opt for winter style and warmth with faux-fur linings and trims.

 2. Something glittery. With sequins everywhere this winter, there’s no excuse not to sparkle. A sequined cardigan, tank top, scarf or clutch is an antidote to winter style stodginess, lightening up the heaviness of wool and cashmere. A new fashion trend this year is sequined sweatshirts -- the perfect melding of comfort and chic. You can find them for splurge-or-save prices at Elizabeth and James, Vince, J. Crew and New York & Company.

3. A silky camisole. Even when you’re swathed in layers or covered up with turtlenecks, you can cultivate a come-hither attitude by wearing something silky against your bare skin. Letting a little snippet of silk or satin peek from the V-neckline of a sweater can be just as provocative as a plunging neckline. A camisole is also a clever way to transition from workday practical to date-night allure when you don’t have time to change. Just stash the shirt or sweater and toss a shrug or throw over the cami.

4. The crisp white shirt. To instantly update your look, skip the T-shirt or sweater and make a white shirt your first layer under a blazer or long cardigan. The white shirt makes its reappearance every few years for good reasons: it’s versatile, flexible and flatters just about everyone. This classic look is easy to wear and easy to dress up by adding a statement necklace or elegant earrings,” says Busbee. Tuck your white shirt into a pencil skirt and pair with textured hose for instant Mad Men class. For a fashionable tweak on the classic that combines menswear tailoring with femininity, try a pinstriped ruffle shirt. You can find inexpensive, chic versions at Old Navy.

5. A touch of lace. During the winter, lace adds a welcome dash of girliness to any outfit. Try textured hose in a lacy pattern with a skirt or a sweaterdress, or wear a long lace or lace-edged scarf over a chunky sweater. If ladylike lace strikes you as too demure, try black lace. Designers like Alexander Wang and Philip Lam showed it on the runway, and you can find affordable interpretations at Forever 21 -- including a black lace tuxedo-tank.

Top 10 Fashion Resolutions for the New Year

Now that the countdown to 2011 is over, it’s time to reassess your personal fashion style and to make a new list of fabulous things to come.

1. Try a Trend
Go ahead and be bold. “Try something new in doses,” suggests Naomi Lim, fashion designer and owner of the Tea & Sympathy label in Kuala Lumpur. Adds Pia Rojas, fashion and beauty editor of Good Housekeeping Philippines: “When I want to try a new trend, I just try it as an accessory instead of a whole outfit. That way, if I find that it doesn't suit me, I didn't waste too much money on it.” So go ahead, try an extra-chunky necklace, or wear multiple strands of bracelets with your basic black dress.

2. Say Goodbye to VPLs
Investing in good underwear is key to getting rid of visible panty lines (aka VPLs) once and for all. For the many women who find thongs uncomfortable, new seamless underwear and boy-shorts (in a silky fabric) also do the trick. In the same vein, a good-fitting bra should diminish the look of back-fat underneath tight clothing.

3. Ditch Old Fashion Rules
Go ahead, mix and match: Wear silver and gold together, wear sneakers with a frou-frou dress. “Liberate yourself against the conformity of what society deems beautiful and sexy,” says Lim. This includes wearing a style or outfit that you normally wouldn’t because it makes you look fat in certain areas. Your body shape may have already changed since you last tried it, so explore.

4. Color up!
While black is classic and universally flattering, a pop of color can be fun and exciting. Spring 2011’s palette of warm and muted tones like mustard yellow and burnt orange give you the option to gently ease into tints. When in doubt, Lim suggests four universal colors that flatter all skin tones: true red, Indian teal, eggplant purple and soft nude pink.

5. Get Fit and Fab
Thin may be in, but healthy is even better. Physical activity can be as simple as taking the stairs back to work on your lunch hour or taking up a friend’s offer to go to the mall for some window-shopping.

6. Care for Your Feet
Your peds strut those cute -- but sometimes painful -- Jimmy Choos and other sky-high stiletto picks. Reward all that hard work by giving your feet the TLC they deserve. Make it a regular habit to soak them in warm water that’s infused with sea salts or essential oils. Gently buff rough spots with a pumice stone or an extra-gritty nail file, massage in lotion and slip on soft socks to bed.

7. Do a New ’do
For the ultimate style-boost, try an entirely new haircut. It’s easy to get stuck in the same rut for fear of the newer styles not matching your face shape. But remember: If it doesn’t work out, your hair will grow back. And if you’re going for a drastic cut, such as a bob or a pixie, consider donating your old long locks to programs that provide wigs to cancer patients.

8. Go High and Low
“Luxury goods are a treat, but shouldn't be the center of your life,” says Lim. “What’s truly stylish is someone who is confident that her own initials are enough.” Make your own unique mark by mixing luxe pieces with cheap, chic finds.

9. Edit Your Closet
Rojas weeds out her closet every six months, systematically going about it by category: shoes, bags, pants, skirts, dresses and so forth. “What I haven't worn in a year, I give away. What I think of as I'll-wear-it-when-I'm-thin, I'll give away.” Rojas also recommends marking your beauty products’ dates-of-purchase so you know when to toss them out.

10. Enjoy fashion!
“Fashion should be fun!” shares Lim. “It's very easy to get too serious and competitive, but to quote Kenneth Cole, ‘To be aware is more important than what you wear.’” So, have fun, enjoy, make mistakes and improvise -- you can always make new style statements and write new fashion resolutions.

Image Credit: @iStockphoto.com/nicolesy

Shopping Strategies for the Perfect Closet

Make 2011 the year you stop choosing quantity over quality and buying slightly different versions of the same outfit. Just follow these five strategies for getting the most chic from your shopping dollar, and you’ll never again have to lament, “My closet is stuffed, but I have nothing to wear!”

Strategy No. 1: Shop Your Closet
Taking inventory of your wardrobe will help you figure out what you actually need to add to your collection, says Los Angeles fashion stylist Mar Yvette, host of the “Citysearch Weekend Roundup” segment on the television show “Good Day LA.” Spend a few hours trying on those items you haven’t worn in a while. See how they look and how they make you feel, and figure out whether or not they coordinate with anything else in your closet. Be open to new combinations. The argyle cardigan you bought a decade ago in a preppy fervor may be just the thing to belt and wear over a sheath dress today. “Shopping for clothes without truly knowing what's already in your closet is like going grocery shopping on an empty stomach,” says Yvette. “You end up spending a whole lot of money on things you don’t need.”

Strategy No. 2: Streamline and Spread the Wealth
This will go against every shopping urge you have, says Yvette, but less is more. The goal is to build a wardrobe that lasts. You’ll save money in the long run if you buy fewer, better-quality (and therefore, more expensive) pieces rather than lots of cheaper items that are likely to fray or go out of style. Sure, you can get your trend fix with H&M’s disposable designer collections, but the bulk of your closet should be filled with quality pieces made from fabrics like cashmere, linen and wool that transcend time. Follow up on strategy No. 1 by pulling out any items you haven’t worn in a year. If they no longer fit and are beyond tailoring, wish them well and donate them to a charity organization.

Strategy No. 3: Build From the Basics
Whether your style is cutting-edge, classic or casual, these essentials are the building blocks of a functional wardrobe:

  • Black pants: They’re the most basic of the basics
  • Dark denim: Opt for a trouser cut
  • White button-down shirt: Designer Carolina Herrera lives in these
  • Sheath dress: It’s simultaneously sexy, classy and sassy
  • Cardigan: Throw over the sheath dress or pair with jeans or black pants
  • Two-piece suit: Mix and match the jacket and the skirt with all of the above

Strategy No. 4: Choose Double-duty Items
Carilyn Vaile, who designs easy-to-wear items for women on the go, recommends buying items that multitask. Questions to ask as you carefully vet pieces on the store rack: Can the tunic be worn as a minidress? Can the long waterfall jacket be belted and worn as a dress with tights and boots? “If an item can easily transform into other outfits, it keeps my interest,” says Vaile. “Not only will it stay in my wardrobe longer, it will be worn more often.”

Strategy No. 5: Shop the Sales With Caution
No doubt, some of the articles of clothing cluttering your closet still have sales tags hanging from them because you couldn’t pass up a bargain. But it’s not a bargain if you only bought that dress, sweater or pair of (slightly tight) boots because of the 90 percent markdown and never wear it. Before you purchase an item on sale, ask yourself: Would I still want this piece -- in this color, size and style -- if it weren’t marked down? If the answer is no, pass it up.

Photo Credit: @iStockphoto.com/Maica

How to Shop Vintage

When Sydneysider Beth Armstrong wore a black, high-necked embroidered cotton blouse to a party, her friends were surprised to hear that her Victorian-era top was close to 100 years old. Of course, her friends wanted one too -- and so Armstrong’s vintage business, TheTravellingDress.com, was born. “It gave me license to buy numerous beautiful pieces which otherwise seemed too extravagant or impractical,” says Armstrong.

Meanwhile, Alyce Moschini of Perth would return from her lunch break laden with op-shop treasures. It was when a co-worker suggested she start a blog that her online shop, TheVintageValley.com, began to take shape. “To me, the attraction of vintage is the originality of the pieces you find. They all have a history and are a one-off piece that can’t be found in a store,” says Moschini.

We asked Armstrong and Moschini for tips on how to score a one-of-a-kind find when you’re shopping for vintage items.

Keep an Open Mind
“Look for good fabrics and vibrant patterns,” says Moschini. “Don’t let an amazing piece go because it looks a little large, has shoulder pads or the length is too long. These are all things that can be altered.” If that dress is missing a belt, Armstrong suggests checking the hem to make a belt out of the fabric. She also advises doing alterations straight away; otherwise “it will sit in your cupboard for years.”

Check Again
Inspect zippers, pockets, buttons and necklines, and make sure the material isn’t stained or torn. “Underarm stains are the worst; they can be impossible to shift,” says Armstrong. “Check also for major thinning and weakness of the fabric -- especially silk.”

Look Beyond the Rack
A secondhand store is a treasure trove beyond the clothing sections. “Go into the fabric and lace racks,” says Moschini. “Sometimes they have a gold mine of vintage fabrics you can whip into a long bohemian skirt.”

Take Care Immediately
As soon as she’s home, Moschini washes all her vintage finds in cold water and dries them flat. For any marks that need a little more attention, she uses a mild detergent to ease out stains. Armstrong cautions against leaving clothes with metal hooks and eyes to soak overnight, as they can leak rust and add new stains. “I learnt this the hard way,” she notes.

Feel the Glory
“When I felt I’ve had nothing to wear or couldn’t afford to buy a new dress, vintage clothing has bailed me out on numerous occasions,” says Armstrong. So go forth with confidence and rummage.

Share your best tips for op-shopping below