Mirror, Mirror: At fall shows, the trend is toward the not-quite right and modern

Posted: February 14, 2013

NEW YORK - Small additions - a slouchy sock here, an unexpected slit there - can give yesterday's silhouette a funky tomorrow.

Just ask designers showing at New York Fall Fashion Week, the majority of whom are keeping autumn looks long and lean, but are playing with proportion using accessories and details. That means strangely short sleeve lengths, wider and higher peplums, even slightly dropped waists, all hinting that something is just a bit - off.

Socks were key in their bag of fashion tricks. Tommy Hilfiger showed kneesocks and pumps with his super-short plaid shorts and skirt suits - creating a visual break between skirt and socks when previous fashion rules would dictate tights or just bare legs. Nicole Miller paired black booties with ankle socks that she showed with shorter pants - another look that on first glance seems ill-fitting.

Tracy Reese gave sequined tribal and leopard-print pieces a rocker-chic edge with black ankle socks, too. Ruffian - design duo Brian Wolk and Claude Morai - sent a lot of shrunken metallic pantsuits down the runway, the hems stopping at the ankles and revealing socks.

Some designers, such as Herve Leger for Max Azria, used hats to bring the eye upward. On Saturday afternoon, models wore riding hats, an odd accessory considering that the accompanying cap-sleeve, ultra-fitted dresses were even more sophisticated with allusion sleeves, metallic details and A-line skirts. (Here's hoping reality TV chicks don't defile this classier look.)

Donna Karan designed a host of long-sleeve sheaths for DKNY, pairing her looks with animal-print short booties. The midi-skirt length, wider shoulders, and hint of shoulder pads made a classic look more futuristic.

The runway's layering expert Alexander Wang took slate-gray, slightly dropped-waist suits and boldly paired them with elbow-length fur gloves. Not sure how these bulkier arm proportions are supposed to be pulled off - although they will keep limbs toasty in the winter - but it sure was unique.

One of my favorite collections this season was Victoria Beckham. The combination of booties, a slit up the center of the skirt, wide shoulder pads, and contoured colorblocking delivers a not-quite-right look. Remember the Sesame Street skit "One of these kids is doing his own thing?" Well it seems every look within this collection is doing its own thing. But it all still manages to come together as modern and sexy.

Both Marc by Marc Jacobs and Zero + Maria Cornejo used shortened pant lengths and longer-than-usual sleeves in their altered-proportion looks. Cornejo gave superlong sleeves to her slender silhouettes on dresses and blouses, while Marc Jacobs used shorter sleeve lengths to confuse the eye, which, like it or not, is the key to modernity.

This new sense of strange-fitting style on the runway might be reflective of society's current upheaval and our adaptation to life's new normals: increasing gun violence, stormier weather, shrunken paychecks. We want a simpler time - what might be represented in the classic silhouette - but those days are over. And the changes can be jarring, just like those not-quite-right hem lengths.

These are trends that take a while to get used to, and because they often challenge a long-held belief - for example, that only little girls wear knee-high socks - sometimes they have fits and starts.

Yet, when we saw Beyoncé at the Super Bowl in her leather Ruben Singer one-piece, it was the socks she wore that gave the look a modern, sexy twist. Now that she's crystallized that look for the rest of us - off the runway - I'm thinking the socks are here to stay.

Still, like the layers in past seasons, it's a look that's hard to wear well. Will everyone look great in leather legwarmers? Yet whether it's higher waists or higher hemlines, we must embrace the look or we will risk looking outdated.

Seems like the new normal in fashion can be compared to our relationship with social media: Your first instinct is to resist. But if you choose to shun it, soon you'll be labeled obsolete.

Contact fashion writer Elizabeth Wellington at 215-854-2704 or ewellington@phillynews.com. Follow her on Twitter @ewellingtonphl.

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