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(Adam Levett for The Globe and Mail/Adam Levett for The Globe and Mail)
(Adam Levett for The Globe and Mail/Adam Levett for The Globe and Mail)

Fall's top fashion trends Add to ...

Giddyup, fashion fans: The western look is galloping into stores near you, as are tartans and plaids, layers of pailletes and the seventies by way of the forties. While some of this season’s trends might be intimidating, have no fear. If there’s a theme for autumn 2011, it’s the premise – and promise – that anything goes.

Forever plaid

Tartans, plaids and checks are perennial cool-weather favourites and this season is no exception. Marc by Marc Jacobs, for instance, is proffering chic tartan trousers, while Jean Paul Gaultier has a pencil plaid in his line. There is also a swell of plaid-on-plaid, made possible by different fabric weights. “This isn’t your typical Ralph Lauren plaid,” says Khajak Keledjian, co-founder of the popular U.S. fashion retailer Intermix, which just opened its first international location in Toronto last week. “It feels newer and more interesting.” HOW TO WEAR IT: Combine gauzy printed blouses with blanket-weight tartan knits. Keledjian has also been seeing a lot of tartan trim (“it [offers]great colour against a solid”) as well as bleeding plaids.

Clashing patterns

Count Joe Zee, Elle magazine’s creative director and star of the TV series All on the Line, a fan of mixing prints. “I just love all of these fun, crazy random patterns [together]” he declares. A counterpoint to last spring’s abundance of stolid solids, the collision of disparate patterns can be intimidating at first. But fear not, Zee advises: The look isn’t nearly as advanced-level as it seems. “I kind of like it when the effect is slightly off,” he says, encouraging experimentation. HOW TO WEAR IT: Anything goes. “When you think some patterns don’t mix, it’s actually better, as there’s a little bit of a carefree-ness about it.”

Polka dots

How come so many designers are seeing spots this season? At Stella McCartney, polka dots appeared on undulating sheer panels, while Marc Jacobs played with a number of versions, including huge, comic-book-esque varieties and smaller, sexier circles. Even Alber Elbaz tried his hand at them – his are quarter-sized – with a dotty one-shoulder dress. “I have no idea where these ideas came from,” Zee says. “For all I know, Marc and Stella could be logging onto the same street-style blog and getting inspired by the same girls wearing polka dots. I don’t think there’s a science to it.” HOW TO WEAR IT: Pair up polka-dotted pants or blouses with complementary solids or mix contrasting dot designs for ultimate wow effect.

White collars

There is no intended subtext here, although a few seasons of blue-collar chambray might have been enough to swing the pendulum back toward sharper, crisper white. The impact comes from the yin-yang juxtaposition of a snow-white collar against a black coatdress or French maid-cum-foot soldier uniform à la Louis Vuitton. Squint just so and the Miu Miu collars resemble fangs. HOW TO WEAR IT: If you’re going to invest in one statement piece this season, a white-collsared jacket, suit, cotdress or coat is a good bet. Few other focal points can manage to be as simultaneously refined and risqué, prim yet provocative.

Graphic lines

Compare it to Mondrian or Frank Stella or Ellsworth Kelly if you wish. The bottom line is that there’s a lot of high-definition grid work happening. It goes in all directions – diagonal at Celine and Diane Von Furstenberg, boxy at Prada and squiggly in the hands of Christopher Kane. No matter its incarnation, however, it plays up all the right angles. HOW TO WEAR IT: Zee, who helps wayward fashion labels get back on track in All on the Line, says there’s no prescribed rule of thumb when assembling this look. “I like rules that are broken,” he says.

Marigold rush

In a spectrum that ranges this fall from tangerine (at Joe Fresh) to yellow ochre (at Miu Miu), marigold represents a happy medium. It’s an unexpectedly wearable hue, especially when bolstered by charcoal, black, navy or even dark brown. Consider, also, that it can stand alone as a statement dress or act as an accent. Thanks to Fendi, look for lively yellow tights at a high street fashion shop near you. HOW TO WEAR IT: Partnered with sombre dark hues or head to toe if it’s especially flattering on you.

Western living

Thankfully, we’re not dealing with haute on the range this season, DSquared2’s saloon lassies notwithstanding. “Western,” as it’s invoked for all, expresses an attitude – and one that doesn’t end in a high-noon shootout. More specifically, it’s New Mexico via New York, but also pretty timeless. Isabel Marant’s slouchy fringed boots, Lanvin’s decidedly floppy chapeaux, Chloe’s frayed denim are fresh yet classic. And don’t forget the Navajo and feathered prints from Proenza Schouler and Hermès respectively. HOW TO WEAR IT: Casually and confidently, on weekend jaunts and big-city cattle drives.

Forties/seventies remix

“It’s just an era that a lot of designers gravitate to,” says Zee of the 1970s. “It’s easy, it feels sexy and it’s effortless.” Certainly Gucci, celebrating its 90th anniversary this year, went big with that message, producing necklines plunging deeper than the stock market with dyed fur stoles and skinny-belted party dresses. But this fall, the look is less a pure throwback than a pastiche of other theatrical periods, especially the 1940s. To wit: the Canadian label IZMA’s deft winterization of Old Hollywood glamour with luxe furs and layers of liquid gold. HOW TO WEAR IT: Add nightclub and mix.

Tuxedo junction

Credit Janelle Monae, a magnetic music artist whose diminutive presence belies her mega style, for getting designers excited about the tuxedo again. There it was, at Dolce & Gabbana, complete with peaked lapels occasionally (over)embellished with stars or studs. By comparison, Ralph Lauren’s take was elegant and restrained. It was Toronto’s Philip Sparks, however, who trumped them all; his girls get to wear shrunken trousers with their formal blazers and black tie. Totally tongue-in-chic. HOW TO WEAR IT: With relatively little adornment, for evening affairs only.

Pretty in paillettes

High shine hasn’t lost its lustre; it’s simply more layered now. (Think man-made fish scales or curtains of plastic pieces.) The point, as made by Miuccia Prada, is not to sparkle, disco ball-style, but to create a new twist on texture. As employed by Marc Jacobs, sheets of paillettes resemble mini solar panels, strung together to create a skirt. HOW TO WEAR IT: With something flat or feathery to soften and offset the high-fashion futurism. Avoid head-to-toe.

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