UNMIXED DOUBLES Above right: Brock Collection Top, $3,890, and Skirt, $7,800, A’marees, 949-642-4423. Shot at Indochine in New York.
EACH YEAR post-Memorial Day, the inevitable summer style crisis sets in: What looks fresh when you feel anything but? “I love my Céline blazers,” said Malibu-based designer Lisa Marie Fernandez, “but when it gets hot, it gets hot. And you want to feel nice.” While neutral linen separates are reliable staples and there’s no shortage of underwhelming sundresses, a more surprising summer dressing idea can be found in vintage photos of your grandmother posing in her playsuits on Atlantic City’s boardwalk.
Popularized in the 1940s and ’50s as a matching shorts-and-top set for the beach, with a wraparound skirt for lunch in town, those charmingly retro printed outfits were matchy-matchy precursors to this summer’s explosion of patterned ensembles.
Whether your taste favors spots or stripes or cherries or pansies, you’ll have your pick of pleasingly coordinated separates. The pieces that pair up to form these outfits are generally sold individually, but Ms. Fernandez—who chose polka dots for her linen button-front tops and skirts this season—said her clients almost always buy a full set. Dolce & Gabbana adorned a cotton mini skirt and crop top in one of its recurring Amalfi ceramic prints, complete with matching headband, shoes and bag for those whose appetite for pattern knows no limits. Proenza Schouler is proposing long floral skirts with matching peplum tops for post-sunset parties. And minimalist line Apiece Apart styled a tank and skirt in colorful stripes together as a full set.
Headband, $275, Top, $545, Skirt, $895, and Sandals, $895, Dolce & Gabbana, 212-897-9653. Shot at Indochine in New York.
For pragmatists, these two-piece outfits are a no-brainer. Wear the elements together for a low-effort statement look, or expend slightly more styling energy and split them up to achieve (at least) two separate outfits.
“We are really trying to make it easy,” said Starr Hout, co-founder of Apiece Apart. “Our woman is a mother, a businesswoman, a creative, she is doing things, she is busy like we all are.” The full set takes the thought out of getting dressed; you know the pieces work together. “It’s a one-and-done outfit.” Ms. Hout added.
Beyond that ease, these fun total looks are a nod to the pre- Lululemon days when women reveled in occasion dressing, even for a family day to the beach. “You always feel so much better about yourself when you are dressed up,” said Laura Brock, co-creative director of Brock Collection, a line of ladylike fashion she designs with her husband Kristopher Brock. Ms. Fernandez agreed: “I love dressing up for the warm weather. I don’t even care if I see anyone.”
When shopping for a playsuit, consider this rule of thumb: If you’re prepared to bare your midriff, choose an above-the-navel skirt. Exposing a sliver of skin at the rib cage is a surprisingly flattering way to play peek-a-boo. Ms. Brock pointed out that midriff also creates a natural break in the patterns: “It’s soothing on the eye.” For modest types, Ms. Fernandez’s embroidered polka-dot top and skirt set shows but a centimeter of skin, and less if you get a bigger size in the top.
The most important thing, though, is to choose a print you love and will want to wear again and again. “You have to just be confident,” Ms. Brock explained. “And don’t take yourself too seriously,” her husband chimed in.
Lisa Marie Fernandez Top, $395, and Skirt, $575, net-a-porter.com. Shot at Indochine in New York.
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