How to be chic at any price this fall

We went to the fall fashion previews at Belk and Neiman Marcus. We read all the fashion magazines. Then we talked to Arlene Goldstein, vice president of trend merchandising for Belk, and The Queen City Style blogger Whitley Hamlin, a working mother on a budget who’s known for her fearless sense of fashion.

We used all that stylish info to come up with six items that would be great updates to your fall wardrobe, with Goldstein and Hamlin weighing in with advice. For each category, we show you a high and low price, so there’s something for every budget. When it comes to color, gray is becoming fall’s most popular neutral to wear with everything. Also think of animal prints as a neutral that you can pair with any color. And the hottest hue? Shades of green from emerald to khaki are on trend.

“When you add a new piece to your wardrobe, give yourself license to play with it and see what looks good,” Goldstein said. “Proportions are important, but I don’t believe in a lot of rules. Have fun with it and experiment using other pieces from your closet until you find what makes you look and feel great.”

Hamlin agrees. “Push yourself to the edge, then take a step back if you need to,” Hamlin said. “Fashion is like anything else in your life. You’ll never grow without taking a risk.”

Boots to the knee – or even higher

An over-the-knee boot may seem too wild for some, but Goldstein was inspired to give it a try after seeing an outfit her daughter put together. “She had on a tunic top with a sweater, leggings and over-the-knee boots, and it looked great,” Goldstein said. “I went home and found that I had a pair of over-the-knee boots in my closet and didn’t even know it because I had been wearing the top rolled down.” The heel can be chunky, stiletto or flat. Hamlin thinks this is a piece you should invest in. “If you buy a quality, well-made pair you’ll have them for a long time and they’ll become part of your fashion repertoire,” she said.

A midi-length sheath dress

The new silhouette in dresses and skirts is the midi-length, where the hemline falls anywhere between the bottom of the knee and mid-calf. Our favorite is the sheath dress. They can be of different materials and range from sleeveless to long-sleeved. “I’m so enamored of this length, it’s so fresh and feminine,” Goldstein said. “You don’t want it to be too clingy, but you don’t want it too big.” Hamlin says this is a great dress for the workplace because it’s conservative, and it can go from day to night. If you choose a sleeveless version, she would layer a thin turtleneck underneath or wear a cropped blazer on top. Keep accessories to a minimum. “Maybe chandelier earrings and some bangles, or just a necklace and a cuff bracelet,” Hamlin said.

Soft pants

They can have full legs or be more tapered, and some are gathered or cropped at the ankle. But what they all have in common is an elasticized waist and material that’s fluid, whether it’s a pattern, solid or has a sporty stripe. This is the most trendy item from our list, so Hamlin suggests not investing a lot of money. “This is the pant of the season because they are so comfy,” Hamlin said. “It’s a great transitional piece from summer to fall, and it can go from day to night.” For work, she would pair it with a tank and blazer, or alone with a crisp white shirt. She thinks stilettos look best with it because soft pants have a casual look and heels dress it up. “I like to create a little bit of tension by pairing opposites together. Don’t do what’s expected.”

A bold necklace – solo or layered

Bolder is better, so find a dramatic piece that expresses your personality. Then take it to another level with layering. Goldstein’s advice is to “get out all the pearls you’ve ever owned” and mix them with chains. Hamlin says the secret to layering is putting on shorter or more delicate necklaces followed by chunkier necklaces then longer chains. “Don’t be afraid to mix it all up,” Hamlin said. For a minimalist look, she layers chains in different lengths, which is usually most appropriate for a traditional workplace. If you want a more bohemian feel, layer necklaces that have stones or vintage touches. For a more glamorous look, pile it all on.

A statement sweater

“A sweater is always a seasonal must-have, but choose one that really makes a statement with a fresh shape, trim or texture,” Goldstein says. Go for artisan details that give it a handmade look, or choose a mix of different fabrics including real or faux leather. A poncho or blanket-style sweater can add a bit of bohemian chic to your wardrobe.

A bucket bag

There are so many fall handbags to choose from - clutch, totes, crossbody or structured with a handle or chain strap. But the bucket bag looks so right to us now, and whether you carry it running errands on the weekend or to work, it’s roomy enough for all your essentials. Whatever color you buy, Goldstein says to wear it at random and don’t match it with anything. “That’s very chic,” she said.