NEW YORK -- Day-to-night dressing doesn't quite cover it for most people. It's more like sunrise to bedtime, and the clothes need to be appropriate and comfortable for the long haul.
That means finding a look that blends in enough at business meetings, the bus stop and the coffee shop so the wearer doesn't draw too much attention -- without giving up personal style.
Lisa Axelson, creative director of Ann Taylor, lives the life of so many working women: She balances duties of home, family and career with those things that change every day.
"Forget 'day-to-night.' You don't even have weekday versus weekend," Axelson says. That goes for clothes -- and lifestyle. There are many people working from home, and they can end up turning a Sunday brunch date into a business meeting, she says. On the flip side, there's the school event scheduled smack in the middle of the workday.
She says she has to approach her day in a uniform that, more often than not (at least four days a week!), starts with black, tightly knit ponte pants that have a little Spandex in them.
Axelson recently spent a morning at Ann Taylor's renovated location in The Westchester shopping mall in White Plains, N.Y., pointing out the styles that she believes are the cornerstone of a woman's wardrobe in 2013. The store is set up like a closet, without a specific "suits section" or all the denim tucked in the back corner. Displays are more likely to be built around a color theme, or a versatile item.
Scarves, necklaces and other accessories get prime real estate, though, smack in the middle of the place. That's not by accident.
"I will change my accessories several times during the day. I have my commuter flats -- every day it's the train-to-the-office trek -- but I'm lucky to have a lot of choices at the office," she says. There's the sample closet and a predominantly female workforce at the company that started in 1954 with a shop at a hotel in New Haven, Conn.
On this day, she had taken off her fuzzy and warm winter boots upon arrival at the store, switched to heels -- 2½ inches is the sweet spot -- and then went back to the boots on her way out.
Also in her commuter tote bag are a scarf or wrap and two sets of jewelry, one that's sleek and sophisticated and the other that's a little more chunky and funky.
She likes the look of more glamorous or crisp items, such as white linen pants or a skyscraper stiletto, but they're not "real life," and she has a real life. Most days, Axelson says, her outfit is rooted in black or navy, maybe with some gray during the winter, or khaki in the spring and camel in the fall. Boring? It doesn't have to be. She'll break out the flash of hot pink or orange, probably a top under a cardigan, and she's not afraid of a bright or embellished coat.
Colorblocking is a tool that's gone from trendy to basic because, she says, it's eye-catching and modern, but not froufrou.
That works for her. She's definitively a pants person. "I need clothes that I can wear a lot."
She says an underrated item is the T-shirt blouse, which goes over the head, has a refined, silky front, but a comfortable knit back. A silk camp shirt works that way, too, and the same thing goes for a tailored, shrunken blazer that's cool, not stuffy. That could be the key piece for a woman with a home office or unpredictable schedule. It pulls everything together at the last minute -- and no one will really pay attention to what's underneath, Axelson says.
Her best tip is to add a bit of structure to an overall relaxed look: It'll take you almost anywhere, she says.
Other quick hits: A knit dress can have a hint of sex appeal because it can be form-fitting but cover your arms and hit at or below the knee; embellished or textured ballet flats straddle the comfort of the low heel and the savvy of a fashion fan; and there's nothing wrong with a washable top. Her current favorite is a jewel-neck one with a peplum that's mostly polyester.
"The American culture has changed, and it's full of changing expectations and blurry lines. It's so much more stylish to look comfortable in your own skin," Axelson says. "I think it's more of a fashion faux pas to be overdressed than underdressed."