I know what you’re thinking. Why should you care about fashion at a time like this? The country is in mourning. We are heading into a grim winter with an untested prime minister. Autumn’s water-cooler chat will be about energy bills, not hemlines. No one in their right mind has any bandwidth for worrying about trends.
But let me put it another way. Could you do with cheering up? Might you need to think carefully about how to keep warm, as the weather gets colder? As we crash collectively down to earth, plunged abruptly from summer into deep gloom, would it perhaps not be the worst idea to remember there are actually some nice things about autumn?
What has the power to cheer you up, to keep you warm, to help reframe the change of season in a way that might put a spring in your step? Fashion, that’s what. This September, the new season is not about blink-and-you-missed-it trends – it is about intelligently chosen pieces that you will wear for years, and classic looks that you may already have in your wardrobe. I hereby present to you a speedy guide to mood-lifting, thermostat-boosting, wallet-friendly new-season fashion.
Call it dopamine dressing, call it wearapy: the rise of dressing to boost your mood has been a significant shift in the way we think about clothes. It’s not about being a slave to fashion any more, but the other way around, with your clothes working hard to support and cheerlead you. Colour is the most powerful tool in feelgood fashion. If you want to get technical about it, scientific studies suggest that colour can fine-tune your mood. Red, orange and yellow, longer-wavelength colours, send a message telling your brain to be sociable and lively; blue and green, shorter-wavelength colours, will steer you toward calm. But truly, the right colour to wear is the one that makes you smile when you look at it – simple as that. Barbie pink is the It colour of the season, after a wall-to-wall pink Valentino show at Paris fashion week showed it in the most elegant and sophisticated of new lights. But Gemma Hyde, the head of design at Whistles, argues for leaning into traditional rich autumn shades, as these will look chic year after year. “Rich jewel tones – vibrant greens, warm chocolates, bold heathers and tomato oranges – create joyful pieces that will be loved in our wardrobes for seasons to come,” she says.
“Oh, it’s colour for the cheer-up every time,” says Una Joyce, the womenswear director of Reiss. Reiss is very much clothes for grownups, which until recently meant a lot of monochrome and neutrals, but this season the shop is a rainbow of colour. Highlights include a burnt-orange trouser suit, styled with a coral silk blouse, and separates in a zingy apple green. Jo Sykes, the creative director of Jigsaw, is digging citrine and electric blue, as well as Schiaparelli pink. At Boden, where loafers have become a new day-to-dark staple shoe – chic with jeans, ideal with tailored trousers, comfy, what’s not to like? – the brand’s head of womenswear design, Devina O’Neill, suggests “pairing them with a coloured sock to make them really pop”.
Colour can also help you avoid overwhelm in charity shops and vintage boutiques. Rails packed with clothes from wildly disparate eras and styles can be hard to navigate, but by letting your eye lead you to the colours that speak to you, you can whittle a manageable shortlist. While you are having your secondhand trawl, scan for cowboy boots and varsity jackets. Both are having a high-fashion moment. Cowboy boots are everywhere from the Hermes catwalk to Dua Lipa’s Instagram. Varsity jackets, a favourite of the late Virgil Abloh, have an off-duty-Princess-Diana vibe that makes them street-style catnip. And you will find cooler, more original versions of cowboy boots and varsity jackets preloved than you will in any high-street shop.
The cost of living crisis has made versatility on-trend. At this time of year, when the temperature can go up as well as down, the best outfits are all about layering. “Our collections are made to last,” says Karen Peacock of the independent British brand Albaray, which she founded alongside two fellow former directors of Warehouse. “Adding a few considered, well-made, work-hard pieces can invigorate your look, boost your confidence and add some optimism.” If you buy one new piece this season, she recommends a sleeveless knit, for a hit of newness that can extend the season of a lightweight long-sleeved dress into autumn and winter, and add cosiness to a white shirt. (Albaray has a delicious Fair Isle version for £59.) For the ultimate in versatility, take a look at British brand Me + Em, where the level of thoughtful attention to detail is second to none. Many of its knits, including the luxe merino cashmere chevron cable knit (£150), come with a detachable, button-in snood that converts them from crewneck to cosy funnel neck. And it really works.
Trouser suits are having a moment, as a high-impact look that you will get a whole lot more wear out of than you will a party dress. At John Lewis, the new fashion design director, Queralt Ferrer, has them front and centre for her first season. (There’s one in power pink, if that’s your vibe; I’ve got my eye on the double-breasted version in a deep forest green – £120 for the jacket, £79 for the wide-leg trousers.) “Hard-working wardrobe staples” are what work now, Ferrer says. “We were thoughtful about the myriad ways our customers can wear each piece throughout the different moments of their lives.” Across the high street, Marks & Spencer agrees that this is a trouser suit moment. “The suit can work for day or night, plus you can wear the trousers with a sweater, and the jacket with jeans – there are so many options,” says its womenswear director, Maddy Evans.
O’Neill of Boden suggests investing in a party skirt instead of a party dress this year. Boden’s metallic tulle tiered skirt, £90, will work with an old sweater and your favourite boots on autumn weekends.
This year’s big fashion story has been a subtle switch to smarter dressing after the ultra-casual vibes of the lockdown era. That is how we’ve got from tracksuits to trouser suits. Go shopping for a coat, and you will see this change clearly in how the shops are selling outerwear. The go-to look is often a double layer, with something warm and casual (a hoodie or a quilted jacket) layered under a smarter, lighter coat – a trench, or something a bit fancy, such as the pink and coffee jacquard wool coat with resin and crystal buttons, from a collection by the fashion editor Erica Davies for John Lewis. (That coat costs £280, but if it makes you feel better you can tell everyone it’s vintage Prada and they will believe you.) We tend to assume that the warmer a coat is, the more practical it is, but in the British climate that’s not really the case: a coat that works on its own but can be layered up when it gets properly cold is a useful three-season buy.
Fears about fuel bills mean that keeping warm is going to be an issue indoors as well as out this season. If you go round for dinner with friends, say, it might be an idea to choose a long-sleeved top over a camisole if you don’t want to be caught out by a dialled-down thermostat. John Lewis has an excellent, Vampire’s Wife-adjacent long-sleeved snazzy top with a frilled collar and ruched sleeves in teal velvet. For nights on the sofa, “we know that customers are going to be looking for warm layers”, says M&S’s head of lingerie, Soozie Jenkinson. A pyjama set in a velour knit that looks like jumbo cord but has the marshmallow softness of 360-degree stretch looks like a sound investment.
Longevity in clothes isn’t just about not falling apart – it’s about not falling off trend. Fussy pieces tend to date quicker, so simpler is best. “We’ve taken a lot of ruffles and frills off this season,” says Joyce at Reiss, one of the many places that have made the classic silk blouse central to the autumn offer. An elegant, slippery blouse in a bright colour is a mood-lifter that will serve you well now, and be an investment for the future. If you are more of a shirt than a blouse person, Sykes of Jigsaw recommends a crisp white shirt with deep cuffs, which “gives knitwear and coats a fresh classic pop that oozes quality”. Either can be layered up for warmth. Oh, and you may well have one in your wardrobe already. There are plenty of things to feel glum about. But what you are wearing definitely shouldn’t be one of them.