Fort Lauderdale is a young city, an adolescent in search of an identity. We continue to construct new buildings, increase business opportunities, expand the roster of cultural offerings in our quest for self-definition.
And we dress, well, not really like a teenager. Though sometimes we do. It’s the weather, the environment. Ours is a tourist city and, while we certainly don’t want to look like tourists, sometimes, inevitably, we wear the same outfits.
Fall can be a difficult time here. In the rest of the country, it’s the season when life starts up again after the summer lull. This sense of a new beginning is felt here too, but without a drop in temperatures. There is no such thing – at least not in September or October – as sweater weather. And there are no changing leaves to match those unworn sweaters with. We continue to go to the beach.
Fashion designer Mitchell Perry, a current contestant on Lifetime’s Project Runway, says, “I love wearing short-shorts. I have a good pair of legs. It’s so hot out and it’s way more comfortable.
“I think we [Lauderdalians] can get away with wearing short-shorts and it’s very fashionable because they can be chic and interesting. But you can’t get away with that in New York, especially men. I was getting the worst sideways glares that would kill a water buffalo – that’s how hard the New Yorkers were looking at me!”
The 25-year-old Fort Lauderdale resident grew up in Jacksonville and attended the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale, where he graduated at the top of his class. He describes the fashion scene here as small and low-key. (Style events open to the public can sometimes be found during the FAT Village art walks, which take place the last Saturday of every month.)
Charities and department stores like Neiman Marcus in the Galleria Mall offer runway shows, but to a private guest list. People who are part of the stores’ customer base can snag a precious invite, and those involved in the benevolent world can learn when a charity is hosting a black tie affair.
As for what is seen around town, it’s color. Lots of color.
“Men and women alike seem to be into prints – colorful and vibrant prints,” says Perry. “We are a resort and travel destination where people are here to have fun and vacation with their families so the clothes reflect a lot of loose silhouettes that are fun and full of energy.”
As for kids, Perry has observed that basic tank tops, T-shirts, shorts and dresses with tons of color – basically resort wear – are popular. Department stores such as Target, Macy’s and Neiman Marcus are a good bet.
Perry suggests that folks also try Out of the Closet thrift stores, where colorful frocks can be found, with a little digging and an open mind.
“People here are enjoying a casual, free-spirit, effortless, chic lifestyle,” he says. “I think if you wanted to categorize them into pieces you would see kimonos, sarongs, butterfly sleeve-dresses – short and long – and lots of rompers and little jumpsuits. I see those daily.”
Michelle DiMarco, co-owner and founder of the women’s wear boutique Lilac And Lilies, agrees that rompers and jumpsuits are huge in Fort Lauderdale. DiMarco caters to moms-on-the-go who want easy fashion that’s affordable. Her kid-and-dog-friendly store – she offers water bowls to the latter, coloring books and crayons to the former – is situated on East Sunrise Boulevard across the street from the Galleria Mall. She and co-owner Kelli Krystynak spend hours searching for quality, stylish and well-fitted items for their clientele. Most pieces go for less than $100.
As for trends this fall, the duo says the 1990s are back. Shoppers will find all things grunge: graphic T-shirts, crop tops, chokers, army boots, Birkenstocks. There will also be florals and plaids for both men and women. “I’m really into flannels and ripped, shredded jeans,” says DiMarco. “I like lacy, frilly cocktail dresses with a biker-style jacket over it and sexy heels. It’s a ‘rough and feminine’ look. I like mixing those two elements a lot.”
DiMarco thinks that when it comes to trends, it’s best to stick to your own personal style and incorporate a few things that you like. “I think no matter what the trend is, stay true to who you are and cherrypick the trends you like.”
Also, blazers are coming into her store by the dozens this fall.
“For fall, I think layering is essential. Because the afternoons are so hot and the evenings are cooler, lightweight cardigans are really nice,” she says. “If you are going from work to dinner, wearing a silky camisole with a pencil skirt and a blazer is a great polished look.”
At Lilac And Lilies, shoppers can find bathing suits year-round, and brands like Blank NYC, SkinnyJeans, Mara Hoffman for nice South Florida prints, silks from Yumi Kim and jumpsuits that don’t wrinkle à la Veronica M.
Kerry Szymanski, a fashion communications consultant and instructor at the Art Institute (as well as former owner of Sassy BB), points out that in the fall we’ll see a lot of black and white geometric prints inspired by the 1960s.
A change in color will occur, too. “On the runway, we saw dark, richer colors: emerald green, midnight blue and pastels like minty green, lilac and baby blue,” she says.
“Menswear-inspired pantsuits will show up more in the workplace. Oversized blazers with bulky shoulder pads are back. That ‘steal your boyfriend’s blazer and jeans’ look is hot.”
Other key items include ballet flats, sandals, wedges and sheath dresses. And florals will carry over from summer to fall. To stay on trend, Szymanski suggests sticking to dark floral patterns. “I always say there are two seasons here, hot and air conditioning.”
The boating and yachting industry makes up a large part of Fort Lauderdale’s economy. And where there’s fun on the water, there is signature style. According to Kevin Frawley, a yacht broker at Denison Yacht Sales, Country Squire in Lauderdale-By-The-Sea is the place to go for boating wear.
“I see a lot of trendy and preppy clothes, polo shirts and nautical themes like sailfish on shorts,” says Frawley. “Everybody wears Sperry Topsider shoes. They used to be brown with white bottoms, and now there are ones with red and blue soles.”
He says that Guy Harvey T-shirts are popular in fishing circles, and Tommy Bahama clothing is found on folks aged 40 and older.
Women tend to stick to flip flops, deck shoes, sundresses, bathing suits and cover-ups while out on the water. Kids wear swimming trunks and T-shirts. From season to season, little changes in what folks wear.
“Ray-Ban Wayfarer and aviator sunglasses are real popular,” he adds.
Shops like Optical Spectrum on Las Olas, B.C. Surf and Sport and the Sunglass Hut, along with mall department stores, are where you can find designer frames to shield your eyes from the South Florida sun.
For ultra hip men’s wear, Archives on Las Olas is the go-to source. This locally owned shop holds ping-pong gatherings with free beer on Tuesday evenings and vinyl record listening parties at other times.
Flannel shirts, interesting graphic T-shirts and button-down-collared shirts line the store. Stylish sneakers from Pony are available. Fudali Apparel is on the racks, appropriately, since Chad Fudali is a part-time Fort Lauderdale resident.
The store may intimidate people unused to hipster culture. But after spending time browsing, any male of any age can find a nice pair of slacks and an intriguing shirt without going too wild.
Across the street is LF, which has boho chic apparel for teens and women in their mid-20s. A few blocks west stands Elektrik Boutique, which reflects Fort Lauderdale style to a T. Here, men and women can find outfits to wear on the water with water-resistant shoes – Swims – to match. Everything from bathing suits to jeans to nightlife wear can be found here.
For upscale casual, there’s Deborah James, also on Las Olas. The eponymous boutique, owned by a graduate of the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, has timeless pieces with loose flowing fits ideal for South Florida ladies.
Fashion-forward attorney Anthony Chiarello says that Maus & Hoffman and Moda Mario are where to shop for suits. “Those places are really high-end, but suits are supposed to be,” he says. “I like most Italian designers because they fit so well. Etro suits rock, but they can be a little too ostentatious for work. Attolini and Borrelli are more conservative choices and are a perfect fit.”
The New Jersey native agrees that Fort Lauderdale is still searching for its signature style, which may be to its benefit. “Perhaps one thing that makes this place so cool,” he says, “is that it is not defined by just one thing.”
WHERE TO GET THE LOOKS:
The Archives, 1015 E. Las Olas Blvd., 954-533-8201
B.C. Surf and Sport, 1701 N. Federal Hwy., 954-564-0202
Country Squire, 4404 N. Ocean Dr., Lauderdale-By-The-Sea, 954-776-5940
Deborah James, 623 E. Las Olas Blvd., 954-524-2585
Elektrik Boutique, 619 E. Las Olas Blvd., 954-533-5107
LF Stores, 916 E. Las Olas Blvd., 954-768-9091
Lilac And Lilies Boutique, 2541 E. Sunrise Blvd., 954-530-3109
Maus and Hoffman, 800 E. Las Olas Blvd., 954-463-1472
Moda Mario, 1200 E. Las Olas Blvd., 954-467-3258
Optical Spectrum, 804 E. Las Olas Blvd., 954-463-1566
Out of the Closet Thrift Stores,1785 E. Sunrise Blvd., 954-462-9442
2097 Wilton Dr., Wilton Manors, 954-358-5580
Tommy Bahama, 607 E. Las Olas Blvd., 954-527-8868
Neiman Marcus, Macy’s, Sunglass Hut at Galleria Mall, 2414 E. Sunrise Blvd., 954-564-101