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Change (of clothes) we need 

In a season of transition, let traditional rules fall by the wayside

click to enlarge Click for larger image • On Lauren Stevens: Rosette dress, $44.50, from Cora Boutique. Scarf, $28, by Francesca's Collections from Francesca's. - PHOTO BY JEREMY M. LANGE

change (chaynj): 1. v., To make different. Also see alter, modify, transform.

Change is the buzzword on the tip of every pundit and politician's tongue, igniting heated debates on its meaning, timing and enforcement. You can't flip past any news channel or sit through a traffic light without spotting the word in a campaign speech or bumper sticker.

As the election heats up and the weather cools down, the concept of change is central to the fall fashion forecast as well. The industry and its main players demand rapid seasonal turnover from designers, and consumers' lust for the newest It bag (Burberry's Spike Clutch) and latest heels (Gucci's Babouska Studded Bootie) drives the market and fills the fashion glossies.

The American fashion world's biggest biannual event, New York's Fashion Week, wrapped up Friday, Sept. 12, at the hallowed tents of Bryant Park and celebrated the theme of sartorial evolution. Inevitably, the industry picked up on this election season's themes of race and gender.

Italian Vogue's July issue, its best-selling issue to date, features only models of color on its cover and editorial spreads, and Marc Jacobs plays with gender norms in his current advertising campaign, using male model Cole Mohr to model a black satin cocktail dress available from his fall women's collection.

click to enlarge Click for larger image • Latasha McMillan (Right): Cowl neck tunic sweater, $52, by Free People; wide sash belt, $6; and jeans, $78, by Miss Me, from Gigi's Boutique. - PHOTO BY JEREMY M. LANGE

Although Fashion Week fast-forwarded to the spring 2009 collections, September in the Triangle is always an unpredictable mash-up of chilly, almost-fall morning commutes and steamy football games that call for transitional pieces suitable for anything in between.

So, with change on our minds and Labor Day only a few weeks behind us, we thought about the relevance of age-old fashion rules such as "No white after Labor Day." Many clothes hounds south of the Mason-Dixon Line have already packed up their white blouses, dresses and accessories, citing the rule handed down by mothers and grandmothers.

The decree, which may have originally reflected cooler post-Labor Day temperatures that don't require heat-reflecting colors, is just one of many rules modern men and women are rejecting in favor of individual style.

"I don't think there should be any rules in fashion," said Cassie Leik, co-owner of the Raleigh-based online store Cora Boutique. "The only guideline I like to follow is limiting the number of trends in one outfit. If you dress too trendy, there's a point where it just becomes a costume."

Leik and her business partner Kaushal Shah are indicative of other trends in fashion. As local designers, they're part of a growing scene of local design talent that aims to make Raleigh better known as a fashion center (indeed, that seems to be one of the few "top ten" lists on which it's not ranked).

The pair's Web site, www.shopcora.com, also reflects a change in the way shoppers are getting their fix. Even with a depressed economy, online retailing is expected to increase by 17 percent in 2008, according to a study by Forrester Research for Shop.org, the digital unit of the National Retail Federation.

click to enlarge Click for larger image • On Lauren Stevens (left) and Morgan Gibbs (Right): dark wash skinny jeans by Wax Jeans, $48. - PHOTO BY JEREMY M. LANGE

"Obviously, as a small business it was easier to create a Web site because of lower startup costs and overhead," said Shah. "It was a good way for Cassie and me to get started in the retail world." Shah and Leik, both UNC-Chapel Hill graduates, started the budget-conscious site to give students and young professionals in the Triangle and beyond a place for trendy, of-the-moment fashion and accessories without exorbitant price tags.

"When I was in college at Carolina I didn't have a car, so there was no way for me to drive to the mall," said Leik, who pens a fashion blog on the site. "There aren't many outlets, local or online, for cute, affordable clothes, and we wanted to fill that niche."

Given the ever-growing interest in such events as N.C. State's design student-driven Art to Wear show in the spring, and the ever-more-essential fashionSPARK show (which was attended by close to a thousand people last weekend), we can look forward to an increasingly hospitable local environment for fledgling labels such as Cora Boutique.

In the meantime, in the middle of an important election season, abiding any staid fashion mantra is the least of our worries. Here, we rebel and carry white—in all of its bone, eggshell and ivory glory—past the September holiday and into fall.


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  • At New York's Fashion Week, the industry picked up on this election season's themes of race and gender.

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