NYtimes |Degrees of Style Amid the Swelter

Degrees of Style Amid the Swelter

By Ruth La Ferla

July 28, 2010

IN the cool of the evening light/ the girls in their summer clothes pass me by ... me by ... me by. ...

Seems those Springsteen lyrics have stuck in their groove, stalled like most everything in a July that will likely go down as one of the most wicked on record.

The summer’s scorching heat can make getting out of bed a challenge, and the prospect of putting on clothes an exercise in futility. “You will wilt,” said a posting on the Web site Jezebel. “Just accept it and resign yourself to the fact that you will not get more than one wear out of most anything.”

But punishing temperatures were not about to undo the legions of New Yorkers who maintain their unflappable chic as a point of pride — if not a law of survival. On an afternoon last week when the air was as thick as chowder, many of them coped with toxic air, humidity and the furnace-like blasts that issued from grates and subway platforms with a sip of an iced latte and generous lashings of common sense.

“In the heat I rely on a uniform, something I don’t have to think about,” said Hanna Sandin, who on a day when the mercury reached 97 degrees, wore a Maison Martin Margiela tank top and loose drawstring pants. The trousers, said Ms. Sandin, a sculptor and jewelry designer, “are perfect for this kind of weather. There is almost no construction involved,” not even a pocket to trap air.

Yet among her contemporaries, the once-ironclad rules of summer dressing exist for the most part to be ignored. “For many New York women it’s super-important to wear what we want,” said Lisa Mettier, a graphic designer, who last week wore a long black dress with hefty ankle boots. “We don’t care how hot it is.”

“Linen is a lifesaver,” said the pundits at Polyvore, the online fashion and shopping company. How is it, then, that so many city-bred women are skipping this classic summer fabric in favor of heat-trapping silk?

“Light colors will absorb less sun than darker,” the style sages at Jezebel said, reviving a hoary cliché. Yet black, for many, remains the color of choice on even the most life-sapping days.

“Black is very New York, and very pulled together,” said Maya Poulton, a sales representative for Gilt Groupe, the invitation-only shopping Web site. As Ms. Poulton, who wore a jet-black one-shoulder Halston shift, said: “When you’re trying to look appropriate for work, black can seem more formal than pastels.”

Ms. Sandin said that while she often wears white, black stays more crisp. “It is also a way to stay under the radar, and that’s a good thing any time,” she said.

With rare exceptions, shoppers tend to forgo pricey wardrobe items from late May through July. In the summer “cheap is better,” said Deidre Bird-Kelly, a student, who was wearing her boyfriend’s plaid shirt and a perforated paper picture hat from Uniqlo. “I mostly wear clothes that are disposable, because sunscreen or sweat means that everything stains, and it’s harder to preserve your clothes.”

At Forever 21, a striped maxi tank dress was a summer best seller, according to a spokeswoman for the chain; solid-colored ankle-length maxis were top performers at Zara and Wal-Mart, where an attenuated tank dress by Norma Kamali was a particular favorite.

Dresses in a profusion of styles were hits at Lord & Taylor, where shoppers snapped up minimalist designs in nude or olive tones, as well as one-shoulder and ruffled pieces. Summer favorites also included roll-cuff shorts, white-strap watches, aviator sunglasses and Panama hats.

Often as not, women’s personal guidelines for combating the heat seem counterintuitive. “On hot days I wear layers,” said Becky Auslander, who on Monday had on a Banana Republic striped cotton shift and ballerina flats. Ms. Auslander, a publicist for Yahoo, makes a point of wearing moisture-wicking tank tops under almost everything.

Tradition dictates that shorts are off limits, for the office at least. Yet shorts, cuffed or creased, are a summer staple among the young, who have replaced long jeans with the briefest denims. Sensible, if more surprising, is their tendency to jettison thigh-high skirts for calf-grazing maxis or bubble-shaped dresses. As Ms. Sandin observed, “Clothes that stand away from the body can get you through the day.”

Accessorize sparingly, style experts tell you, yet many New Yorkers are loath to part with their chunky boots, and some, like Elma Cremin, a film producer, insist on accenting their layered chiffons with weighty gold jewelry that lends toughness and ballast to their filmy looks. Urban to the core, those women eschew treacle-y patterns, indulging their sweet tooth instead on sugar-laced drinks. Style rules apart, the best defense against the weather, as Ms. Sandin said, may well be an iced ginger tea at Balthazar.