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5 Fall Fashion Trends Worth Buying

Autumn 2016 styles: Among the (many) washouts, a few standouts

Old Navy Heavy-Stitch Boyfriend Cardigan, left; Target Crop Flare Denim and Micki Pointed Toe Ballet Flats, right

Courtesy of Old Navy (left) & Target (right)

Two alternative autumn options: Old Navy's Heavy-Stitch Boyfriend Cardigan and Target's Crop Flare Denim and Micki Pointed Toe Ballet Flats

Did a brain fog invade the head of every clothing designer who came up with the new fall looks? That's the only conclusion possible when you see the chokers, prairie ruffles, military looks and Ziggy Stardust platform booties that designer brands are offering as we head into fall 2016.

Fashion always hits a ridiculous extreme in the fall — all those runways to populate, all those magazine pages to fill — so I understand the fantasy element at work here. But a woman needs some practical options, too. Stay in the fast-fashion lane — by which I mean stores such as Banana Republic, Gap, H&M, Mango, Old Navy, Target, Topshop and Zara — and these closet-brightening basics may call your name.

Fancier flats and booties. New proportions and details are making sensible footwear cooler than ever:

  • Ballet flats have secure straps that crisscross the foot or wrap the ankle, so there's no need to clench your toes just to keep them on. Bows, studs and buckles offer extra eye candy. Go for flat, substantial soles rather than "scrunch backs."
  • Loafers, our sturdy old standbys, have transitioned to ladylike velvet or gleaming patent leather, often adorned with oversize tassels. No matter what socks you pair them with — the sparkly, lacy new kind or none at all — loafers look classically stylish.
  • Have you been known to wear peep-toes and sheer panty hose (or even bare legs) on a chilly day? If so, you'll be happy to hear that closed-toe backless slip-ons — aka leather mules — have gone multiseason.
  • And look what's happened to everyday, pull-on ankle booties: They've gained chunky, stacked heels; they have swapped leather for buttery suedes or they've grown high, stretch necks, known as "sock booties," that cling to the ankles. So say no to towering trotters — even if they are made by Yves Saint Laurent or Balenciaga!
  • Pumps are a smart way to avoid sore feet and crammed toes: Their low, block heels and rounded toes distribute body weight more evenly.

A wide-neck sweater. I like this year's broad boatneck and V necklines; they dip to mid-chest to show off your collarbones. This style elongates both your neck and your silhouette, so resist sabotaging the effect with necklaces — especially trendy chokers, which tend to shorten the neck and call attention to the jawline. The sweater bottom should be a roomy straight cut that dips lower in back or an A-line shape with side slits. (As for sweaters with ruffles, fancy appliqués, patterns, weirdly elongated sleeves or turtlenecks: There's just no need!)

A "coat-igan." A loose, extra-long cardigan with pockets makes a great fall alternative to a jacket. Don't be tempted by draped-front styles (you already have at least one) or belted, "bathrobe" versions (none of us needs the extra bulk).

Some feminine blouses. Enough with the button-down shirts, three-quarter-sleeve T-shirts and plaid or denim shirts! Low-cost stores and websites are packed with silky, ladylike blouses featuring V-necks or low pussycat bows (very French). Equally attractive: flowy, floral-print blouses whose long bishop or trumpet sleeves make you feel like Carly Simon. Say no to any ruffles that scream Little House on the Prairie! Off-the-shoulder styles are OK so long as you live in a tropical climate — or simply refuse to let go of your inner Bardot.

Big-girl pants. No, I'm not talking jeans, joggers, yoga pants, leggings or that old pair of work pants — long and boxy, pleated and droopy — we all have stashed away somewhere. All you really need is a pair of perfectly tailored slim (not skinny or skintight) pants in a stretch fabric, cropped above the ankle, that sit at your natural waist. (Think rich black, navy, brown or gray.) They may even be faux leather or imitation washable suede, but here's what they are definitely not: stuffy, retro or too casual. Add a same-color top and heels for a "suit-able" stand-in.

For more beauty and fashion tips, check out The Woman's Wakeup: How to Shake Up Your Looks, Life, and Love After 50, as well as AARP's new Beauty & Style digital magazine (available on iPad).