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Spring into formal fashion with local Milwaukee boutiques

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Bold purples, yellows and greens are prime colors the spring. Photo by Cy Kondrick/cy.kondrick@marquette.edu.

Formal season is coming, and no one wants to be left racing through the racks the night before. So in preparation for that big day, it’s time to take a peek into what Milwaukee has to offer when it comes to dresses, accessories, and everything else you might need to dance the night away in style.

First things first, it’s time to find a location in Milwaukee that can cater to any and every fashion style you may need for the event. When the nearest mall is a place like Grand Avenue, it may seem hard to find the perfect dress.

Luckily Water Street and the Third Ward are here to save you. The former offers a variety of quaint little boutiques, while the latter is perfect for accessorizing.

With that in mind, the first stop any fashionista will need to make is at either Fred’s Boutique or Miss Ruby on Water Street. Each are ideal spots to obtain the most important part of the ensemble: the dress. Though they do offer day-to-day dresses and clothing, they excel in formal wear.

They also love to add a little extra to every shopping experience. If you want to go the whole nine yards when it comes to getting dressy, Fred’s offers shopping parties, the clothing equivalent of a Tupperware party.

When perusing the stores, it’s important to stick to either side of the fashion spectrum: classic styles or in-your-face contemporary.

For Third Ward boutique Lela co-owner Carrie Arrouet, classic is the way to go.

“We always love anything with a vintage flair,” Arrouet said.

For those interested in keeping it classic, the ’70s are making a comeback. Invest in ruffles, lace and prominent stripes, and when picking colors, select nudes, naturals, whites and light citrus colors, typical of the time period.

If you instead want to take a modern approach, Anne Ristow, buyer and store manager for Fred’s, believes patterns are big to look for this season.

“In the store we have a mix of floral printed dresses and tops, brighter colors, stripes, trenches, and the new, longer midi (mid-calf) hemline lengths of the season,” Ristow said. “They’ve been the best mood boosters on days the weather has been less than spring-like.”

According to Arrouet, bold colors are also important to the modern approach this spring, such as purple, yellow and green. However, the most important aspect to achieving this look correctly is to make sure you pick the right color for your skin tones. Pale skin tones should stay near the hot pinks and blues, while dark tones can go all out with vibrant oranges and yellows.

The final thing to think about when dress shopping is the dress’ structure. Strapless and one-shoulder dresses are always a solid choice for formal wear, and empire waist dresses are a way to flatter any and every figure.

When it comes time to complete the look, the Third Ward is the place to go for accessories, with shops like SHOO and Anthropologie offering lots of trendy options to complement your dress.

If you’re looking for a new pair of Cinderella-quality shoes, be advised that flats are out, but wedges are in. They’re a smart choice too, giving you the height of heels and the comfort of flats, Ristow said. Other styles to look into are neutral-colored pumps, pythons and platforms, all of which are perfect to either balance out the powerful dress colors or to spice up simpler dresses.

Last season, bags could carry your life around with you, but this season small purses are the big item. Meant to be just a background piece of the ensemble, these little purses, like clutches, satchels and wristlets, will help to highlight the dress rather than obstruct it from view.

“We’re noticing this season, though, they are on a smaller scale,” Ristow said. “With such a practical bag, does it get better than being cute and hands free? I’ll take it in any shape, size or color.”

A few last tips to remember: When shopping, make sure to try everything on. Whether it looks like it will or won’t work, you’ll never be 100 percent sure unless you see it in the mirror.

Once you try it on, make sure it’s comfortable and something you’re willing to devote the entire night to. If you lift up your arms and the dress doesn’t follow, chances are it’s not the dress for you.

When it comes to shoes and accessories, make sure your shoes are broken in and ready for the night. Make sure purses have the five essentials: Band-Aids, Chap Stick, keys, your phone and your ID.

The most important thing to remember is if you feel good, you’ll look good. As Arrouet said, “Have fun with fashion. … Don’t take it too seriously, you don’t have to spend a ton of money to look and feel great.

“Attitude is everything!”

Smaller purses, like clutches, satchels and wristlets, are in vogue this year. Photo by Cy Kondrick/cy.kondrick@marquette.edu.

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