Black Sashes

Though skinny belts are certainly in their prime this spring, they aren't the only waist-hugging option you can incorporate into your wardrobe. Behold our current obsession du cinch: the black sash! No longer relegated to little girls' party dresses or bridal gowns, the black sash is now defining waists on both runway looks and red carpets alike. Whether it's snugly tied in a small, prim bow or long and loosely knotted, ladies like Eva Mendes and Emmy Rossum are embracing this easy-to-wear accent and we think you should too. It adds a touch of unfussy attitude to anything it's paired with--whether that's rainbow bright stripes or romantic frocks--which is why we're spotlighting black sashes in today's Accessory Report! Now, if you're searching for a top-tier runway reference for this sweet accessory trend, look no further than Sonia Rykiel's colourful S/S 11 collection. Rykiel showcased a slew of sashes--specifically, obi-like belts--wrapped around pleated paperbag pants, colour-block cardigans, and tops with zippy stripes. Speaking of the latter, we love how Rykiel used a knotted black sash to break up the contrasting stripes of the Cotton Stripe Multi Stripe Sweater ($795, 212.396.3060) and Cotton Stripe Plisse Culottes ($890, 212.396.3060) combo shown above. The resulting outfit is playful without being overly girly, and decidedly refreshing.

Of course, there are many ways to wear the black sash, most of which do not involve sporty stripes. In fact, the majority of our celebrity examples seem to prefer the sash as an accompaniment to their dressier, print-free looks. In these instances, the dash of black serves as a palette cleanser, removing some of the sweetness from unabashedly feminine pieces. For example, last month Emmy Rossum attended a party celebrating Genlux's Winter Issue wearing a head-to-toe DKNY runway look comprised of the brand's Maraschino Silk V-Neck Shirt ($195, 800.231.0884), Rouge Cotton Poplin All Over Frill Skirt ($395, 800.231.0884), Black Cotton Twill Sash ($45, 800.231.0884), and Rouge/Maraschino Leather Ankle Strap Pumps ($395, 800.231.0884). Now, imagine that pink ruffled skirt and red blouse without the black accent at the waist--very different right? "The bow sash is like a perfect frame--it gives definition to the look," says Jane Chung EVP of DKNY Design, and we completely agree. In this case, it keeps the colourful combo from looking too girly and really elevates the outfit: talk about a high-impact accessory! Carolyn Murphy used a sash in a similar way a few months ago, when she arrived at a celebration for W magazine's September issue. The supermodel made her peach chiffon dress look a little stronger by adding a short black sash--tied in a jaunty, off-center bow--and black ankle boots for a thoroughly delightful ensemble.

In addition to taming an ultra-feminine frock, a bow-tied sash can also be used to update a retro-inspired piece, as Eva Mendes and Lea Seydoux demonstrated recently. Mendes attended the 2011 Spirit Award nominations in Hollywood wearing Peter Som's Bouquet Floral Chiffon Dress ($2475, 212.221.5991), which comes with a long sash. Alone, the floral maxi would have a very '70s bohemian look, but the addition of the statement sash takes the dress out of that specific era and makes it much more contemporary. Leydoux gave us another great example when she attended the Los Angeles premiere of Somewhere in a '50s-inspired, sleeveless, button-up dress. The combination of the full, flouncy frock and retro ankle-strap heels give off a ladylike charm, but the sash tied in the middle keeps it from feeling saccharine.

Happily, executing this smart dressing idea is a rather simple task. First and foremost, you need a sash. Our suggestion: head American Apparel and pick up The Sash ($16), or try to snag DKNY's Runway Sash Belt ($45) or Halston Heritage's Skinny Sash Belt ($95). From there, if you're looking to recreate Emmy Rossum's sweet combo for Valentine's Day or just love a fresh pop of colour, try pairing Equipment's Hard Feelings Blouse ($175) in Red with either ASOS' Flippy Hem Jersey Mini Skirt ($26) or Kimichi Blue's Full Skirt ($48). Just make sure to tie your sash in a prim bow and shift it to the side to give your look a Rossum-inspired playful finish. Those of you who love Eva Mendes' take on the trend will want to pick up a floral maxi or two. Our favourites are Lipsy's Lace Trim Floral Maxi Dress ($107) and Rebecca Taylor's Runway Dress ($407); both floor-grazing frocks will take you straight through spring and summer. Finally, to master Lea Seydoux's retro pick, you should definitely check out Topshop's Cream Spotted Scallop Collar Dress ($55). Simply tie your sash so that it hangs in a loose bow in the center and you'll have nailed this look!

Of course there are a handful of lovely, ready-made styles available too! For example, we are head-over-heels in love with the relaxed fit of L'Agence's Ruffle Front Tank Dress ($340) and adore Madewell's simple and sophisticated Snapshot Dress ($145). Nasty Gal's Fuschia Silk Wrap Dress ($94) is also definitely worth checking out--the price is right and its bold colour is a fresh choice for spring!

Photo of Emmy Rossum, courtesy of Getty Images, photo of Caroline Murphy, courtesy of WENN, photo of Lea Seydoux, courtesy of Bauer-Griffin, photo of Sonia Rykiel, courtesy of First View