Trend Trial Ruffles

The fashion world has had an ongoing love affair with the ruffle for numerous seasons now--all hail the curiously resilient peplum! But for S/S 13, everyone's favourite frill has taken some serious style steroids and grown to dramatic proportions. Peter Pilotto showed cascading ruffles trailing down dresses, while Chloe's collection featured enlarged frills adorning sleeves and hems that floated dreamily down the runway. But despite their popularity, ruffles are downright difficult to translate to real life. In addition to the risk of looking like a flamenco doll, you probably have less-than-lovely memories of the oft-maligned adornment. Whether it was the infamous "puffy" shirt donned by Jerry Seinfeld or a dreadful frilly dress you were inexplicably made to wear as a little girl, ruffles can seem like the wrong choice. With this in mind, I recommend trying a version that references the runways' glorious looks without feeling like a costume. Read on for my tips on how to wear ruffles in real life for three different occasions.

Look 1: Polished Office One of the last things you want to communicate to your higher ups is immaturity--sartorially speaking or otherwise. And since many women associate frills with childhood dresses, it's understandable why most working women would rather spill coffee down their front than sport a ruffle to the office. But frills can work just as well when you're on the clock as they do in your off-duty hours--the secret is to find a tailored and understated piece. My chambray ruffle blouse feels as polished as a popover shell, but has more visual interest than a typical 9-to-5 staple. Style Notes: I like to think dressing for the office is a little bit like applying makeup. You should focus on one area to make a statement, say a punchy red lip or a trendy printed pant, but the rest of your look should pretty much toe the line. In this case, the ruffle blouse is my piece of flair, so I built the rest of my outfit with workwear standbys--a classic pair of black trousers and a collared shirt--to keep the outfit strictly professional. As for my bag choice, a structured snakeskin tote is roomy enough to hold a change of clothes for after-hours, while still looking polished. What I Wore: Club Monaco Carter Shirt ($99); Riller and Fount Carolyn Tank ($132, available end of February) in Downtown; Preen Line Block Heath Jacket ($859); Rachel Zoe Ian Cigarette Pants ($275); Talbots Exotic Embossed Leather Satchel ($209) in Salt/Pepper; Tibi Amber Heels ($365) in Silver/Black and Pebble/Nude; House of Harlow 1960 Gypsy Rope Earrings ($90, available early March); House of Harlow 1960 Aven Cuff ($135).

Look 2: Off-Duty Edge Perhaps it's my stubborn side, but I've never backed down from a challenge, fashion-related or otherwise. Accordingly, when I was tasked with styling a ruffle skirt in a downtown way, I chose the girliest version I could find. Enter the prim pencil skirt from Ann Taylor's bridal collection. While very pretty in its own right, the tiered tulle skirt doesn't easily lend itself to a tough-girl aesthetic. To make the feminine piece blend seamlessly into an edgier look, it's all about the styling. Style Notes: Whenever an item feels overly precious, my first instinct is to pair it with pieces that cut the cutesy vibe--items that act as a sartorial palette cleanser, if you will. I started off with a statement sweatshirt in a fluorescent abstract print, which feels equal parts laid-back and trendy. As for my accessories, I chose grunge-inspired lace-ups and a studded cross-body bag (handheld bags are the calling card of an uptown girl) to contribute to the downtown vibe. The overall effect is cool, never prissy. What I Wore: Whetherly Noam T-Shirt ($158, 323.651.4129); H&M Sweater ($50, available mid-February); Ann Taylor Tulle Strips Skirt ($275); Opening Ceremony Grunge Oxfords ($390); HUE Tissue Socks ($7); H&M Black Leather Embossed Snake Print Bag ($50, available mid-February); Lady Grey Cheval Bangle ($230, available by special order).

Look 3: Date Night Since wearing ruffles for a romantic encounter is almost as predictable as Anna Wintour asking her hairstylist for a bob, I wanted to see if I could style frills for a date night without looking like a walking cliché. The key is to leave the very ruffly pieces, which can read fussy, in your closet and opt for subtler frills like the flouncy hem of my Strenesse Gabriele Strehle dress. Among other romantic details, like the semi-sheer fabric and bow at the waist, the ruffle just becomes another feature that adds feminine interest to the overall look, rather than the main event. Style Notes: Once you have selected your pitch-perfect frock, I have one guideline for choosing the right accouterments: mix accessories that complement the overall outfit and push the look to the next level. Pointed black pumps fall into the former camp, as they don't compete with the print of the dress, while a bold statement necklace and snakeskin clutch fall into the latter category, ensuring the outfit is complex enough not to feel one-note. What I Wore: Strenesse Gabriele Strehle Silk Dress ($1960, 212.249.2417, available now); RACHEL Rachel Roy Large Frame Clutch ($69, available April 1st) in Tobacco Snake; House of Harlow 1960 Nomadic Warrior Arrow Necklace ($110, available February); DKNY Comfort Luxe Opaque Control Top Tight ($15); Charles David Radiant Suede and Snake Pointed-Toe Ankle Strap Pumps ($250).

SHOP THE TREND Preen Line Deck Silk-Trimmed Cotton-Jersey Top ($315); Friends & Associates Ainsley Ruffle Skirt ($125); Cynthia Rowley Silk Ruffle Dress ($595, available March). Ease into the ruffled look with separates like a two-tone blouse or peplum skirt, or fully commit in a pretty dress with frills on the sleeves, waist, and hemline. P.S.: Do you have a trend you're not quite sure how to wear? Leave a message in the comments, and I might try it out.--Kat Collings