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5 Women Share Best-Dressed Tips, Favorite Designers

September 15, 1989|KAREN NEWELL YOUNG | Karen Newell Young is a regular contributor to Orange County Life

What does it take to be well-dressed? Money, of course, helps. Connoisseur magazine claims it costs more than a million dollars per season to make the fashion industry's annual best-dressed list. And that doesn't include sport clothes.

Those who don't flinch at pitching $10,000 toward a designer gown several times a season are usually considered pretty snappy dressers.

But several of Orange County's arbiters of style say more important than money is developing an individual look and building a wardrobe around one's own personal style. Even those on a budget stress that by carefully choosing a few high-quality, versatile pieces, a woman can dress well without millions.

We asked five women from several walks of life--considered by many to be among the county's finest dressers--what makes a woman well-dressed, what they like to buy and why.

Maria Crutcher

Recently named woman of the year by Orange County Magazine for her volunteer work (chairing the renowned Angelitos de Oro benefit fashion show three years in a row, for example), she says versatility is her fashion byword.

But Crutcher, 77, doesn't claim to be on a budget. She readily acknowledges that she shops almost exclusively at Amen Wardy, the pricey, high-fashion boutique a stone's throw from her Big Canyon home. She is such a key customer, in fact, that she is often consulted on fashion by Wardy and has accompanied him on buying trips.

Versatility is a key element in her fashion scope because it makes dressing easier. One of her favorite fall outfits is an Oscar de la Renta black-wool sheath that can be worn with an endless assortment of accessories.

The simple black dress, a good shade for Crutcher's coloring of pink skin tones and gray hair, can be dressed up with jewels or dressed down with a casual jacket. Last week, she wore it with half a dozen David Webb jewelry pieces, setting off the black in a blaze of gold. She owns several short Amen Wardy jackets that put an entirely different spin on the basic black.

"I think you'll find that women today want to be very versatile in their clothes and to be able to go through the whole day and into the evening by only changing a few accessories," she says.

Her favorite designers are Galanos, Bill Blass, Oscar de la Renta, Bob Mackie for evening, Valentino and Odicini, names that crowd her closets. Reaching into her wardrobe, Crutcher pulls out an armload of Galanos suits, many in black and white stripes or checks. Amid the Tiffany boxes and Judith Leiber bags are several Valentino suits, Bill Blass ensembles and Amen Wardy private label jackets that can be mixed and matched.

So far this fall, she has purchased a two-piece black leather suit with simulated alligator skirt and silk blouse made in Italy for Amen Wardy, and a black Oscar de la Renta evening gown of velvet skirt and draped chiffon top for the upcoming holiday parties.

"My philosophy is to add a few good pieces for every season," she says. "Try to make your wardrobe so it is flexible for any occasion."

Lydia Wang Himes

President of the Historical and Cultural Foundation of Orange County, she calls herself an eclectic dresser. As a commercial interior designer who grew up in Hong Kong, Himes prefers clean lines in both her clothes and her work. She favors unconstructed suits, uncluttered by patterns or accessories.

"I like good details, I'm not into a lot of drippy scarfs and necklaces but rather well-cut clothes," she says. She will swing from slightly avant-garde to traditional Chinese dress as long as the look is not overly tailored or severe. She likes unique, feminine clothes and counts Valentino, Issey Miyake and Ungaro among her favorite designers.

"Being in my profession, I can get away with a little more freedom," she says. "I like unusual things that no one else is wearing."

Himes--a member of the Angels of the Arts and a trustee of South Coast Repertory, as well as owner-founder of Lydia Wang and Associates in Costa Mesa--needs an assortment of comfortable outfits that travel from the drafting board to the concert hall with ease.

"My philosophy in dress is that you have to be very comfortable with your look and your body," she says. "You have to dress to please yourself. If you're comfortable with your look, you'll look good."

This fall, she will be searching for work clothes at her favorite place to shop, the designer department of Nordstrom, South Coast Plaza. And she says she has something very special to wear to Saturday night's South Coast Repertory Annual Gala. She won't say what it is.

Rusty Hood

"I never (decide) what I'm wearing until I'm in the shower," says the chairman of the board of the Phoenix House (Orange County) drug rehabilitation program. "That's why I like to have things in the closet, so I don't have to plan ahead."

Hood, like Himes, emphasizes the importance of knowing one's best look and building a wardrobe around it.

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