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Slip into the sweet, romantic styles of summer

TODAY Style Editor Bobbie Thomas shows you how to embrace the soft looks of the season without feeling too frilly.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

From silky lightweight fabrics to floral and eyelet designs, it seems that come summertime, there’s no escaping “pretty” pieces. Whether you’re just not the girly type, or you’re feeling too mature for delicate designs, there’s a way to wear feminine looks that will work for you. Bobbie Thomas, TODAY Style Editor and author of The Buzz for In Touch Weekly, shows you how to nurture your inner child by focusing on romantic touches and sweet subtleties that won’t overwhelm or leave you overexposed:

Year of the dress
This isn’t the first time you’ve heard me say, "dresses are the new denim" — and I promise it won’t be the last.  The one piece that is all “woman” — reserved solely for our sex — is the ultimate sweet symbol and the foundation for a romantic wardrobe.

Most of us know that frocks are freedom, so think beyond the little black dress, as there is literally a style out there for every-“body”. Consider a chiffon tea length dress, belted around the waist and worn with strappy sandals, as the perfect summer staple. Even the ultimate jeans and t-shirt Mecca, the Gap, is learning to love dresses.  The focus of their summer collection was on dresses this year, in order to appeal to women who are craving the comfortable garments. 

And with the tidal wave of dresses, comes the frills of the frock.  But don’t be so quick to run away from ruffles. Rather, use them to streamline and soften your silhouette.  For example, if you’re blessed with curvy hips, ruffles on top can help to beautifully balance a smaller chest.  This season, bold prints are breaking the fashion rules, with everyone from Diane von Furstenberg to Zara showing loud, abstract patterns rather than soft, small designs.  Pinks and pastels are taking a backseat to brights, with yellow standing out as a refreshing burst of romantic color.  

But if you’re looking for a way to tone down or break up a bold pattern or hue, belts can be your best friend.  They not only anchor your eye on a busy design, they make a dressy frock feel right for day, and can help cinch you in at the waist. (On Model #1: Green and white floral print dress $69; Javea shoe $89,; On Model #2: Betsey Johnson chiffon yellow dress $300,; Umbertoa shoes $80,

Bobbie’s Buzz: A summer scarf is a practical solution with pretty benefits. Lightweight enough to wear in the heat, and little enough to throw in your pocketbook, this piece is key to any outfit.  Wrap it around you when the sun goes down, or use it to add a laid back look to your feminine frocks. 

Go ahead, mix and match
Just because you’re embracing summer’s softer side, doesn’t mean you have to be perfectly put together. In order to avoid being too over-the-top feminine, try mixing and matching. One way to do this is a classic play on feminine and masculine pieces.  Linen or pinstripe will add an instant edge to an airy top, while structured clothing, such as blazers rather than cardigans, will give you a tailored appearance.

Also, try mixing pieces or patterns from different cultures. Incorporate elements from your travels such a stacked bangles or dangly earrings for an eclectic global feel.  And don’t be frightened by florals! Look for neutral backgrounds such as taupe, navy, and heather gray for the base of your print — it will help tone down the "pretty" in a floral pattern.  There are plenty of prints out there with unisex color combos — you don’t have to dip into pastels in order to be sweet. 

And finally, remember, the more the merrier — you may think two patterns would clash and compete, but often times two mixed prints blend well together. The key is to make sure the main colors in each item are complimentary.  That way, instead of one print grabbing your attention, they will fight each other off so that YOU can stand out. (Rebecca Taylor floral flutter sleeve top $244, 212-966-0406; linen striped shorts $69.50,; Beaded necklace $24,; Madilyn thong $39.99,; scarf and bracelets $9.99- 28,

Even the most modern woman can find a way to wear these styles.  Think sweet meets sleek and start with crisp, clean lines. Solids are a staple you’ll feel comfortable with, and from there just consider the details.  And as always, if you don’t want to wear it -- accessorize with it.  Use your jewelry wisely, as a necklace or bracelet can instantly add a romantic element to a simple dress.  Or you can do the opposite, and use a solid textured accessory to soften a sweeter piece. (French Connection white cropped pant $118; Crochet sleevless trapeze sweater $68,

Bobbie’s Buzz: A silky slip peeking through a tailored frock can add the perfect hint of romance.  Rebecca Taylor’s slip with a 3D flower appliqué hemline is one of the prettiest pieces we’ve seen in a long time – but it gets completely toned down when placed under a simple, sleeker style. 

Practical makes perfect
Summertime calls for a slow down, a time to relax and unwind.  Even if you’re not able to take a vacation, dreams of a destination where you feel worry-free are not hard to come by.  Think country chic meets comfort with your clothing (or Rachel McAdams in the Notebook), and embrace practicality and ease when working out your sweet style. 

While hemlines tend to get shorter, tops tend to get smaller, and fabrics tend to get lighter when the temperature rises, not all romantic looks will leave you feeling overexposed.  In fact, the layered look and volume trend seen on runways this season can work to your advantage.  Play peekaboo with a breathable crochet cardigan — it’s a great summer solution for the office or just to cover up.  Look for fabrics like denim and cotton, as opposed to sheer silks and chiffon, to provide more coverage and comfort.  A casual denim skirt is polished and chic when it’s tailored and knee-length, resulting in a sophisticated summer alternative to jeans.  And a crisp cotton top can be much more flattering than a slinky camisole, especially when adorned with buttons that create a vertical line or crafty details such as ribbons or ruffles that draw attention to the right places. (Isaac Mizrahi for Target fishnet cardigan $29.99,; Parameter plaid floral tank $155,; Charlott pencil skirt $198,; Warricka pumps $100,

Bobbie’s Buzz: The ultimate in practical – if you’re thinking of planning a picnic I’ve got something great for you. Designed by a woman who wanted a stylish way to bring her lunch to work, Cooler Couture is a line of functional handbags with insulated pockets that will keep your food cold. How cool is that?