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Summer in San Francisco is the season of denial. A June morning will debut with clear blue skies and skin-baking warmth. By the end of the day, ominous clouds have crawled across the sun, a cold breeze in their wake. The lightweight, knee-skimming dress that seemed like such a good idea hours before becomes nothing but a frame for a field of gooseflesh. Perfectly adorable outfits are obscured by the bulk of a friend's jacket.
What's a girl to do? Suck it up and put on some more clothes.
There's a subtle art to layering, like grazing a buffet. You want to take a bit of everything, but you don't want the plate to buckle under the load. "Everyone loves those summer dresses," says Gwen Lee-Rios, director of operations at Ambiance, a San Francisco staple for feminine dresses and accessories (three locations, 552-5095, www.ambiancesf.com). "But in this city, you've got to have a key piece to wear on the outside."
For example, a colorful scarf can add personality to a ladylike jacket while adding a layer of warmth. And color is the key this summer, according to Lee-Rios. "I went shopping the other day, and I had trouble finding anything black," she says. With accessories, she adds, you "get more bang for your buck" because they can be paired with a variety of outfits.
In a town where the weather lurches from pleasant to wretched in minutes, items that can be tugged off and on with a minimum of fuss — like ponchos — are wardrobe necessities. Mark Hoke predicts that this season will be all about those easy-to-strip-away pieces. He presides over The Seventh Heart (1592 Market at Franklin, 431-1755, www.theseventhheart.com) with co-owner Jess Cuevas. Cuevas notes that this may be the summer of "anti-fit," a reaction to today's skin-tight fashions. The Seventh Heart doesn't segregate its racks of stylish, affordable basics along gender lines, and is stocking unisex styles like roomy U-neck T-shirts and drop-crotch pants.
Leah Martin is one of three owners of NO (389 Valencia at 15th St., 252-9982), the seven-month-old Mission District vintage and resale haven. Something of an experiment in layering itself, the airy space features racks on top of racks that reach almost to the ceiling. Martin stresses that the key to piling on the clothing is staying away from bulky fabrics. "You can wear lots of layers as long as they're thin," she explains, suggesting silk shirts in subdued yet colorful hues.
By the way, wearing more doesn't necessarily mean spending more. All the items featured in this story rang in at $100 or under — much of it much under.
Another layering staple not to be dismissed: the giant tote bag. "In L.A., girls carry these enormous purses, and there's nothing but a lipstick and cellphone in there," a friend noted the other night over dinner, pulling up one chair for herself and another for her bulging carry-all. Then she extracted a wrap from her bag's maw. "Here, we actually use them."
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