For many of the women who strolled upper Madison Avenue on a recent fall day, it was time to shed the hoodies, biker coats, platform sneakers and country-style floral dresses that until recently denoted cool in favor of a genteelly understated, increasingly formal and durable look.
Call it unfashion, anti-fashion or a counter to the counterculture. It signals a retreat to the safety and unfailing propriety of matched suit, knee-high equestrian boots or some tweedy variation on an old-school uniform — an emphatically grown-up look that resonates with many women now.
More Jackie O. than J. Lo, it trails a whiff of old money laced with a dose of common sense. And it means to send a message that the wearer is too savvy, too secure in her skin, to bother keeping pace with the vagaries of style.
“I don’t do fashion,” said Kate Warmoes, a tourist from Belgium. She preferred to take refuge in a trusty backup, a channel-quilted anorak, which she wore with a ribbed sweater and slim trousers, her beige-on-beige turnout accented with a compact Louis Vuitton shoulder bag.
Ms. Warmoes is inclined these days to shop her closet. “I’m not looking for anything really zany or new,” she said.
Vanessa Traina, a high-profile stylist and luxury-brand consultant, seemed to share that mood. She strolled the avenue wearing a cream-colored Aran sweater and matching skirt, both timeworn Calvin Klein. “I’m just bringing back everything I’d put to bed,” Ms. Traina said.
As for a major fall splash-out, “nothing comes to mind,” she said. Like Ms. Warmoes, she sees little payoff in putting her money on extremes.
“In terms of price, color and style, street wear had gotten pretty outrageous,” said Robert Burke, a luxury consultant in New York. “Returning to a classic style, if you like, represents a retrenchment, a kind of pulling back.”
As far back as two years ago, Mr. Burke began noticing troops of young style setters adopting calf-length skirts, pleated trousers and logo scarves coiled at the throat, looks mirrored only recently on the runways.
“It seems ironic that some major rebels of the runway — Riccardo Tisci of Burberry, Demna Gvasalia of Balenciaga and Hedi Slimane — have been responding to rather than anticipating this shift,” he said.
“Maybe they’re just maturing,” he said. Or following the lead of the women they dress.
Evocative of Avenue Foch or Park Avenue in the 1970s, watered-down versions of their oddly uptight offerings are being embraced by women intent on sidestepping trends.
Dodging trends is the trend, said Taylor Bliss, a 28-year-old decorator. Ms. Bliss was enveloped in a toffee-tone wool coat and matching trousers. “These are classics that I can wear through multiple seasons,” she said, adding that her contemporaries feel much the same way. “Girls just want to buy things that will last.”
Is that choice a jittery response to an unsettled sociopolitical climate? Do curve-obliterating blazers, high-collar silks and flat shoes somehow align with the current modesty movement? Does emulating the style of an idealized haute bourgeoisie reflect a sense of dislocation among people unsure of their place in a rapidly shifting society?
Or can all this, as seems likely, be chalked up to a lethal combination of resentment and ennui? Given a bewildering profusion of choices — to go oversize or trim, minimal or maximal, crisply corporate or effusively romantic — and the steadily soaring prices of ready- to-wear, a certain amount of fashion fatigue was bound to set in.
When women do spring for something new, they often hold out for what they view as an investment. Olivia Jackson, a 38-year-old stay-at-home mother, was window shopping with a friend, each wearing conventionally tailored Balmain blazers with brass buttons.
“Classics are coming back,” Ms. Jackson said with all the certainty she could muster. For fall she has her eye on a long double-breasted Prada jacket.
“The coat is a very traditional style,” she said. “A year ago, I wouldn’t have even thought about buying it.”