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Style Essential : The 10 Wardrobe Classics


I am an idealist, an optimist, a romantic, often a traditionalist. My writing mostly revolves around the beauty in our lives.

The Crisp White Shirt Essential

The Crisp White Shirt Essential

What Is A Wardrobe Classic?

A wardrobe classic is an investment in style - an essential piece that anchors the foundation of several outfits.

Fashion trends are exciting, ever-changing, often colourful and adventurous, sometimes even outlandish. We often judge the fashion trend seeker as brave and confident, because of their chameleon taste and unpredictablity.

It is however the style classicist who is the brave and confident, because they rely on just a handful of garments and accessories to construct everything they wear. Their wardrobe does not overflow with myriad colours, fabrics, shapes, price tags and use-by dates. It revolves around a small selection of colours and fabrics, little variance in designer or value, and with items that remain timeless over several decades.

It is therefore the style classicist who has an extraordinary fashion intelligence, confidence and brave imagination, to repeatedly step out looking well-groomed, relevant, stylish and dare we say it, "expensive", from the selection of just a few very well chosen wardrobe essentials.

The Top 10 Classic Wardrobe Essentials

Opinions on the essential wardrobe classics will differ, but the variations in thought will only ever be slight.

The little black dress, trench coat, navy blazer, crisp white shirt and pencil skirt will appear on every list.

The remaining five items are open to interpretation and personal preference, but commentators will mostly nod in deference to the selections of their style peers.

The super ingredient to success in selecting these ten style essentials is the very best quality you can afford. Each of these items will be worn over and over again, dressed up or down with different tops, bottoms and accessories. They truly are investment pieces, to launch every other clothing item that you own (cheap or expensive), into your personal style statement.

1. Little Black Dress

The Little Black Dress (LBD) is the all time classic essential, exemplified by Audrey Hepburn in "Breakfast at Tiffanys".

The simpler, the better. A sleeveless, round necked, straight fitting, knee length black dress will be the most versatile item in any girl's wardrobe.

Wear it alone with flats and a wide brimmed black-ribboned hat; dress it up with pearls, black patent heels and a black patent clutch; add a colourful silk wrap for a special evening out; adorn it with an opulent brocade high collared, knee length coat to a sophisticated wedding; wear a crisp white shirt tied at the waist over the top. The possibilities and combinations are endless with the simplest style of black dress.

Little Black Dress - Audrey Hepburn "Breakfast at Tiffany's".

Little Black Dress - Audrey Hepburn "Breakfast at Tiffany's".

2. Camel Trench Coat

On the list of 10 essential wardrobe classics and 10 essential accessories, there isn't a single item that doesn't work perfectly with a camel trench.

The dream camel trench would of course come with a Burberry label, but there are many well-styled options available until your budget allows for such an investment. If well cared for though, a Burberry trench will actually last at least a lifetime - my grandparents bought one in London in the 1950s, and it has since been worn by my parents, myself and my daughter - testimony to the philosophy that "you get what you pay for".

A well cut trench exudes style, and can be paired with your little black dress, or over a pair of slim black tailored cigarette pants, or thrown together with a pair of comfortable boyfriend jeans for casual weekend relaxation. The combinations are endless.

3. Navy Blazer

The best advice would be to buy the navy blazer, navy pencil skirt and navy trouser pants from the same label, so that they are exactly the same fabric, texture and colour, and therefore a perfect match when worn together.

The next best advice is to have them all dry-cleaned at the same time, so they don't develop colour differences from different cleaning processes.

Wear the blazer with the pencil skirt or trouser pants with either the white t-shirt or navy white striped Breton shirt underneath. Wear heels or loafers, depending on the occasion and look you wish to achieve. Add a red, navy and gold scarf, and/or pearls. You can wear this blazer with your dark wash jeans as well.

And, as you add cheap and cheerful single season items, choose some that will add a pop of colour to the navy base.

A navy blazer may well be the best classic piece you ever purchase.

4. Crisp White Shirt

A crisp white shirt can take you from day to evening, mixed with any number of bottoms, and any accessory.

The navy skirt, navy trouser pants, black cigarette pants, dark wash bootleg jeans, and even the black dress will set the scene for the white shirt, in your choice of a casual or formal look, depending on what accessories you wear.

As you add classic wardrobe pieces beyond the 10 essentials, the white shirt options will widen even further. Consider even the possibility of adding it to a full, multi-layered, full-length black tulle evening skirt to wear to the ballet or opera. Who could forget Sharon Stone's white shirt over a black Vera Wang evening skirt at the 1998 Oscars?

5. Navy Pencil Skirt

As mentioned above, buy the navy skirt from the same label as the navy blazer and trousers, so they are exactly the same fabric, texture and colour.

Wear this skirt with the crisp white shirt, the white t-shirt, the navy white striped Breton. Add the navy blazer when appropriate. Mix and match your accessories from flats and casual, to heels and formal. A white t-shirt and white sneakers will take this navy skirt to super relaxed weekend attire.

Just let your imagination run the show.

6. Navy Trouser Pants

You know by now that the best success with these trouser pants is to buy them from the same label as your navy blazer and navy pencil skirt. The three pieces will then match perfectly in some very structured matched looks, in addition to going it alone and creating their own individual look.

I love classic trousers, preferably high-waisted, with a wide leg, and with the hem almost touching the ground, to elongate and slim the leg. Add a white t-shirt, black patent pumps, a black patent clutch, a pearl necklace, diamond stud earrings, red lipstick, and you could go almost anywhere and find yourself on the best-dressed list.

7. Black Cigarette Pants

Black cigarette pants are understated style with mega amplification.

The perfect cut is high-waisted, modestly-fitting, with a narrow leg to just above the ankle. Throw on a killer black patent pump, and any style top from a black cashmere turtleneck, to a frothy white silk blouse, to a fuscia pink singlet, with a slim gold-buckled black patent belt, and black patent clutch. Or wear your crisp white shirt, hanging out, with a black loafer, for a more relaxed but high-street look.

You can wear these pants from the office to the theatre, with just a few quick tweaks of tops and accessories.

8. White T-Shirt

What else could be said about a great white t-shirt? It goes with everything, can be dressed up and down, can be worn as an undergarment or shown off to the world.

Always buy the best quality and best fit, in cotton with a touch of elastane. And, maybe consider buying two, because they will be in and out of the laundry basket with clockwork regularity.

The "buy two rule" is well worth applying when you do find the perfect quality and perfect fitting item, whether it is a t-shirt, a pair of jeans, or a pair of shoes. When you buy stylish classic items, rather than of-the-moment trends, this is a sensible purchasing practice, because your basics and accessories will never go out of style, so stick to a great recipe whenever you find one.

9. Navy White Stripe Breton Shirt

Is there anything more French than a navy white striped Breton shirt? If so, it would only be so with the addition of a red beret, red paisley neck scarf, a simple pony tail, and a bicycle with a large baguette in the basket.

Just think of the combinations you can create with this shirt :-

* with the navy pencil skirt, in either loafers or heels and a silk scarf, for your choice of a casual or dressed up look.

* with the navy trouser pants, again in either loafers or heels, with a pearl choker, or a chunky red costume jewellery necklace.

* with the black cigarette pants (yes, the navy stripe will appear black against a black foundation) and black patent pumps and black patent clutch.

These are just a few of the endless possibilities to get you started.

Navy and White Stripe Breton Shirt - Gabrielle (Coco) Chanel.

Navy and White Stripe Breton Shirt - Gabrielle (Coco) Chanel.

10. Dark Wash Bootleg Jeans

Jeans can be the trickiest item to find in the right size, cut and colour.

For a classic look, only buy high-waisted and bootleg. If you already have any of this list of 10 wardrobe classics, then you are not a show-off leave-nothing-to-the-imagination type of girl, and that style ethos extends to every single item of clothing, including jeans.

You can wear your white shirt, white t-shirt and breton with bootleg jeans, with any type of shoe and accessory in your wardrobe. As with everything, the only limit to mixing and matching with classic style is your imagination. If it takes some thought and effort at first, persevere, because it will become second nature in no time.

Ultimate Classic Style - The Little Black Dress

 The Little Black Dress Is The Style Ultimate

The Little Black Dress Is The Style Ultimate

Style Quality Versus Fashion Quantity

The investment in your wardrobe classics should rest solidly in quality, quality, quality, and the very best quality that you can find and afford.

Quantity applies to mass purchases, which may seem relatively inexpensive in individual selections, but will be ultimately indulgent and expensive when you calculate how long the fashion trend lasts, how often you wear each item, and how long it will last. These types of fashion purchases are generally passing trends.

There is a distinct difference between classic style and fashion trend. Rarely do the two meet, but if they do perchance cross paths, it will be by the introduction of an adept classicist, who recognises a trendy quirkiness that will lend a moment of fun and surprise to a classic ensemble.

So, by all means, add inexpensive, lesser quality pieces that have the sole purpose of perking up your classics for a single season.These are important to add fun, colour, impulse, variation and unpredictability, and they will inevitably take on an appearance of higher quality when mixed with true quality foundation pieces.

This is where you lose your head, and forget the rules - you don't have to buy quality or pay big prices, because these are the fashion trends that will keep your classics unpredictable, and pop in an element of surprise to update each daily look.

These trendy bits are not expected to last beyond a season - they are purely punctuation points to add drama to a moment in time.

  • Pop on a yellow cotton singlet to wear with your navy blazer and trousers, accessorised with your silk scarf of reds, golds and navy.
  • Find a fuscia cotton cardigan to drape over your little black dress for a dinner date, or to add to your navy skirt and white t-shirt for a more casual work day.
  • Wear a white singlet with your white shirt unbuttoned over the dark wash jeans, and add a pair of white canvas sneakers for a relaxed weekend look.
  • Buy a pair of navy culottes to wear with the navy and white stripe breton shirt or the white t-shirt, with the white canvas sneakers, for a Saturday sailing date or a Sunday evening stroll along the esplanade.

Jazzing up the classics has endless possibilities, each new chirpy addition giving variety and flexibility to the timeless foundation pieces in your wardrobe.

Buy The Best Fabrics And Best Tailoring

Choose only the very best natural fabrics, and the very best cut and tailoring that you can afford.

Research and hold on tight to the best designers you can find in your style spectrum and price range, or consider custom items, made by an expert tailor, who will cut everything perfectly to highlight your assets and hide the niggling body shape flaws that we all have.

Invest in the best quality natural fabrics available. Wool or silk for your little black dress. Wool for your blazer, skirt and trousers. Cotton for your white shirt, t-shirt and breton. Cotton gabardine for your trench, and of course denim for the bootleg jeans. Pretend that polyester, and all its derivatives, was never invented. A small percentage of elastane in t-shirts and jeans is the only forgiven synthetic.

Just always remember - wool, cashmere, silk, cotton, linen, denim, and just a touch of elastane where needed.

The Top 10 Classic Accessory Essentials

Just as there are wardrobe classics, there are also accessory classics, and the same rules apply in that you buy the very best quality you can find and afford.

These accessories will mix and match to dress up your wardrobe for a black tie gala, high flying business meeting, relaxed dinner at home with friends, or a quick weekend visit to the markets. They are as versatile as your ten classic pieces.

The cornerstone accessory though is pearls - you can never wear too many pearls and you can never not wear them - they go with everything, dressy or casual, and will quickly become your signature.

1. Pearls - As Many As You Can

  • pearl stud earrings
  • mabe pearl earrings
  • short strands
  • opera length strands
  • long strands
  • multiple strands!

2. Black Patent Leather Pumps

Go stiletto if you can, but a regular pump is every bit as classic and definitely more comfortable.

These will go with every item listed in the above Top 10 Classic Wardrobe Essentials, even the white t-shirt and navy white stripe Breton shirt.

They are perfect for work as well as for dress up evening events.

3. Black Leather Loafers

A pair of beautifully crafted black leather loafers will also match every item in your classic wardrobe, even the Little Black Dress on a more casual day.

These are often the shoe that you should buy two pairs of, because the right pair will never date, and if they are as comfortable as a glove, you will be devastated when they have passed their use-by-date and are no longer available.

4. Black Patent Clutch Bag

Leather, leather, leather.

A black patent leather clutch will mix and match with every item in your wardrobe, and last a lifetime if well cared for.

5. Black Leather Tote Handbag

Make it stylish, shapely, secure and not so enormous that it becomes a vessel for trash and unfindable items.

It needs to carry all your essential items - makeup, hairbrush, perfume, wallet, telephone, small stationery items - but not weigh you down or get sloppy by its contents.

Carry it over your arm, half way between the wrist and elbow.

6. Silk Scarf in Navy, Red, Gold

A beautiful silk scarf can add uncommon style to all your wardrobe items, even the little black dress and the white-shirt. It can dress up a corporate outfit, but also add colour and fun to a casual weekend look.

7. Black Leather Belt

This should preferably be a thin belt for your navy pants, black pants and jeans.

It can also be added to the Little Black Dress if you want to introduce gold buckle to your waistline, combined with a silk scarf, black tote handbag and black loafers.

8. Tan Leather Belt

Again, go for a flattering thin belt style. This too will wear well with your navy pants, black pants and jeans, and of course coordinate perfectly with your tan tote handbag and tan loafers for either an office or weekend look.

9. Tan Leather Loafers

In most cases, there is a very clear distinction between a less expensive and a beautifully crafted pair of loafers, so some investment will likely be required for these. As with the black loafers, consider purchasing two pairs at once if they fit all the style criteria and your foot, because the perfect pair can be hard to find.

These will work with all the items in your classic wardrobe, depending on the purpose and look you are seeking.

10. Tan Leather Tote Handbag

As with the black handbag, choose well to ensure the bag holds it shape as well as all the items you need on a daily basis.

Keep Adding To Your Classic Pieces

Zara Black Cashmere Turtleneck

Zara Black Cashmere Turtleneck

Keep adding. Once you have your foundation ten, make a goal to invest in a classic piece each season.

The investment might be a superbly cut black and white stripe silk button down shirt, to wear with your black wool cigarette pants. Or you might save for a red wool blazer to top your navy skirt or trousers, and even your bootleg jeans. A perfectly fitting pair of camel chinos, a navy linen nautical-style skirt, a black lace pencil skirt, a black cashmere turtleneck, a black and white wool houndstooth jacket, a frothy voluptuous white silk blouse, a Chanel-style tweed jacket in soft pastels - these each paint a gallery of possibility and confirmed elegance.

The chinos work beautifully with the crisp white shirt, the white t-shirt, the navy and white stripe breton, the navy blazer, the red blazer, the black cashmere turtleneck, even the black and white stripe silk button down - dress them up with your black patent leather pumps, or wear them easily with your tan or black loafers.

Every item of clothing you have can be worn a dozen ways as you keep adding.

There are endless mix and match possibilities. If you invest in four garments each year (one per season), and four accessories each year, plus a few frivolous sparky additions, you will soon have a continuously updated and evolving look, based upon some core staples, which will stamp your impeccable personal style and taste.

Keep Adding Accessories Too

Antique Victorian (1898) Diamond and 18 Carat Gold Five Stone Ring

Antique Victorian (1898) Diamond and 18 Carat Gold Five Stone Ring

As with your investment clothing pieces, keep adding to your accessories as well.

Add a pair of outrageously expensive black knee high boots, a red patent leather belt, a leopard skin suede clutch, a black wool fedora, a superbly soft and warm cashmere wrap, a statement umbrella, a luxury label wallet, an antique Victorian 18 carat gold and diamond ring, a pair of diamond stud earrings, a bottle of Chanel No5 perfume.

Invest in a superb accessory every season, as additions to your original ten accessories.

Diamond Earrings On Your Accessories List

Do The Math - How Much Clothes Really Cost

Let's do the math - calculate that each investment piece will last ten years, and that you will wear each ten times a year (a very conservative estimate), and then divide the purchase price by the number of times you wear each item.

Assume you pay $500 for a black cashmere turtleneck. Worn ten times a year for ten years = 100 times. Therefore $5 per wear.

How much does a coffee cost? How much does a fashion magazine cost? How much is entry to an art gallery? $5 to wear a quality cashmere turtleneck that fits perfectly and looks sensational (apart from keeping you toasty warm), that you can wear again and again for the same price, seems to be exceptional value.

Now think of all the clothes you have paid $50, $100 or even $500 for, and worn only once or twice, because they seemed at the time to be must-haves, but they were actually passing fashion trends, and so obvious in their trendiness, that to wear them more than a couple of times would make it appear that you don't have many clothes to choose from.

© 2018 AJ

What Is Your Style - Trendy Or Classic?

Ally on November 10, 2019:

Classic twist of trend

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