Romance seems to be everywhere in February - the month is full of it. The joy inherent in romance can arise from nearly anything we savor, enjoy and invest our energy in. Because this is such a quiet moment for fashion – the lull before the spring storm – I often spend it reconnecting to my romance with fashion and the things that brought me to this place in my style journey. The foundation of that love is classic pieces – items that, like a great romance, transcend time, items that I can turn to and rely on over and over again, that always give me a thrill when I put them on, that have earned their place on the Need To Be In Every Wardrobe At Some Point list. Now is a great time to look for any you’re in need of as there are so many sales going on, ahead of the incoming spring crush. What’s better than picking up a piece you’ll wear for years at a fabulous discount? ;)
And what are the ones I love?
1. The LBD – Maybe no piece in the history of pieces has become as indelibly classic as the little black dress. You can make it fancy, make it less so. It works for work, it works for after work, it works for ‘just because you love it’. Look for a piece with a silhouette that flatters your body. It doesn’t have to be a sheath; A-line, empire, wrap and shift styles are just as timeless. This is not a place to look for the latest trends. Stick with minimalist pieces or items with details that transcend decades: boatneck instead of off-the-shoulder, lace details instead of cutouts. Skip sheer. Note: if your feeling about dresses is “not-even-if-I-was-unconscious”, substitute a black suit here, with classic minimal blazer and straight-leg (not too skinny, not too wide; the middle ground is your friend!) trouser. It will do similar duty.
2. The Trench (or Wool) Overcoat – The long, dramatic and functional style is having a moment right now, but it will be just as relevant in a few years or a few decades. It’s incredibly versatile, formal enough to slip over gowns for chilly holiday events, but simple enough in style and silhouette to toss over a hoodie for a little extra panache. Look for functional neutrals like black, gray, navy and beige, or classic patterns like tweed or Glen plaid. Avoid the deconstructed and strong-shouldered pieces that are currently ruling the runways and lean toward coats with classic details: a belt, a double breasted style, unique buttons, ruffles (as long as they’re subtle). Keep in mind that the longer lengths tend to give you the most options for pairings. Also, pay attention to the design and size of the collar, especially if you’re petite – an over-sized silhouette can be overwhelming for a small frame, so lean toward pieces with standard or smaller-scale details.
3. Pearls – It’s easy to think of diamonds as the classic jewel, but pearls supersede them in versatility. Not only are they beautiful, but they truly do it all, staying appropriate even in places where the sparkle and shine of crystal is over-the-top. That chameleon-like ability has made them beloved by stylish ladies from Chanel to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, not to mention any number of royals throughout history. Whether you choose subtle studs and a single strand or multitudes of opera-length necklaces (or both! :)), a few pearls should always reside in your jewelry box. After timeless design (avoid pieces that combine pearls with Lucite, for example) and quality (look for pieces on thread, not wire, that have knots between each pearl – this keeps the gems from shifting over time), the most important consideration in choosing pearls is scale. If you’re petite, stay with pieces made from pearls 8mm and below (6mm is a sweet spot, larger sizes will give you a bolder, more avant garde look). If you’re plus size, choose strands in the 10mm or above range (note: you can segue easily around this, though, by layering smaller-scale pieces to create greater effect). If you’re in the middle, 6-12mm pieces will do nicely.
4. The Little Black Bag – this one goes without saying, doesn’t it? :) If you have to pick a single one, black has to be it. It goes with anything, at any time, in any place. Leather is the most versatile material and fairly easy to maintain. With good care, a leather bag should be use-able for years, so lean toward a silhouette that doesn’t obsolesce. My favorite style is the tote because of its versatility and iconic status, but shoppers, satchels and shoulder/crossbody styles will all be similarly multi-faceted. Good leather should have some heft, but feel soft, smooth and pliable to the touch – if you bend it, it shouldn’t seem like it will crack or crackle.
5. The Black Heel/Flat–Like the Little Black Bag, the black shoe is the ultimate always-appropriate go-to. Of course, black shoes are ubiquitous, but not just any ol’ black shoe is worthy of the classics list. For starters, your rely-on-this-for-life black shoe shouldn’t be a skyscraper heel, both from a comfort standpoint and appropriateness. For example, leave the 5” platforms at home for a job interview (most of them, anyway ;) – if the job requires wearing them, by all means carry on!). A subtler statement will be more professional. Stick with single sole or very subtle platforms (1/2” or less) and lean toward a heel height you would be comfortable in both 1) walking quickly in and 2) wearing all day. Your beloved fur-vamped slipper-flats also do not make the classic category (def go right on loving them, though! – just keep them to the right times and places :)). Toe styles, especially with heels, cycle in and out of fashion. My favorite way out of that dilemma is an almond toe, which is pointy enough to work when the pointies are in, but round enough to look relevant when round toes are the rage. Alternatively, choose peep-toe style that avoids the debate entirely. (Important caveat: certain fashion-conservative industries (law being a primary example) may discourage open-toe shoes of any kind. There are regional differences in acceptance, as well as the philosophy of the office itself, so be sure to check on what’s acceptable for your field. If in doubt, err on the safe side and choose a closed-toe pump).
6. Stud Earrings – Statement pieces, mismatched pairs and hoops come and go, but the stud is forever! You can never go wrong with a subtle touch of shine. Start with the metallic you tend to wear most and add others later. As with pearls, scale makes a difference and a similar philosophy applies.
7. The White Button-Down – Few things convey classic chic like the crisp, white, collared shirt. It looks polished under blazers, it dresses up track pants, it dresses down taffeta ball skirts. You need one. (At least :)). Fit is important. Know in advance whether you’re looking for a slouchier silhouette or a contoured one. The choice is a matter of personal taste (as is the choice not to choose and have one of each ;)). Note: if you can’t find a fitted piece in your size (which can be a challenge at both ends of the spectrum), a tailor can take this kind of piece in at the seams to give you a custom fit. When selecting a blouse, make certain at all costs that the material is thick enough not to show your under-things through it (easier said than done in this day and age!). I try blouses on over a black bra and/or lay it over something black and move it around in the light to test it. I reject anything that even has a “shadow-through”. Oxford-cloth is my favorite material here, since the heavier weave generally makes it less translucent and because it softens and gets even comfier over time, similar to the way denim does.
8. The Pencil Skirt – Of all the silhouettes in all the world, none is as timeless as the pencil skirt. Its minimalist styling has made a fixture in professional environments, while its sensual connotation has made it a date-night favorite. The pencil skirt as we know it was designed by Dior as the follow-up to the flowing styles of his New Look. The silhouette is a softening of the pre-World-War II style known as “hobble skirt”, which is similar to what we would call a mermaid style today. The shape of the cut is noteworthy: those that taper from the hip to the hem are generally more polished, while those that stay straight are more relaxed. For a timeless piece, choose a less stretchy material (wool, cotton, blends primarily consisting of the above two, heavyweight knits/ponte. Avoid denim, sparkling materials, leather, florals and bold detailing). Select practical neutrals -black, gray, beige, taupe, navy – before adding classic and/or signature colors and eclectic materials.
9. The Silk Scarf – There are always times when a look needs something more that isn’t jewelry. Those moments are where the silk scarf comes in. It sophistication and that crucial je ne se quoi, whether it’s bowed or knotted at your neck or waist, in or over your hair or on your handbag. It also an easy and functional way for a casual wardrobe can include the beauty and enjoyment of wearing silk. (If your style is particularly relaxed, you may get more use from a polished woven cotton piece, but avoid knit items; they won’t give you the same elevation.) The oblong (rectangle) shape is the most versatile, especially in the larger sizes. This is an item where you get to depart from the usual neutrals, since it’s an accent piece. Consider classic colors and prints that go beyond black: solid red, leopard, neutral florals, sheer pieces, stripes. Alternatively, invest in a piece in your signature color.
10. The Leather Glove – If you are in a climate the requires gloves, this is your go-to. The leather glove is the finishing touch to any cool-weather outfit, looking put-together and stylish, while also being functional for occasions ranging from semi-formal evenings to casually running to the grocery store. Wear them with long coats for winter, with blazers for in-between spring and fall days or, if you’re daring, with short sleeves in the early spring for a fierce moto-driver touch. Naturally, black is the classic investment piece, but you may also want to consider a classic color like red, or your signature shade (I own a pair in blazing yellow that look amazing with my black overcoat).
11. The Blazer – The ultimate in instant pulled-togetherness is the classic blazer. Throw one on over almost anything and it gives the look consequence, whether it is a flowing printed dress or leggings. It’s a fantastic single-item option for elevating a look, making it a worthwhile investment piece for every wardrobe. Even if you live in sweatpants, you’re likely to need one sometime: job interviews, funerals, casual weddings, meeting your new real estate agent. Any time you want to project confidence and quiet chic, this is the piece you need. Variations abound, but the tried-and-true silhouettes are the must-haves. Choose a finely woven wool or cotton, or a high quality synthetic, if that is your preference. For primarily-casual wardrobes, choose one with less formal details, such as a zipper closure, a collar-less piece or a band collar instead of a pointed one. Be aware of the jacket’s stance as it will be one of the most crucial facts in the way it fits.
12. The Un-embellished White/Neutral Tee – But of course, dahling! No wardrobe is complete without this most basic of all basics. Whether it’s acting as an extra warm under-layer or the coup de grace above your taffeta ball skirt, there’s always somewhere and some way to wear a tee! As with the white button-down, look (search, excavate, do an architectural dig, something akin to the National Treasure movie) for one that’s not see-through. Be aware of your materials: I love cotton because of the way it breaks in over time and I abhor modal because, despite its softness, I’ve found that it pills horribly. If you are a stain magnet (that would so be me), I recommend skipping the pure white and going with ivory or heather gray, which at least give you a fighting chance of surviving a potential stain unscathed.
13. The Cable Sweater – This cool-weather staple is a necessity for comfy cool-girl vibes in any era. It’s a crucial element for genres from Parisian chic to preppy to off-duty model. The standard caveats in regard to quality colors and materials apply (neutrals before colors, seek out quality (my go-to’s are wool and cotton, but blends can work, as can cashmere if you can find a well-made fabric and protect it from moths during times of storage). Look for tightly-woven pieces that don’t have large gaps between the stitches. For warm climates, do this type of piece in a light-weight version, choose a less classic but more functional open-weave piece or skip altogether.
14. Blue Denim - Denim has become such a staple in fashion today that each season there are new trends in silhouettes and washes. It can be seriously fun. But it can also be exhausting. You can cut through the clutter with one single style: the original. Straight leg, medium blue wash. Find it in a brand that cuts right for your body and you’ll always be in, no matter what else is. For versatility, the medium rise will give you the most options, as will a full length hem – choose one that gives you half an inch clearance above the ground at your heels when wearing flats. Roll or cuff them for a shorter length.
15. The Black Boot - This is the stylish sibling of the black heel/flat. Shaft heights and heel and toe styles cycle similarly in and out of trend. If you need one single pair to start your (or be your entire) wardrobe, a simple silhouette with a flat or low heel is the option you need. A knee height boot based on the traditional riding silhouette is an excellent starting point for timelessness and functionality. An OTK can work, but lean toward barely-above-the-knee pairs, rather than super-cyclical thigh-highs. Again, leather is the most versatile, functional and easily restored, but suede comes a very close second once treated with a water-repelling spray.
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Brie (Hi!) More re: me under About. I'm the moving spirit behind this little life-meets-fashion fairy tale world, the home of my non-wrestling-related style musings and loves.