Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Style - Women's Wardrobe Basics

Here is a list of what I consider are must-haves in any woman's wardrobe.  Start with a core wardrobe of these basics in a color palette that works for your hair and skin color.  My coloring works best with black, white, grey and camel, so my wardrobe is dominated by basics in these colors, with sweaters and accessories in bright colors.  Most of these items will work for a business casual environment as well as weekend with adjustments to shoes and accessories.


1. White dress shirt: A white dress shirt always feels crisp, efficient, and authoritative to me.  No frills, fancy pleats, blingy buttons, darts, oversized collar, epaulets, etc.  I prefer classic white dress shirts with point collar and barrel cuff, cut not too close to the body, but not too balloony either.   French cuffs are nice but I found they get too dirty too quickly, and most cuffs I see are too large, resulting in a look that is more comical (a la three musketeers) than elegant.  I find stretch shirts sad as the fabrics are usually stiff and/or scratchy, and they look stiff and cheap.  It's worth the effort to find a classic white shirt in a high quality cotton, and then buy four or more to rotate so that you always have this reliable staple in your closet.

2. T- shirts--long and short sleeve: these are workhorses throughout the week.  Look for pima cotton since it is smoother and therefore slightly dressier than regular cotton, and a style that is cut close to the body.  They can go under jackets and sweaters, and are a great foil for necklaces and scarves.  If you can find them in fine knit cashmere, all the better! I also have fine-weave grey and black cashmere t-shirts I found years ago. My new favorites are short- and long-sleeve shirts made by Barneys Private Label for Women in a very fine nylon weave; they weigh nothing and are easy to hand wash and pack. 

3. Black pants: I prefer either cigarette pants (cropped, cut close to the body) or wide-leg pants--nothing in between.  I've never liked trouser cuts as they seem neither trim nor dramatic, but something undecidedly in between.  Besides, they form a straight line from your waist to your feet, which isn't very interesting to me.  Get high-twist wool gabardine, stretch wool crepe, or even a nice tweed (lining is a must) if you live in colder climates.  I have four pairs of the Audrey cut pant from Piazza Sempione in various fabrics; I find most of their line a little old (boxy jackets) and boring for me, but they make GREAT pants.  Piazza Sempione is one of the few Italian labels that still produces all their clothes in Milan (most Italian labels, including Armani, outsource production to cut costs and increase margins).  Their pants are pricey--the wool version of the Audrey pants start around $400, but you will wear them often and forever with proper care.  They also make the Audrey in cotton, denim, and various wools throughout the season, and you can usually find them on sale at the end of each season (albeit in strange colors, like lavender cotton at the end of summer).  If you're small like me, you probably already know to look for European labels as their sizing is still true (a size 0 is really a 0).  Moschino and Prada also make great-fitting pants. 

4. Cardigans: the workhorse in your wardrobe.  You will want both v-necks and crewnecks, shorter and longer lengths, and in as many colors as you are willing to wear.  A crewneck style with simple buttons in cashmere will be more versatile than you think.   Cardigans can provide extra color, cover over a dress or sleeveless shirt, and even serve as a jacket or coat alternative if substantial in both material and design.  Last winter I purchased a very heavy, thick merino wool knit (on sale!) from Barneys women's line which I can sometimes wear as an alternative to a jacket. I also have fine cashmere versions in hot pink, camel, kelly green, red, and the rest of the rainbow.

5. Black pencil skirt: take the time to try as many labels and sizes in order to find the right fit for your body.  The ideal skirt has a waistband no wider than two inches, back vent for ease of walking, and hits the top or middle of your knees. Avoid fancy pleats, seaming details, flares, and the like, as these details will make the skirt less versatile.  Any shorter and you'll be showing more than you want to show when sitting.  Avoid fancy pleats, seaming details, flares, and the like, as these details will make the skirt less versatile. Again, a high twist wool gabardine will serve you well over the years.  Beware of stretch as the stretchy yarns tend to make the fabrics feel more scratchy and the fabric look cheap.

6. Black turtleneck: preferably in fine merino wool or fine cashmere.  A black turtleneck instantly dresses up anything worn with it, and can even impart an Ali-McGraw-esque cool glamour.  Again, avoid frills, waist ties, fancy cuffts, etc. since these details can date an item and prevent you from wearing the item for many years.  I purchased my favorite black merino wool turtleneck at Barneys in Los Angeles over 13 years ago, and with handwashing and de-pilling (more on this later), it still looks as good as new.  At higher price points, Ralph Lauren and Michael Kors make beautiful cashmere and merino turtlenecks every season; J. Crew and Banana Republic offer more wallet-friendly options.
Ralph Lauren Black Label Cashmere Turtleneck, $398, polo.com

7.  A great coat (or two...or three...): if you leave in colder climates, you probably already know that most people will only see you in your coat during the colder months, so while function is important, style matters too.  Of course, you'll only be miserable if you sacrifice warmth for style. A good wool or cashmere blend coat with zip-out lining will work across several seasons in most climates, but in colder climates, down is a must.  Again, try to avoid blingy buttons, ruffles, bows, etc. as these details will look dated over time. 

8. Day jacket: for the months when you don't necessarily need a coat, but do need some coverage during morning and evening hours.  I know trench coats are often mentioned as a must-have item, but I am not partial to them as more often than not they are in the wrong proportions, or have become rather staid, even with the trifling embellishments (ruffles, bows, flaps, etc.) that manufacturers have added over the years.  I prefer a jacket that is more in the style of a Mackintosh as it will provide a great simple line without all the silly embellishments--and no belt to flap around (and lose).  Find one in a neutral color--black, grey, khaki, olive, or even red-- that hits mid-thigh as in a car coat length, as this length will work with both pants and knee-length skirts.  This one from J.Crew is a great color (the red becomes a neutral, but notice how it pops against the camel basics underneath) and most importantly, a great style that is both functional but also speaks volumes through its simplicity:

Mackintosh Kilmany jacket, $950, jcrew.com

9. Shift dress: same guidelines as above apply here: take the time to find a great fitting dress in fine wool or even poly/wool blends that hits at or slightly above the knee, with no frills, fancy seams, buttons, etc.  A blank canvas such as this will be the most flexible for jewelry, day or night, and other colors worn with the dress.  I own an old Armani (about 8-9 years old now, at least) shift dress that fits as if it were custom made for me, and it works for work, cocktail, and anything in between.  This one by Theory is a good example:

Theory Ginela Tweedy Suiting Sheath Dress, $325, bloomindales.com

Make sure the proportions (waist, length) work with your figure and height.  Avoid anything with cap sleeves since unless you look like Darya Torres, the sleeve ends have an uncanny ability to highlight the heaviest part of the arm.  Also make sure the shoulders cover bra straps; there is nothing professional about showing your undergarments.

10.  Scarves, gloves, and hats: if you live in a cold climate, these are staples in warm materials (shearling, cashmere, leather, etc.).  A word about each:

Scarves:  Scarves can add a good dose of color to an otherwise monochromatic wardrobe.  I am fortunate to have a collection of Hermes scarves (several were birthday presents from my husband) that I often add at the last minute because, frankly, it's a very easy (and lazy) way to add color.  I also love Loro Piana men's cashmere scarves because they come in colors that I consider classics. They are pricey but with care will last for years, and because of the quality of the cashmere, never pill.

Gloves: Ever notice how women in the 50s and 60s looked so elegant in suits or dresses with gloves? Most folks now only wear gloves during the winter months, which is a shame.  I have lots of leather gloves with cashmere linings in black, brown, lavender, red, and chartreuse to give a lift of color when worn with coats.  I try to avoid wearing the black pair simply because it's so predictable.

Hats: It's too bad we don't wear hats anymore (even men).  When I lived in San Francisco, there was a store called Cable Car Clothiers in the Financial District that stocked wonderful men's hats from Scottish and British makers. They were very traditional in style, but I loved the heavy tweeds, plaids, and masculine textures. I've tried to get my husband to wear more hats, to no avail. Sigh. 

1 comment:

Kellin Smith said...


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Thanks!