With fashion week setting the styles for Fall/Winter 2014 and this spring’s hottest trends about to be printed in their glossy March magazine glory, the time is ripe for a discussion about investment pieces. You could drop $525 on Rebecca Minkoff’s Tall Gladiator Sandals, the Rita High Heel, if that suits your style, but is it really worth it just to own a statement piece off the Spring 2014 runway? When debating a pricey purchase, my mother always asks me what dollar amount I would assign to each wear or use of the item. With that determined, she tells me to divide the total cost by my per use worth. If I would wear the coveted fashion object at least that many times, then the piece is at least “worth” the asking price to me. This often deters purchases of trendy, statement pieces that will fall out of style in a few seasons, and rationalizes purchasing an investment piece. Since certain looks never truly fall out of style, they gain worth the more you wear them. Ultimately, these pieces form the backbone of your wardrobe because they can be carried over from season to season. Like any other investment, fashion staples take time. Barring lottery winnings, a fortune isn’t amassed in a single night, and a stylish wardrobe isn’t purchased in one shopping trip. Lacking an expiration date, you can search for these pieces for years, waiting for a sale or until you found the exact item you are looking for. A plan helps with payment too, because you’ll want to put in a decent sized chunk of change for an item that oozes quality. Knowing that the pair of soft, hand-stitched Italian leather loafers you purchased can be repaired and protected makes them a lot less frivolous than gladiator sandals that appear to trap your legs in an impossible series of casings.
1. A Trenchcoat
(Left: J. Crew Collection Icon Trench) Burberry may be synonymous with “iconic trench,” but that doesn’t mean you need to bust the bank for the ultimate of classics. If that is within your budget, and what you truly desire, obviously purchasing a stand-in won’t do. Every woman needs a trench appropriate for the climate they live in, and waiting a few years to purchase the style or brand you really desire is logical because you’ll have it for years. For everyone else — who isn’t zoning in on Burberry — solace can be found among other quality brands. For a clean, crisp look — which is what any good trench invokes — stick to well-tailored lines and avoid unusual colors. A trenchcoat that clashes with half of your wardrobe does you little good in a downpour. Another reason is because khakis, tans, or camel colors easily assimilate into any wardrobe at any age. Hot pink seems fun in your 20s, but by your 30s, it might be a little too bubblegum and Barbie for your preferences. Where personality can shine through is in the style of the coat itself. Whimsical buttons, trim, length, and cut can combine to show off the individual wearer’s preferences. Trenches can be thick or thin, but either way, the coat can take on shapeless dimensions absent buttons or a belt. To avoid a shift-style jacket, go for a double-breasted coat that can be belted or tied at the waist. Send it out to be dry-cleaned, and find a place to store the extra buttons. Outwear can be subjected to a significant amount of abuse — especially a piece you wear when it is storming.
2. A Wear Anywhere Little Black Dress
(Right: Diane von Furstenberg Jaelyn Sleeveless Drop Waist Dress) Finding the little black dress for your wardrobe can be a multi-year process. You want to find one that ticks several boxes — and to really get the most bang for your buck, you’ll be able to wear it to multiple, different events. A dress that transitions from work to evening is one consideration. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to be able to don the dress in the morning and then wear it to work. Instead, consider it this way — with the right wrap, jewelry, and shoes, could you pull off wearing it to a wedding one week, and the office two weeks after that? A sleeveless little black dress when paired with a cardigan or blazer around the office can be transformed into a chic, elegant look with a simple evening wrap and beaded clutch. Little black dresses have been a key component of a woman’s wardrobe since the days of Chanel in the late 1920s. That kind of longevity doesn’t happen often in fashion, so purchasing a dress you truly adore and can wear almost anywhere makes perfect sense. A quality little black dress is probably going to necessitate dry cleaning, or hand washing. If that is the case, don’t just throw it in the washer on permanent press with your gym clothes. When you can wash it, do so with other dark colors, and on cold to prevent fading. You did, after all, shell out a decent amount of dough for this particular piece, and you don’t want to send it down the drain.
3. A Neutral Handbag
(Kate Spade purses, from top to bottom: Claremont Drive Marcella, Sedgewick Place Small Phoebe, & Kirk Park Medium Maise) Pantone releases a color every year, and this year’s is “radiant orchid,” a beautiful melody of fuchsia, purple, and pink undertones. Last year’s was a deep, gorgeous emerald. In fact, for the past fifty years, Pantone has been announcing a new brilliant color of the year. This shade then pops up everywhere from home furnishings to handbags. But one year later, it will be replaced, and this is the same story as far as any trending hue is concerned: colors come and go, but neutrals never fade. Spending a couple hundred on a bag in this season’s hottest color appears to be a good idea at the time when the color is everywhere, and in everything, but as time passes, will you still love that year’s “tangerine tango” as much as this year’s “radiant orchid”? Plus, your statement color bags will not always match other bright wardrobe pieces. You may love the beautiful green handbag you purchased, but when winter rolls around, you’ll find yourself eschewing the bag for black because when paired with your red coat, you’ll feel inappropriately Christmas-esque. Now, before you start thinking that a bag lacking a flashy splash of color is boring, consider the number of ways the bag can be presented. A beautiful Italian leather can hardly be classified as drab, and the same goes for quilted leather and other designs. Classic patterns, including plaids and stripes, are equally strong options because introduce a new element without dating your accessories. If you really desire extra panache, take a page from the Hermès playbook and tie a colored silk scarf onto the strap of your bag. Not only can you quickly and frequently change this aspect, but silk scarves can be worn around your neck or in your hair if you tire of seeing it on your handbag.
4. Casual Shoes
(Top: Frye Melissa Button Boots, Bottom: Michael Kors Fulton Moccasin Flats) Flats, loafers, or boat shoes ought to be your go-to footwear to strike a balance between sneakers and heels. The importance when picking one of these is to consider your personal lifestyle. Boat shoes won’t pair as easily with most skirts and dresses as flats or loafers will, and are less every-day work appropriate. If your daily office wear consists of heels, and on the weekends you run errands in jeans or ankle pants, boat shoes can clearly be a style winner. All three types of shoes can be worn with a variety of colors, and can be treated so they will last longer. When you’ve spent good money on a pair of shoes (or anything, really), it only makes sense to ensure that the payment continues to payoff. Purchase a waterproofing spray the same day you buy your shoes, and treat them to keep them in tip-top condition as long as possible. Well-loved quality shoes are also worth the cost to repair broken heels, soles, buckles, and a litany of other commonly encountered shoe quandaries.
5. Riding Boots
What is a flat-lover to do when the mercury nose-dives? Turn to riding boots, of course. Characterized by having a low heel or no heel at all, riding boots are the practical way to keep your feet warm and dry during winter snows. Unlike some boots — particularly those of a furry or sparkly variety, which make the wearer appear as if they are dressing below their age — riding boots suit a greater range of ages and lifestyles. In areas with mild winters, they can be worn from fall to spring. Even people living through wicked winters do not necessarily need to give up their favorite boots thanks to fleece liners — although rubberized, thicker soled boots are probably more practical after a huge storm blows through.
6. Patent Leather Shoes
(Left: Cole Haan Margot Pump, Audrey Brooke Cici Flat, & Butter Dizzy Pump) Patent leather was once reserved for the summer months, and never seen gracing feet before Easter Sunday. The rules were that once Labor Day came and went, you must start slipping into suede and other non-patent options. Thankfully, this has been eased in recent years. As anyone who has owned suede shoes in winter can tell you, the weather can seriously ruin this gorgeous fabric, leaving your shoes stained the minute you step onto the salted path or get caught in a downpour. Like the casual shoe option, customize this one to your daily lifestyle. If you know you never plan on wearing heels, you can kill two birds with one stone through a pair of patent leather flats that can be worn anywhere. Versatile enough to be dressed up by formal wear, and casual enough to be thrown on with leggings, patent leather flats can be worn almost every day, making them investment-worthy. Sure, you could purchase several pairs of cheap flats that begin to show serious signs of wear a few months in, but after say five pairs of $20 flats, you could have purchased one quality pair that hold up against the elements. Patent leather heels fall into much of the same category. It is likely you’ll get a little less wear out of them, but if you want a pair of heels you can wear to work year-round, a closed-toe, patent leather pump is the perfect option for maximum wear potential.
7. Statement jewelry
This does not have to be limited to a necklace, although that is what many advise. However, not every woman can pull off a big chunky necklace. There is more than one way to make a statement than on the neckline, including bracelets, earrings, and rings. Wearing all at once would defeat the purpose of one standout piece of jewelry. Your grandmother’s vintage earrings are going to shine that much brighter when they aren’t competing with large sparkling bracelets and rings. To invoke Chanel again, the fashion powerhouse allegedly said that, “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and remove one accessory.” In clothing, clean, simple lines often have the most glamorous effects, and the same goes for how you present yourself. Your pieces shouldn’t be in competition with each other for attention, because the result is a mess of lines. Vintage and estate style jewelry is one way to let your accessories speak for themselves, but so are bright colors. Vibrant hues, like corals and yellows are best kept for the spring and summer months, or warm climates. Markets, antique stores, and vintage shops can help you find a one-of-a-kind piece, but department stores and traditional shops will also carry these looks.
8. Non-statement jewelry
With that in mind, what do you choose when you want a simple, timeless piece to wear? A pendant necklace in sterling silver or gold is an easy day-in day-out option; to be a little dressier, consider a single or double strand of pearls. Simple stud earrings or hoops should in your jewelry box. If pearls are too reminiscent of tea gloves and cotillions, sterling silver or gold ball earrings are an equally classic option. The same goes for silver or gold hoop earrings. A little embellishment can go a long way on a classic, like a pair pearl Kate Spade earrings with rope detailing. It is just enough to catch a person’s eye, but is not so distracting that you would need to dress down the rest of your accessories.
9. White Button-Up Shirts
Want a shirt you can wear with virtually everything? Look no further than the white button-up. These days, white button-up shirts come in a range of materials and styles. The perennially preppy oxford looks fantastic under blazers, with shorts in the summer, or jeans in the fall. A non-iron white dress shirt takes the fuss out of getting ready in the morning when you are pressed for time because putting an outfit together requires minimal thought. When it is properly fitted, it will be flattering to virtually every body type. Look for a shirt cut so it comes in slightly at the waist, creating definition and shape. The shirt should button without buckling or gaping, and the seam at the shoulder will hit your actual shoulder. If you find a brand and style you love, buy several at one time. Even though this look isn’t going anywhere fast, manufacturers inevitably make slight alterations that affect their products, and may result in you loving their newest style a little less than the one you bought three years ago.
10. A Blazer
Yet another piece that owes cut and inspiration to menswear is the blazer. A blazer is undoubtably the turn-to piece in your wardrobe when you want to look casually or professionally polished. It works on Saturdays when you’re running errands, when you’re meeting your mom for a lunch date, or at the office on Wednesday with a pair of ankle pants. At the office, it forms one-half of the answer to what to wear instead of a suit. A blazer and dress pants or skirt has all the formality of a suit without any of the stuffiness. A blazer adds diversity to casual Friday too, since it will look fantastic with jeans, but don’t take my word for it, just check out Kate Middleton. It is unlikely that off-the-rack is going to fit everyone perfectly. A common problem is that the sleeves are too long, which is thankfully an easy alteration. Looking for deals with blazers is easy enough if you live near an outlet mall. Brands like J. Crew, Banana Republic, and Brooks Brothers all have blazers at their outlet stores, as well as in the regular shops. The material may differ between the versions, so check and compare labels.