I remember the transition well: One of my soon-to-be exes had pulled a fast one, cleaned out our bank account, and left me with the kids, dog, and a mountain of unpaid bills.
My job as a fashion editor meant looking the part 24/7. My friends were empathetic (some having been there themselves) and continued to drag me to sample sales where I still couldn’t afford anything despite the huge markdowns. Once fashion gets in your blood it’s a very hard addiction to break -- not that I honestly wanted to.
My work crowd of stylists, P.R. pros, and fashion industry regulars could be pretty frosty when it came to tallying up one another’s looks. Dare to show up in last year’s ‘IT’ bag or a coat from two years ago and whispers were guaranteed to follow in your wake. I didn’t really care about gossip but I did care about looking great given my lifetime love of fashion.
This three-step strategy evolved from that situation, and it’s pretty much what I follow to this day. It enabled me to buy nameless bargains, wear unrecognizable merchandise, put together old items from my own closet and still look chic.
I’ve passed the secret along to my two daughters who say friends think they shop at Barney’s or Bergdorf’s when it’s mostly Old Navy or Target! This proves my motto: style has nothing to do with money, logos, or labels.
There are three rules and they’re not negotiable:
1. Wear only luxurious neutral colors like grey, nude, camel, chocolate brown, cream, white, black, and navy. Pick two or three that work easily together as a wardrobe base and stick to it. These are the colors you find most in upscale lines like Loro Piana, Piazza Sempione, Michael Kors, Akris, and Calvin Klein.
Black’s the best for really low-cost items and cheap shoes since it disguises inferior fabrics and finishing details well. The whole ivory/vanilla/cream range of colors is great since it implies you can afford the dry cleaning bills but also has an amazing brightening, highlighting effect on stressed or maturing skin.
You won’t get bored if you vary the textures and fabrics, or try combining neutrals in an unexpected way. It’s very French to mix navy with black or chocolate or grey with camel. Stay far away from brights, pastels and trendy shades. Cheap fabrics and look-at-me colors say “cheesy.”
2. Stick to body-grazing classics with a twinge of sex appeal. There are only 10 things you really need. and the slight edge of shapely cuts that reveal body contours always looks cool: A pencil skirt that tapers to the knee, a sleeveless sheath dress, a crisp white V neck shirt, a slim blazer, a trenchcoat, a figure-hugging V neck sweater, slouchy tailored pants, jeans that fit like a glove, a fitted leather jacket, and a really great LBD for evening.
Cynics simply haven’t the confidence to go this route or are too afraid of not looking trendy enough. Check out any fashion superstar who dresses herself without the aid of a stylist, like Jennifer Aniston or Lauren Hutton. They’ve got these pieces down to a science.
3. Add TWO trendy accessories a season to push the style envelope, but buy low. This is where you can go a little crazy with prints, metallics, or jeweled details. Fashion is cyclical, so rummaging around consignment shops, garage sales, flea markets and your own “vintage drawers will produce the latest trends.
For example, those big chunky necklaces we’ve been seeing on runways, clutch bags, embellished cardigans and long silk scarves can be easily found at all of the above. I bought a long gold scarf for five dollars at a local tag sale recently that will punctuate dark blazers and white tees perfectly, and a giant white patent clutch with tortoiseshell clasp that will be my basic spring bag.