Fashion-proof your wardrobe – part one

Love clothes but hate fashion? Then buy wisely with these tips.

I love clothes, but I must admit that I hate fashion.  I hate buying an expensive jacket and then finding it no longer looks current. I hate not being able to find the same flattering shade of red every year. I hate magazines being full of trends that are impossible for a woman of over 40 to wear. I hate passing on perfectly good, and expensive garments, simply because they are dated. 

Over the years, however, I’ve worked out what actually dates your clothes, and it’s really quite simple: avoid extreme cuts and shoulder lines, and don’t wear patterns. 

Your key pieces should LACK fashion detail as much as possible – then they will go on until they wear out. If you can build this kind of longevity into your basics, that also means you can afford to spend more money on them because you’ll get more wear out of them.

So here are some key items that are wardrobe investments – dig deep into your wallet. Here’s what to look for.

classic shirt1    White shirt. Buy this in pure cotton poplin, oxford cloth or lawn, or in a good cotton with a little stretch. If it’s cotton, buy the best quality you can afford, such as Sea Island, Egyptian, Supima or Pima (in that order of preference). A fly front gives a neater finish than buttons, though buttons give you more variety if you’re willing to change them every year, and it should have a classic collar (see pic) rather than a penny collar, cutaway collar, wing collar or any esoteric style. Make sure it also has a yoke (a yoke reduces strain on the garment, and also makes it fit better), which should be quite narrow (1.5-2in is plenty) and that the sleeve head (top of the sleeve) meets your shoulder line as exactly as possible.

If your bust is a B cup or below, you don’t need darts in a shirt, but if it’s a C cup or above, look for princess seams (they run from the waist up to the armpit or shoulder) or vertical darts, rather than bust darts (which go sideways) in order to shape the garment – most of the shaping, on a quality shirt, is done via the side seams. If you have a very large bust, buy from a specialist such as Bravissimo, which allows you to choose via bra size, not dress size. 

The ways you can dress up a white shirt are almost endless. It will go over a camisole, vest, t-shirt, poloneck or thin crewneck sweater, it will stand alone, and it will go under a jacket, a crewneck sweater, a v-neck sweater or a cardigan. You can also wear it as a summer top layer instead of a jacket.

The bottom of the shirt should be shaped (a straight cut can be binding on your hips) and the sleeves should be long. Cuffs can be either French (foldback) or button. If you choose French, you can vary your look with cufflinks.

Make an investment with this item: you should expect to pay at least £70 for a really good shirt (the one shown is £69 from Thomas Pink), and £150 wouldn’t be out of order, but its cost per wear will be minimal – I’ve had my Thomas Pink shirts for over 20 years and they’re still going strong. The best brands are the traditional Jermyn Street makers Thomas Pink, Hilditch and Key, and Turnbull and Asser, or brands such as Jaeger, Aquascutum, Burberry or Austin Reed. If you live in the US, Brooks Brothers is the standard.

Once you’re got your basic white shirt, buy the same kind of thing in different weights of white, or white on white patterns such as herringbone and in colours – black, beige, pink and navy are all useful.

* What dates shirts? Exaggerated collars, a dropped shoulder line, fancy yokes, breast pockets, logos, monograms, messages, fancy details, patterns.

Part 2: little black dress.

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