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The Chic Shop
Issue No. 75
by shop girl
February 8, 2008

She She Me Sponsor: American Express

Building a Basic Wardrobe

Any fashionista worth her salt (but unlucky enough to not be in the tents at Bryant Park) is currently glued to her high-def screen positively drooling over the fabulous Fall '08 fashions on view during Fashion Week. Thank heavens for the American Express Fashion Network and their exclusive coverage of Fashion Week '08! You, too, can have a front-row seat to the hottest ticket in town! Now, if I could just score some of those über-chic styles…particularly that beyond gorgeous tuxedo style suit at the Zac Posen show. Sigh. Back to reality.


I’m lost in the frozen tundra that is February. Adrift between F/W ’07 and S ’08, shopping for sandals and short sleeves while the cold winds howl, sick of my boots and tweeds but still needing the insulation. I’ve worn my trapeze dress a thousand times, everyone’s seen me in my cobalt jacket, and I think I’ll flip if I have to go out in that tunic sweater again. My trends have been traipsing all over town for months, and I’m bored. Thus I begin my annual pilgrimage into the depths of my wardrobe, returning to my roots and the basics that I’ve collected, to clear my head and get ready for the onslaught of brights and flirtiness that herald the new shopping season. I’ll walk you through the building blocks of great style, devoid of dépèche mode and steeped in class and tradition, so you can regroup, reassure yourself that yes, you really do always look fabulous, and set your feet securely on the road to warmer weather to come. You’ll be able to add the hottest new pieces with confidence, knowing that your foundation of essentials will carry you through.

First, an important note: while it is possible to find decent-quality basics at low prices, when it comes to wardrobe staples, you usually get what you pay for. It’s one thing to spend $24.99 on a cute metallic brocade jacket at H&M that you know you’ll wear twice before it goes out of style, but I highly suggest hitting a higher-end retailer for pieces you’ll wear two or three times a week. You’ll look much more polished, the fit will be superior (and tailorable!), and they’ll hold up for years through spills, dry cleaning, etc. Plus, if you amortize the cost of a $300 pair of black pants over the number of times you wear them, you’ll notice it’s just pennies a day. Totally justifiable.

  • You really need to own a good suit. Even if your workplace is more casual than suits, you can break up the pieces for an infinite number of looks. (Just remember to dry clean all the pieces together so if you do need a suit, the tops and bottoms still match!) You can wear the jacket with a skirt or over a dress, or with a tee and jeans for casual days or weekends; you can pair the pants (not too wide, not too narrow) with anything, from a sweater and sneaks for errands to evening sandals and a silky tank for a big night out. The skirt (which you should buy, too – you never know when you might need it!) can go from business to evening with the right blouse or jacket and accessories. Stick with a dark, three-season fabric like a black, navy, or grey wool gabardine or crepe: durable, drapes well, and holds its color through multiple cleanings.
  • A crisp white blouse. Definitely spend some money here; you want the fabric to have an elegant shape, and you sure don’t want to be able to read the label on your bra through it. This item might be worth duplicates, as the ravages of deodorant take their toll over the course of time; you can pair this versatile style with sailor khakis, your suit, or knotted atop (think of Carolina Herrera) a taffeta ballskirt. It will add a level of finish to your cashmere v-neck, but it always looks snappy with killer jeans and your black blazer. (Here, add a bright belt and sassy shoes to jazz up your palette.)
  • Cashmere. A luxurious must-have! Start with a couple of basics, like a turtleneck in heather grey (goes with any color) and a crewneck in black (the top half of any classic outfit from October through April), then add accent pieces as your collection grows: an
  • Embellished sweater for evening; some bright colored tees for weekends; scarves and gloves to perk up your dress coat or down jacket.
  • Denim. Of course you’ll need some casual jeans, but plan also to include a pair of trouser-cut denims, in a smooth dark wash, and with a wider, more dressy leg; you can wear these night or day, dressed up or casual, and rest comfortably in the notion that there’s almost nowhere on the planet that denim can’t go anymore. When you have a couple of great pairs under your belt (bad pun), in the cut that flatters you most (probably a straight- or boot-cut leg), add a denim pencil skirt for even more wardrobe versatility: with a neat swing jacket and haute heels for non-meeting work days, and with flats and a tank for hanging out. I also love that snugging-in-the-belly feeling that a good pair of jeans gives you, but watch the muffin top!
  • A dynamite dress. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: a knit wrap dress can be any girl’s best friend for life. It drapes, it flows, it flatters the midsection and floats away from problem areas, it dresses up with elegant pumps and a clutch or dresses down with chic flats and a roomy tote. It travels without wrinkling, fits you no matter what time of the month it is, and hasn’t gone out of style since Studio 54. What are you waiting for? Start with a dark solid, then add prints, florals, short and long sleeves…If loving them is wrong, I don’t want to be right.
  • Some great tees. They can be expensive or priced-by-the-dozen, but don’t spend a fortune ‘cause they’re practically disposable. You should hit Old Navy or Target at the beginning of the season and stock up on short sleeve, long sleeve and tanks, and a few polos in bright colors to dress up shorts and jeans. Again, they go under everything, and can change your look quickly and easily without needing a whole new outfit. Layer under jumpers, sweaters, blazers, or stack two sherbet colors together for a look all by themselves.
  • Shoes: This one’s hard for me to narrow down, because I love the look of a classic, simple outfit (white blouse, black blazer, tweed pants) with an electric shoe and contrasting belt, but for more colorful outfits, you’re going to need some standard footwear options. A good black heel, not too platform-y, not too pointy or round, will last for ages, especially if you pony up for high-quality construction that will allow for re-soling and re-heeling down the road. A high- or mid-heel loafer in a good neutral to wear with pants, jumpers, or jeans. A ballet flat, also in a neutral, for everywhere and everything – add more in colors as your collection grows. Get a great sandal (flat Roman-style are a good standard) for warm weather, and a delicious evening shoe in silver or gold that will coordinate with any look.

Whew. I remember now why I love clothes. These staples can drag a girl through the worst inter-season doldrums with panache, and they lay the groundwork for super outfits once the weather lets us actually wear the spring trends we’ve been shopping for since early last month. Stock up now, while the end-of-season sales are hot, and get ready for sartorial greatness!

Shop Happy,

Shop Girl

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