Bottom Line: Tip #5: a certain coat that instantly elevates your style.
If you want to update your look, just a few well-chosen pieces can do the trick. This is worth doing even if you don’t have the time or inclination to keep up with the latest fashion trends, because if your clothes appear out of date, it’s easier for people to dismiss you as out of date. Bonus: Since fashion is cyclical, some of these pieces may already be in the recesses of your closet just waiting for a second chance. So before you head out to the stores, do a bit of “shopping” at home.
Here are eight versatile and affordable garments and accessories that can make any woman seem more stylish at any age…
A drape cardigan or duster cardigan proves that you don’t have to sacrifice comfort to be fashionable. Many women have closets full of cardigans, but traditional waist-length button cardigans can seem dated and frumpy. Drape (or “drapey”) cardigans, which reach the top of the thigh, and duster cardigans, which typically reach the knee, have a stylish, modern cut—and because they’re longer than traditional cardigans, they’re warmer and more comfortable. They’re also more forgiving than traditional cardigans—if there’s a part of your body you’re not thrilled about, these long cardigans are likely to hide it.
A navy jacket or blazer can be worn almost everywhere and will enhance almost any outfit. Many women consider a black jacket the most versatile, stylish choice, but black garments have become so common in modern fashion that wearing a black jacket doesn’t elevate your look and doesn’t help you make a statement. Navy jackets or blazers are almost as versatile, but while they are commonplace on men, they still are distinctive on women, and one will help you stand out from the crowd. A fitted or peplum jacket (one that flares out a bit below the waist) can be more flattering than a boxier cut.
Shopping tip: You can find nicely styled and well-made women’s blazers in the $150-to-$250 range at Ann Taylor, Armani Exchange, Banana Republic and J.Crew. Or for around $500, you can find blazers that will last longer (because they have higher-quality fabric and workmanship) from designers such as Marc Jacobs, Ralph Lauren and Theory.
Dark-rinse, wide-leg trousers or jeans are in fashion and wonderfully versatile. Dark-rinse means that the fabric has been dyed a very deep shade, which helps these pants go with almost everything and prevents them from looking like informal blue jeans. Meanwhile, the legs flare out, helping to create a flattering hourglass profile and preventing any outfit from seeming ordinary. They have a casual look when worn with a T-shirt or tank top and sandals…but they could be right at home at a business meeting when worn with a jacket and pumps. If you opt for a pair made from blue denim, be sure they are very dark blue—otherwise they will look enough like typical blue jeans that they will seem too casual for many occasions.
Shopping tip: When it comes to pants, the best ones to buy are not necessarily the most prestigious or famous labels—it’s the pair that happens to fit your body best. Visit stores that have a wide selection such as Banana Republic, The Gap, Nordstrom, Talbots and White House Black Market, and try on as many as necessary to find a pair that fits you well.
A midi skirt in either a slim pencil cut or an A-line is very chic right now. Midis reach the middle of the calf and look especially smart when paired with a blazer or button-down shirt.
A trench coat may be a type that’s been around for decades, but one with an updated cut still is an instant route to a sophisticated look. Some women fear that trench coats are too masculine—they’re not. A tan or beige trench coat is a classic…or opt for a bright green or magenta trench coat, which is more distinctive and very much in fashion. Magenta is a savvy choice because it flatters every skin type. Trench coats are timeless and versatile, and because they are on-trend, there are more fabric and fit options these days—textures such as felted wool, for example, and silhouette options such as a single button as opposed to double breasted. But a vintage, bone-colored London Fog is a keeper that I would wear during transitional months or over a gown even! Très chic.
Block-heel ankle boots with a one-and-three-quarter-to-two-inch heel are dressy enough to wear with dresses and skirts…yet casual enough to pair with pants or jeans. A block heel is wide and chunky, the extreme opposite of a pencil-thin stiletto heel. This fashionable footwear doesn’t sacrifice comfort for style—the wide heel is supportive and sturdy. Buy two pairs, a brown and a black, if possible.
A chunky necklace is very much in fashion right now. The trend is for “statement jewelry” that’s big, bold and impossible to overlook. It doesn’t have to be a chunky necklace—it could be a large pair of earrings or a cocktail ring. But chunky necklaces are especially versatile and easy to incorporate into an existing wardrobe. Note: Wear just one bold piece of jewelry at a time, and make sure that any other jewelry you have on is understated. One bold piece is stylish, but more tends to be overkill.
Shopping tip: Shop at J.Crew or Talbots if you like jewelry that has a classic look…Anthropologie if you like a bohemian look…or The Loft if you are on a tight budget. Boutiques and jewelry stores are worth trying, too. Or double or triple up a long strand of beads that you already own—this can create the look, too.
A thin belt is fashionable and functional. It can define your waist (if that’s something you want), but beyond that, when paired with a lightweight dress worn over leggings, a thin belt creates a stylish tunic look. Belts one inch or less in width with understated buckles are in vogue. Black, brown and metallic belts are timeless and go with almost anything…while animal prints such as leopard are in style if you want something with a bit more character.
If you can’t find what you’re looking for in local stores, here are some of my favorite websites that offer unique and high-end clothing, shoes and accessories at reduced prices…
• Gilt sells luxury-label clothing and accessories. Example: Armani Collezioni reversible blazer marked down from $995 to $179.99. Gilt.com
• HauteLook, owned by department store Nordstrom, stages limited-time-only fashion sales. These often feature hard-to-find niche brands. Example: AllSaints Everly Mac trench coat marked down from $505 to $249.97. www.HauteLook.com
• Neiman Marcus Last Call offers high-end fashions that didn’t sell quickly at the luxury department store Neiman Marcus. Example: Akris Punto high-waisted pleated A-line midi skirt marked down from $660 to $165. LastCall.com
• Nordstrom Rack sells items that don’t sell quickly at the department store Nordstrom. Example: Marc Jacobs wide-leg pants marked down from $495 to $179.97. NordstromRack.com
• Rue La La offers especially large discounts on high-end clothing, accessories and cosmetics. But shop with caution—many sales are final, meaning that the items cannot be returned even if they don’t fit. Example: Armani A-line dress marked down from $4,500 to $700. RueLaLa.com
• 6pm has good deals on stylish shoes—often one-third to half off. Example: Dolce Vita Star block-heel suede ankle boots marked down from $120 to $66.99. 6pm.com
• Zulily offers a new batch of sale items every day. Example: Circus by Sam Edelman Women’s Black Heidi Bootie ankle boot marked down from $90 to $21.29. Zulily.com