My virtual mailbag has been pretty full lately with a variety of questions relating to how much to spend to look good. There’s no easy answer, since every budget is different and everyone’s perceptions vary.
So what might cost a lot to me might be a steal to you- and vice versa. There are some basic truisms though- if it’s important to you, if it makes you feel great, if you pine for it days after leaving it in the store- it’s probably worth spending on.
The following two questions are actually composites of about a dozen questions asking the same thing in different ways.
No Neon, Please
Dear MintStyle: I prefer saving to spending, but would also like to invest in a few key pieces of clothing to spruce up my wardrobe. Can you tell me what’s going to always be a classic, what’s worth investing in, and what I can skip? I don’t want to groan when I spot these pieces in my closet in a few years.
Signed, No Neon Please
Dear No Neon: A fashion forward friend has a treasured collection of photographs of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. The photos show the former first lady at various times in her life, clad in a variety of polyester draped nightmares that make her look less “Jackie O” and more “Jackie Oh No!”
In other words, even this classic fashion icon had less than perfect moments, though for her at least they were few and far between.
It’s hard to predict what will always a constant classic, though there are some guidelines worth following. Trends rarely stand the test of time. So if it’s aggressively different, showy, sparkly or exaggerated, it’s an unlikely investment piece.
Instead, try to find and then invest in the styles that suit your shape and flatter you most. Build a wardrobe around those classic shapes, styles and colors. While there are some items that are considered perennial favorites- a well cut trench coat comes to mind- it’s frequently the tailoring, cut, sizing and draping that make it worth digging out of your closet year after year.
What usually makes a classic a classic is the sense of timelessness- so a pair of ballet flats paired with black tailored trousers and a crisp white man’s shirt, might have looked as equally chic in the last mid-century as they do right now. Less classic would be the linebacker shoulder pads and fussy bowed blouses of the ‘80s.
As technology in all things from fabric to production change, so do details, accessories and even stitching change. Which means that while vintage clothing can look chic or dramatic decades later, it has to have classic style and tailoring elements to stand the test of time.
Some classic wardrobe staples include:
- A go anywhere shift dress that can be dressed up or down
- A little black dress (or a more modern color choice- deep plum, navy, burgundy, grey, or brown)
- A great jacket, coat, raincoat, cardigan, or cover up
- A pair of sling backs or peep toe pumps for special occasions
- A pencil skirt
Again, hard to recommend the ultimate classics list since so much depends on finances, lifestyle, geography, age, and taste. A good rule of thumb is: if you find yourself always on the hunt for it or tend to replace it regularly, try buying two at a time and alternating or spending slightly more the next time around to ensure you keep it for the long haul.
Dear MintStyle: I watch what I eat, am active, and try to live a healthy life but am still considerably less than svelte. I am learning to accept my own body, but have the hardest time finding affordable stylish and cute clothing that flatters me instead of making me feel unattractive. Any advice for choosing styles that suit me?
Signed, Full-Figured Fashionista
Dear Full-Figured: At the risk of repeating myself, sometimes it isn’t what’s in fashion that makes you look or feel good- it’s what flatters your shape and makes you feel great. There are those that laud First Lady Michelle Obama’s creative way of wearing belts- high on the waist to flatter her most narrow parts. There are other fashion critics who wonder why she insists on wearing a belt at all, instead of choosing accessories and styles that better suit her overall shape.
There’s no one right body type or we’d all have it. Along the same vein, there’s no one cute look or stylish look or way to wear what’s in. The best approach is to find the styles that flatter you most and/or conceal your less lovely bits and then stock up on them as they’re available.
It’s worth a splurge if it makes you look and feel great. And when weeding through your closet if something makes you feel less than lovely, it’s time to recycle, repurpose or donate it.
Life is too short to wear clothing that makes you feel anything but fabulous. What’s in style isn’t always what’s right for you no matter which designer declares it the must have item.
Rachel Weingarten is a style expert, marketing strategist & personal branding consultant for CEOs, politicians and celebrities and the creator of MintStyle. She is the award-winning author of Career and Corporate Cool and Hello Gorgeous! Beauty Products in America ‘40s-‘60s. Rachel writes for top media outlets including CNN, Fortune, Forbes Life, MSN, USA Today, Yahoo Finance and many others. She is a regularly featured expert on TV shows including Good Morning America and The Today Show. Visit her online at http://racheletc.com or on Twitter @rachelcw Write to her with your burning style questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.