The pink silk skirt? Bought it in Venice nine years ago during a work trip (Prada was having a 50 per cent off sale. They never have a sale. And I’ve always been mad for that icy pink). The chiffon Sacai kilt? Six years old and everything I like in a skirt: floaty, easy to coordinate, good in winter or summer. The jumper? A superglue filler. I always make sure I have fillers in perfect condition because they turn so many otherwise lonesome items into happy outfits. This one’s M&S.
The blue top from Bimba&Lola is another staple. As for the pinstripe navy trousers from Junya Watanabe? I’ve got more navy trousers than I strictly need but these – 2010 – are my favourites. I’ve had them taken up and let down again several times, depending on whether ankles are in or out, but the basic shape, slim but not tight, is my ideal. As for the Gucci jacket, 2015 – just before Alessandro Michele made Gucci cool again (and much, much more expensive). This cut is less boxy (ergo better for me) than the latest Gucci blazers and the lapels are narrower than the bang-on-trend 2019 iteration, but it’s sharp, streamlined and a good length, and those traits trump ephemeral trends. I can always make a ‘summer 2019’ statement with my earrings.
It’s not a bad idea, from time to time, to study your most loved clothes and analyse what makes them work. Colours? Always go for what you love. They’ll be a constant, but keep an eye on how fashion is targeting colours; is it towards shoes, bags or head to toe?
Proportions are fundamental, obviously. They should look contemporary, but only up to a point. A bigger consideration is whether they flatter you. Oversized is where it’s at right now, but it makes me look like a creepy kid. Not doing.
Comfort? Non-negotiable for most of us. Fabrics? For me they’re key, which is why I’d much rather buy less and pay a bit more, even if it means waiting for the sales, or stalking TheOutnet.com and Bicester Village. It’s not just the quality; it’s too easy to walk into Zara and fritter. When I do buy cheap, I’ll often change the buttons and get it re-tailored. I want to have to work harder for my clothes – the effort makes them more precious – and for them to work harder for me.
Like most women in their 50s, I’ve reached a point where I pretty much know what I like, so I don’t need an all-changing wardrobe every year. I can update my classics with little tweaks (getting them taken up, or playing with the sleeve lengths) and with well-chosen accessories (like this necklace, which looks vintage, but which I found, new, in Korea last year, and which manages to transform a plain dress or top into cocktail wear). Often it’s tiny nuances that make an outfit look relevant: one year you wear your trousers with pussy-bow silk blouses, the next it’s peasant tops (this viscose and linen one is from M&S, £29.50, and positively Isabel Maranty).
Along with hair, shoes are the most effective outfit tweaker. Five years ago we wore dresses and trousers with skyscraper stilettos. Then it was flat-forms, then trainers. Now a slightly blocky heeled backless sandal does it. These Sergio Rossis update everything I put them with. A small fortune well spent.
It’s equally helpful to scrutinise what didn’t work and ship it out. Why was it a fail when, in theory, it’s everything you like? Sometimes it’s because I bought it when I was at the lower end of my average weight, but more often it comes down to practicality. I have a stunning white tuxedo jacket but every time I reach into the wardrobe, I think I must subconsciously clock up the dry cleaning bills. I always end up wearing a pale blue jacket instead.
I’m not saying I don’t have anything bought post-2015, nor that I never make mistakes. A year or so ago I was browsing online whenever I was bored, distracted and in need of some self-approbation, lured by one of the many automated emails from MatchesFashion.com et al that popped into my inbox (did I really opt in to all of them?) or too tired to do anything more constructive (even though a nap would be infinitely more beneficial). I was buying too much and although it was lovely, I ended up not wearing a lot of it. Just because something looks great and suits you, you don’t necessarily have to own it. Now, I don’t hang on to things that are only ‘quite’ and I think very carefully before I buy. Is it a one-off crush that I’ll get over, or a keeper?
An overflowing wardrobe doesn’t make you more stylish; the more you buy, the less likely you are to be exacting. But it’s easy to fall off the thoughtful wagon when prices are so low. The price of a navy cardigan from Next in the April 1986 copy of Elle (I knew those old issues would come in handy one day) was £24.99. A similar one on Next.co.uk in 2019? £24. The average UK salary in 1986 was below £8,000 a year; you don’t have to be Mark Carney to work out that clothes were a much bigger part of our spend then. No wonder millennials raised on fast fashion don’t necessarily pause to consider whether they’ll get more than one wear out an item.
A powerful step towards getting a grip on it all is making sure you can see everything you have. EVERYTHING. When you’ve cleared through the thickets (and resold or donated), I’ve found that packing away items that are clearly out of season lessens the boredom problem considerably. Come the moment to get them out again you’ll have more clarity: are they tired and superfluous or are you happy to see them? There are professionals who will do this for you. Vaultcouture.com will digitally catalogue and maintain your wardrobe, with access to your favourite looks 24/7 online in what they call ‘a Net-a-Porter style interface’ and they’ll also deliver your outfits to any office or hotel worldwide for hands-free travel. This is all quite James Bond and I’m generally not a fan of outsourcing your storage (what’s the point unless you’re temporarily between abodes?) but I find the idea of going back to a single wardrobe strangely appealing.
As for adding in longevity, find a good alterations service. Treasure and restore. The-Restory.com is an excellent troubleshooter that will resurrect clapped-out bags and shoes (and stretch the latter if you ‘accidentally’ bought a size too small). Don’t over-wash and avoid harsh chemicals. Ecoegg (£12.99 from Lakeland.co.uk) uses ceramic pellets rather than conventional soap.
Don’t neglect ‘boring’ basics. I’ve discovered ultrafine polo necks from Les Reveries, a dress brand that introduced them to turn sleeveless, plunging styles into year-round layering pieces (netaporter.com). Result. Finally, sometimes what you don’t buy is as important as what you do. It’s not stylish to have too much of anything.
The Daily Telegraph