Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Psst....It's all about the accessories...

Before I begin to share my tips for beautiful and easy dressing, culled from a lifetime of mistakes and learning… let me get this off my chest.

Have you noticed how the world looks as though they are walking around in their pajamas, or, coming and going to the gym? If you really look at people in the mall or at the airport it will positively hurt your eyes: sweatshirts, exercise clothes, Bermudas, sweatpants, baggy jeans. Ouch!

You don’t have to sacrifice comfort for elegance, ever. Even on long haul airplane flights. Sleek black yoga pants from Lululemon have a great street cut and are comfortably stretchy for long hours squished into a seat. Layered with t-shirt, sweater, scarf…and you’re looking great and comfortable

Natural fibers are your best friend. Natural fibers breathe and they feel good on your skin. They are always classic and elegant. The basics are: cotton, linen, silk and wool.

The classics are the basics. A great pair of good fitting jeans. Khaki slacks. Black slacks. A white cotton shirt. A white linen shirt. A white t-shirt. A black t-shirt. A denim shirt. A flannel shirt. A black sweater. Black skirt. “Little Black dress” Black shoes. Great sneakers. Solid loafers and flats. A wonderfully cut blazer. A trench coat. A great tank bathing suit.

Which brings me to my major fashion secret, which isn’t a secret at all.

It really is all about the accessories. Once you have the basic classics... great accessories make or break an outfit. Accessories are the things that truly define you and set you apart from others. Here’s the litmus test: two women are wearing the same jeans and a white shirt. One woman has a beautiful watch, nice leather flats and an exquisite leather handbag. The other woman has tatty sneakers and a dirty canvas bag. One looks lovely and elegant. The other looks sloppy and…poor.

Today I’m wearing a simple white t-shirt and a black skirt. The reason you won’t mistake me for a waitress is my huge, red bead multi-strand necklace and my Donald Pliner delicate black gladiator sandals.

I learned about accessories when I lived in France. Sit in a cafĂ© in Paris and you’ll see every woman has a gorgeous handbag and an excellent watch. Are they all rich? No. French women save up for one fabulous handbag, instead of having a wardrobe of inexpensive ones. One good watch. One great Hermes scarf. And then they wear it.

Shoes tell everything about you. Buy the most expensive, comfortable shoes you can afford. Everyone has their niche when it comes to what’s an expensive shoe. Even if I could afford them, I am not interested in Carrie Bradshaw’s Manolo Blahniks. I have found a comfortable, stylish niche with Donald Pliner and Cole Haan. For sport, Merrill. Expensive shoes do last longer and look better.

Jewelry must-haves. A good, classic watch. One elegant gold ring. Large enough diamond stud earrings. A strand of good pearls. You don’t need a lot, you just need exquisite. After you have the basic pieces, then you can start to play with necklaces, bracelets and rings. Be aware that jewelry is a never-ending lust; you will always see a piece of jewelry that you want. Your taste evolves as your grow older (and richer) as well. Costume jewelry is acceptable if you have great taste and pile it on for effect; not trying to pretend it is something that it isn’t.

Beware your underwear. Life’s too short for stretched out, fugly underwear. Buy it often and throw it out often. When it comes to style, comfort is everything. If you are not comfortable in your underwear…what hope is there for your day? You don’t need to spend a fortune. Good style has trickled down to Calvin Klein, Victoria’s Secret, Banana Republic. Start with natural fibers of course, meaning in this case: cotton. Save the lacy little nothings for when you don’t need such support for long hours at a time.

Handbags. Entirely too complicated to go into here. I can hear you laughing…as some of you know, I have a... love... of handbags. Just start with one good black leather handbag, and one evening bag. A beautiful small evening bag dresses up something as simple as black pants and a black sweater, and also can look great with jeans and a t.

Spend what you probably think is a small fortune on a good wallet. You have purchased correctly, if afterwards you moan and say, “Why…I could have bought xx for the same amount of money!” Wallets are expensive. All that craftsmanship in such a tiny space. But how many times a day do you reach for your wallet? At least 20, if not more. Your wallet is a trusted companion and the years it will last will amortize it to a sensible sum to have spent.

If it’s night, it must be black. I always chuckle when someone asks me “What are you wearing tonight?” After all this time do they even have to ask? Is there any other color?

Black is always perfect, chic, appropriate. Black always looks great. Black is always impeccable. Black can look casual, or dressy. The little black dress can go to work, cocktails, dinner, theatre, a funeral. Black slacks and sweater looks good in almost every situation, day or night. Black is also: slimming. Is it any wonder why the people who work at fashion mags wear black?

Alas, when I moved to the tropics, it became impossible to wear black during the day. The white light of the sun just doesn’t work with black clothing. So, white and khaki have become my new black.

What is the single, greatest fashion accessory? A great body. By “great body” I don’t mean you need to be reed slim. Have your own great body – in shape, a good weight, physically fit and most important, healthy. If you are happy with your body, you look good. Try the jeans test: if you look good in jeans and a white shirt…you’re looking good! Sometimes you don’t need to buy new clothes…you just need to lose a little weight.

Overaccessorizing. This is a great piece of WASP advice I learned in Lisa Birnbach's "The Preppie Handbook" that I think is really good. When women dress for the evening, they err towards over accessorizing. So here it is: When you are finished dressing and ready to leave, stand in front of the mirror and take off one thing. Now you are ready to go out. It never fails.

Underdressed is better than overdressed. This is my personal opinion and you can feel free to disagree. Elegance means: pared down, or as Diana Vreeland said, “Elegance is refusal.” Only if I am invited to meet royalty or going to the Vienna Opera Ball, would I even consider wearing a long gown. Simple clothes and expensive jewelry makes me always dressed correctly.

Your fashion signature. After my first visit to Italy years ago…I have always owned a pair of red flats. I learned this from watching those effortlessly chic Italian women who always have something “tweak” their look. Red flats are my finishing touch; they are a smile. What’s your fashion signature?

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