Every year, designers go out on a limb to reinvent the basics — but we’re smart enough not to follow them out there all the way. Here are clever tweaks on beloved styles that will take 10 years off your look.
Come closer. This low-key duo, toned to match, has been a quiet best-seller for years in catalogs and luxury stores alike simply because it flatters everyone. Dieted down to a leaner, body-grazing silhouette, it’s razor-sharp enough for the runway. We paired Badgley Mischka’s trim double knit merino wool and cashmere cardigan ($398) with Burberry’s slimmed-down tailored trousers ($375) — cut higher at the waist, roomier in the hip, narrower in the leg and slouchier in length — then carved out a waist with a Tory Burch belt ($125). Loro Piana top ($695). Manolo Blahnik Mary Janes ($815). Chanel bag ($2,495). Tiffany & Co. necklace.
2008 TIP: When in doubt, buy navy. It’s the hot neutral — looks as chic as black and mixes well with black or brown.
A tailored dress scores climate control over hot flashes and won’t bulk us up on "fat" days, but it’s the no-decisions-necessary aspect that appeals to our practicality. After 20+ years of buying little black dresses, we have enough to start an online store, but a retro-inspired dress with a modern shape and sensibility, like this Ports 1961 cotton stretch jersey ($550), is irresistible. Pair it with strappy wedges and a clutch to rewrite history. Michael Kors wedges ($480). Be & D clutch ($540). Oro VI for Gold Expressions bracelet. Cartier ring.
THE UPDATE: Trimmed-down tailoring + feminine shape
The urban jungle dress first became wildly popular when Yves Saint Laurent packed Parisian runways with safari looks in the 1970s. Newly reworked this season by AK Anne Klein ($149), it fits like a glove and sharpens its shape with a black patent belt and buttons. Cartier hoops.
2008 TIP: Cropped sleeves are the new detail to look for.
A dark suit works year-round and pulls you together fast; it’s the best way to tackle corporate power jobs and still get a dose of fashion. Just when you thought you’d never buy another navy blue suit, there goes Donna Karan cutting a longer, leaner line with a tailored stretch linen-blend jacket ($1,595) and skirt ($750) that fit like a Lycra-boosted swimsuit to hold and mold. Gucci booties ($840), a DKNY clutch ($225) and a Banana Republic belt ($58) sharpen the effect. Elsa Peretti for Tiffany & Co. pendant.
Pay attention to the whole silhouette and its proportions when upgrading traditional pieces. Use subtle updates to get trend urges out of your system. Tory Burch’s jacket ($375) got a nip and tuck at the waist; spandex added to the cotton material makes for a svelte fit. Most of us suffer from weight fluctuations at tummy and waist — another reason to love Dana Buchman’s pencil skirt ($195), also laced with stretch and a strong vertical zipper detail front and center for a sleek illusion. Ralph Lauren Black Label tank ($255). Michael Kors clutch ($895). Mattioli hoops. Paloma Picasso for Tiffany & Co. ring.
You know from experience that modified trends work better than extremes. Burberry’s cadet jacket ($850) in stretch cotton is winning raves among both fashionistas and conservatives for its hip-covering length. Worn over a plum Burberry silk polo ($450) and soft box pleat silk skirt ($495), with Chanel cap-toe flats ($675), it’s an instant professional look with legs.
Add subtle offbeat colors to your navy and white: Bordeaux, plum, and mustard are the refreshing touches now. A Tse anorak ($1,050) and cashmere top liven up the ultimate spring basic: white Levi’s Original 501 jeans ($48). Tse top ($195). Pollini belt ($345). Francesco Biasia bag ($555).
2008 TIP: Add shine: gold buttons and a glimmer of patent leather in a classic-shape bag or shoe.
Originally published in MOREmagazine, February 2008.