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Analysis of a Basics Prodigy

There’s no denying it: Audrey Hepburn had style.

As Holly Golightly in the iconic film Breakfast at Tiffany’s, she might as well have stumbled right off the pages of Vogue and onto Fifth Avenue, where she famously peered into the window of the film’s namesake jeweler while nibbling daintily at her croissant. You know the scene I’m talking about.

Lovers of the timeless flick will recall—sometimes with more than a fleeting upswell of jealousy (at least I do)—her dazzling style and many über-chic get-ups. Surely if the flick alone isn’t confirmation of her style stature then the fact that countless designers considered her their personal “muse” must.

Like I said, chic indeed. But really, upon closer inspection, Holly—and Audrey, for that matter—was really just a master of the basics. A phenom, if you will, when it came to finding simple but gorgeous clothes that complemented her frame and set off her natural features to their best advantage. To be fair, it doesn’t hurt that her natural features were, well, let’s just be conservative and say pretty darn near perfect. But still, the clothes helped.

A talent we all possess

Sky high cheekbones and wide-set eyes we may not have (speaking strictly for myself, that is!), but we can take a cue from Audrey’s deft use of basics in setting off our own best features. For me, those are my longish legs and strong shoulders. Every woman is different and possesses her own best features, and this, in fact, is what makes dressing so much fun.

I was recently dismayed to read in The New York Times Thursday Styles section that a certain fashion icon declared in his new book that

Beyond the stick-thin, or the size 6s or 8s, real women don’t know what looks good on them. They don’t really have an eye. Their friends don’t have an eye. That comes with training.

Whoa, just hold on a second there, buddy! I have to completely disagree. While we all undoubtedly have our moments of fashion uncertainty (like the time you tried on ten outfits before your last girls’ night out), I believe strongly in the average female’s ability to select at least a few key items that she knows always make her look great—be she a size six or a size sixteen. And I also feel quite sure that—by the same rationale—our girlfriends aren’t all completely out to lunch on the subject, either.

For me, my key basics include several fitted black turtlenecks, a vintage wool cape with fur trim (also black, natch) and a kick-ass pair of black leather slacks I had custom tailored to fit my frame when I was twenty-three (I consider it one of my great accomplishments that they still fit). Every time I put one of these items on I feel instantly a cut above, in my best form and ready to take on the mean streets of San Francisco/Manhattan/my small home town in Central California.

Fashion begets mood

More importantly, wherever I am and whatever I’m doing, feeling like I look great boosts my confidence and lifts my mood. Now that’s reason to reach for the basics, if there ever was one! In fact, all this talk about mood brings up another awesome point about basics. An outfit comprised of well put-together basics creates, essentially, the perfect palate from which to create innumerable “looks.” These looks, in turn, play into how you’re feeling on that particular occasion.

Sound weird? It’s not! Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia many consider to be the ultimate reference resource, says that “the term fashion usually applies to a prevailing mode of expression, but quite often applies to a personal mode of expression that may or may not adhere to prevailing ideals.” Exactly! Fashion affords an accessible and totally customizable platform from which to express ourselves, and the best part about it is we can change it every day—literally as often as we change our clothes.

Let’s use my kick-ass leather pants as a case study.

If I’m feeling conservative I’ll pair them with a sleek black turtleneck (also one of the key basics, you may recall), chic black flats and a strand of pearls. Presto! I’m classic with a cutting edge, courtesy of the leather. Got a meeting with my agent at the latest hip resto, and wanting to look stylishly pulled together but still a little edgy? I’ll sport the pants with a well-cut wool blazer over a white button down tucked in, top two buttons undone and some diamond studs. Voila! Simple, chic, edgy. And for that night out dancing, I’ll give in to my inner rocker with a fitted black tank top, sky-high stilettos, and bright red fedora.

Bright red fedora? Yep, you heard me right. The other cool thing about basics is the way that you can punch them up with colorful or interesting accessories to create added drama. Remember Holly Golightly’s elegant black shift she wore while gazing through the window at Tiffany’s? It’s not all that different from several other mostly black getups she sported throughout the film; the key difference in the window scene is that she paired it with an impossibly oversized (and, it being Audrey, absolutely elegant) pearl collar. Like my fedora with the leather pants, immediate drama.

And, at the end of the day, isn’t creating a little drama what makes fashion so much fun? With clothes, we can express a whole range of emotions and moods just by changing our top, throwing on a strand of pearls or donning a flirty red cap. Now that’s reason to get dressed every morning.

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