By Stylist Charlotte Safavi
The other day, I met a girlfriend for lunch in Washington, D.C. Beneath a black J. Crew pea coat (sorry Mrs. Obama, my turn to plug the preppie chain), I wore layers of dove gray: a simple tank, a merino wool V-neck and boot-cut velvet pants, all very monochromatic. Michael Kors would have approved.
But something was missing. As I had arrived a bit early, I popped into a second-hand clothing store. Within minutes, my outfit was complete. For $18 plus tax, I knotted a green and gray Fendi-logo silk scarf around my neck before waltzing into the restaurant.
“How do you do it?” asked my girlfriend. “You always look so put together.” (My friend is a mother of five who looks fantastic all the time – today, in a North Face jogging outfit. If I had five kids, I would be in a velour dressing gown all day, with yesterday’s rollers dangling in my hair.)
“I guess I just buy classic stuff,” I replied. “Keepers, then I add fun pieces each season.”
“I need you to get me a starter list of your 10 must-have items,” she said, half-joking.
This got me thinking. Although style is personal, there are some basic concepts that I grew up understanding. I don’t think the way I dress is anything special, but it is classic. Because I am a journalist, and my job is to share thoughts and ideas with readers, here is a primer with some simple tips on how to look your best right now.
Understand the basics
I love fashion — though I am not a victim, tending to buy the traditional version of what’s in style. I am thrifty (I mostly shop sales, Target or upscale resale), and I mix high and low. It is also true that I pull clothing from my wardrobe year after year. There is a certain economy in that, which in today’s financial market is not altogether unappealing.
I credit my cosmopolitan background for how I dress. My heritage is Iranian — my mother’s generation never leaves the house underdressed. I definitely get my dressy vibe from Iran. Think Chanel clip-on earrings and designer handbags. From England, where I was born and educated, I retained smart basics, like riding boots and a string of pearls. I then immigrated to America and fell head over heels for the casual look: penny loafers and loose-fit khakis.
Know your body
I recently styled a woman for a Better Homes and Gardens photo shoot. It was surprisingly easy to see what hues and cuts suited her best. Shop with a trusted friend, if you do not have a stylist, or rely on store sales staff, as the Parisians do.
One more thing, I am leaving footwear out of the mix. I recently reorganized my closet, adding shoe-shelves. Let’s just say my husband suggested rehab. For the purposes of the list, all you need are one pair of loafers or flats, one pair of tall boots, and one pair of heels.
Fill your wardrobe with these 10 must-have items
Despite the onslaught of spring collections, I stick with Winter Fashion 101, which is pretty much where I am right now, in the aftermath of a historic blizzard piled up outside my home office.
Think of the list as a starter kit, an interchangeable wardrobe with a myriad of outfits. Shop your closet first. I suggest you pick one neutral base, like black or chocolate, for most of the items. Then for the rest of them, add one complementary accent color (I love bright hues).
1. One great white shirt. The key is collared and crisp. I am afraid it has to be ironed after each wash. Buy a fit you can wear under other items on this list for a twist on the obvious.
2. Fabulous pair of blue jeans that flatter your figure. Whatever the de jour trend, the classic is boot-cut, and navy denim is best. Go to a store that specializes in jeans, get fitted by a pro, and spend the dough. The investment is worth it.
3. Twinset, preferably cashmere. The cardigan knotted over the shell looks chic. Tied over outerwear, it doubles as a cozy scarf.
4. Fitted turtleneck. This can be layered under the shift dress (see below) on a cold day, paired with thick tights and tall boots.
5. Sleeveless shift dress. The hemline should be just above the knee. Dress up with pearls and heels.
6. One suit. I prefer pantsuits, with wide-legged and cuffed trousers. Go for a suit with a skirt, if you prefer. The ensemble can be worn as a suit, which is formal, or as casual separates — I love jeans with a blazer.
7. Wool coat. Classic styling is important. The coat should be fitted but loose enough to accommodate layers.
8. Splurge handbag. I consider a bag an investment. Splurge on a colorful one to offset neutrals.
9. Beautiful silk scarf. Go for a pattern for this item. Scarves can elevate any outfit, whether tucked into a top’s neckline or looped around a handbag’s handle.
10. Pretty silk shirt. Try something more fashionable, with detailing, to bring a certain je ne sais quoi to the blue jeans or suit.
I’ll look forward to sharing more fashion tips — not just for your wardrobe, but for your home and more. Remember, keep it classic!
About Charlotte Safavi
Charlotte Safavi has written for many publications, including The Washington Post, The British Sunday Times Magazine, House Beautiful, Victorian Homes, and Better Homes and Gardens.
Her style blogs also appear on The Huffington Post. Born in London and educated at Oxford University, her heritage is Iranian. She now resides in Northern Virginia with her husband and son.
For more information, visit www.charlottesafavi.com