In my last fashion post regarding updating my ten item wardrobe, a reader commented:
I love the looks, but that is so many accessories you’ve used. Isn’t that a bit counter to the whole 10 item wardrobe concept?
If you look at the collage, I do own a version of all of the accessories that I featured (I can’t always use the exact item on polyvore, so I use the closest approximation), but my accessories wardrobe is something that I have built up over a very long time. I don’t think having a larger accessories collection, (when well curated and maintained) is counter to the 10 item wardrobe at all. While I have limited the clothes that I am wearing (and buying), don’t think for a second that I am going out and spending willy-nilly on accessories. These are as carefully chosen, and then well looked after, as my clothing.
My accessories are a mix of a few investment items; a larger selection of mid-range, but quality, pieces; and a sprinkling of cheaper, of-the-moment, fun pieces. So how do I select what I buy? Let’s start with the fun pieces.
Cheap, of-the-moment, fun pieces
I love fashion, but I am not willing to sink serious money (or wardrobe space) to items that will be around only for a season or two. However, these fashion pieces are often what can take a classic wardrobe from basic to fashionable, without looking like a fashion victim. In this category, I am talking cheap and cheerful necklaces and bangles, perhaps a scarf in this season’s colour (most likely how I will incorporate Radiant Orchid into my wardrobe), and sandals/summer heels. I simply cannot get summer sandals to last more than two summers – the combination of fabric rather then leather, heat and open toes just leave them looking grody by summer’s end – so it makes sense to spend only a little money on them, but replace them more frequently.
Mid range but quality pieces
These items form the bulk of my accessories wardrobes, and include shoes and handbags, sunglasses, as well as some more classic pieces of jewellery, that I see myself keeping and using for many years. These items tend to be from so-called “bridge” brands such as Kate Spade, Tory Burch, J Crew, Coach, Oroton, etc that are more expensive than mass-market, but less expensive than true “designer” brands. I very rarely pay full price for these items; instead, I carefully stalk these brands, seeking out their oft-run sales. For these items, I tend to look for more classic lines and colours that will give me longevity. Yes, I have some pop colours such as the grass green and orange, but these are relatively classic colours that will look good season after season, and not look dated. Would I purchase a bag in Radiant Orchid (or Emerald last season)? No, because these do tend to look out of place.
I own each item in this collage (the blue Kate Spade bag I have is a deeper cobalt blue, though), but this has built up over close to 2 decades. For example, the Oroton black handbag is nearly 17 years old, the blue Kate Spade would be over 5 years old, as is the Coach striped bangle. The oxblood Boden shoes are a new purchase (on sale) but bought because while they will add a hit of current colour to this winter’s wardrobe, the shape and the colour are both classic, and will still look good in 5 or even 10 years. The only bag that I would not consider a “true” classic is the Marc by Marc Jacobs tote, but it is also not what I would consider “trendy” either, so I am sure I will get many years of life out of it.
It is important to note, though, that all of these pieces are very well looked after. I keep the handbags and the shoes stuffed with tissue when in my closet, with the handbags in their dust bags, and the shoes in their boxes. Each season (or more often if needed) I will gently clean the bags and condition them with leather conditioner. This means the leather stays nice and supple, and will not dry out and crack. As for the shoes, before I even wear them, I will have rubber soles put on them, and these get replaced somewhere between seasonally and yearly depending on how much I wear the particular shoe. I am also very careful that as soon as the heel tip starts to get worn down, it gets replaced at the cobbler, well before I start to wear into the heel of the shoe itself.
Finally, lets talk investment pieces. My investment pieces tend to be designer brands and let’s not beat around the bush, they were expensive purchases. I don’t own many, and again, just like the mid-range pieces, I take very good care of them. Yes, they are more “boring” than the other two categories – no pop colours here – but the pieces are picked for the long haul. The blue Louis Vuitton was my first designer purchase, which I bought when I got my first marketing job in 2000, and it looks almost as good as new. The classic LV Monogram was bought around 2006/7, and actually gets better and better with age, as the lighter leather trim darkens and gains patina. I use these two the most – both look very elegant with navy and grey (which have been the base colours of my wardrobe for a very long time), and both of them suit outfits ranging from casual jeans and tees, right through to suits, and everything in between. The next LV is a beautiful bag in a very rich charcoal with a gorgeous metallic sheen, and probably dates to around the same year. It was a present from my parents, and I will often use it as a subtler, quieter version of a black handbag. My final designer bag is a Lambertson Truex in a rich and classic cognac. This colour is incredibly versatile, and I find that I use this bag all the time, all year round. It looks just as wonderful with summer whites as it does with tweedy woollens in the middle of winter. It also looks surprisingly good with an all black outfit. I am not exactly sure when I bought this but it was before Stephen was born, so definitely pre 2006. A lot of thought went into each of these bags before they were bought. The shapes are all very classic and very simple, and therefore will look as good now, as they will in another 20 years. When investing serious money into accessories, you want to steer clear of anything too faddy – I loved the idea of the Graffiti LV bags when they came out around the time I bought my navy LV, but could I seriously see myself wearing it even a year later? If it is the “it” bag of the year, then you probably won’t be wanting to wear it further down the track. Also stay clear of too many bells and whistles. Simple and clean lines will take you much further than overly embellished frippery. You will also notice that none of these bags are black. I do wear a fair bit of black, especially in winter, but I personally believe that you will find other colours, especially charcoal, brown or cognac, far more versatile.
If you have read my blog for any length of time, then you know I love me some shoes! The decisions behind the designer shoes I have bought are pretty much the same as for my bags. Again, stay clear of anything too “out there” – a simple almond or slightly pointed toe is unlikely to go out of fashion, but overly round, overly pointed or overly square certainly do cycle in and out. The black Ferragamos are a true classic, and have now been going strong since 2004. The lower heel made them practical to wear to work, but are still elegant enough for a cocktail dress. I even wear them with skinny jeans for a feminine look. The oxblood Tod’s heeled loafers might not seem too classic at face value, but they really have stood the test of time. I’ve had then since around 2005, and they have been worn every autumn and winter since. The rich red goes with black, navy and brown, and the heeled loafer style combined with the patent finish goes with so many different outfits. The final pair of shoes are not the exact pair of Giorgio Armani’s that I have – mine are a darker brown, and not patent, but have an embossed croc pattern on them – but you get the idea. These are from 2007, and make almost any outfit look incredibly elegant. They are also supremely comfortable for such a high heel, and the colour is perfection.
Just like my mid range shoes, these are all soled with rubber as soon as they are purchased, and resoled and re-tipped when necessary. These are also stored in their original boxes, but are in individual dust bags inside the box so they can’t scratch each other. And yes, each of them cost over $500, but when you consider that they are between 7 and 10 years old and still have many more years to go, then the cost does not seem so prohibitive or outlandish. Compare that with a $50 pair of shoes that is lucky to last the season, and it makes sense to put money aside and then invest in a more expensive but also better made pair of shoes.
So there you have my long, rambling answer to a short question, but hopefully you can take away my philosophy on building up an accessories wardrobe, and why I think it is a vital part of my 10 item wardrobe.