I am in high school, but I am hoping to attend college in a city like New York or London. I would describe my personal style as simple and always classic. I want to wear pieces that will always be fashionable, from now to when I am starting my first job. I am putting together my capsule wardrobe. To me, how I dress conveys how I think about myself. I would love advice on what pieces I should have in my closet to look classy and put together but without dressing like Kate Middleton all the time? — Abbey, Greenville, S.C.
All I can say is: You’re a lot more forward-thinking than I was at your age. And more important, what you are thinking about is what may be the single most effective thing any of us can do when it comes to fashion and climate change: laying the building blocks of a sustainable wardrobe — that is, one that lasts over time and is not disposable.
Of course, you will want to add and subtract as the semiotics of your identity change. The college version of you (and the high school version of you, for that matter) and the middle-aged you are unlikely to be exactly the same.
But like your essential character, there will be basic, identifiable traits — clothes in your wardrobe that reflect core values that don’t change over time. Figure them out now, and you can rely on them later.
So how to do that? I asked Tory Burch, the famously well-dressed designer, what she would recommend. “Black and white always works,” she said, “and an incredible accessory in a bright color is also a great idea.
“A few classic pieces will anchor your style: a great handbag, a well-cut blazer, a pair of loafers and a chic trench coat. I have always loved to mix high and low, and vintage works well for timeless pieces, too. Buying fewer, more beautiful investment pieces is key, and they are worth holding on to. I wish I hadn’t given so many things away; they always come back, especially if they are classic in spirit.”
To that list I would add a military greatcoat for winter, a slip dress with cardigan, a mannish slouchy trouser suit, a Breton striped sweater and a couple of great T-shirts. (Never underestimate the value of a great T-shirt.)
Diane von Furstenberg, the designer who invented the wrap dress, a garment that has proved its perennial appeal since she created it in 1973, added, “Pick the pieces that you are comfortable in and that you can use to make endless combinations.”
And a few more tips to consider: First, if you are going to engage in overt branding, make sure it’s vintage — and not vintage from five years ago but vintage vintage (at least 20 years old). Nothing says “stuck in XX season” like a recognizable logo.
Second, invest in fabrics. Wool, cashmere, Pima cotton and silk tend to stand the test of time, unlike, say, Lycra and spandex, which can stretch out of shape. (Check out this guide on how to buy clothes built to last.)
Third, remember the cost-per-wear calculation. If a garment seems expensive, divide the price by the number of years you think you will wear it and the number of times per year. Chances are, that $500 dress will be more cost-effective than a $20 T-shirt that shreds on the second wash so you wear it only twice.
And finally, whatever you buy, take care of it. Hang it on proper hangars with enough space to breath. Protect it from moths. Mend it if necessary. Maybe wash it by hand. Otherwise, all this forethought will be for naught.