In a dream world, we would throw out the contents of our closets every season and begin anew. We would wear only new, hip, trendy clothes—straight out of fashion magazines. After all, that’s what the stores and catalogs try to sell us: the idea that we need to completely revamp our look every year.
Of course, it doesn’t work that way. We shop our closets and we build on what we have, in part because of the economy but also thanks to plain common sense. After all, why exactly did we buy those investment pieces if not to make them the workhorses of our wardrobes season after season? Plus it is easy to develop a sentimental attachment to some clothes. For example, the black Eileen Fisher storm coat and the cashmere-lined dark plum gloves I loved last fall seem like trustworthy, welcome friends as I bring them out this season. I’m happy to think about spending more time with them again.
But it is nice to add a refresher piece or two to your reliable standbys, just a new pair of shoes or a stylish sweater that give a little spark to your jeans or jackets. Sometimes it doesn’t take much—just a little hit of new—to bring everything you already own into fresh focus. With that in mind, here is my list of Five Easy Pieces that could spruce up your fall and winter basics.
1. Born to Be (A Little) Wild
Nothing has more energy right now than a motorcycle-style jacket. What you are looking for is that asymmetrical zipper across the front, regardless of whether the moto jacket is done in leather, faux leather or cloth. That zipper slims the body, giving the viewer’s eye a flattering track to follow. You can find this in any price point, from high designer Phillip Lim ($1750) to H + M ($100) for a stylish knockoff in leather. Nike has a woven stretch material version ($148), while Michael Kors has a detailed version in leather with a shearling collar ($348), and Jennifer Lopez has a faux leather and shearling version (on sale for $60).
2. Embrace Your Inner Kitten
We’ve worn stilettos and ballet slippers for what seems like forever now. And they are still vital parts of our wardrobe. But for a fresh look, try a kitten heel. Long the refuge of young teenage girls and grandmothers, kitten heels are defined as ranging from 1.5 inches to 2.5 inches tall. Maybe it’s the influence of Mad Men, where kitten heels abound, or maybe it’s simply that we’re tired of killing ourselves trying to walk everywhere in Jimmy Choos. But kitten heels have the convenience of flats with a bit of a lift. Diane Von Furstenberg has a gorgeous cobalt blue suede version ($186), Nine West and Ann Taylor have several versions ($60 - $130), and –yes—even Jimmy Choo has a version ($495).
If you would rather stick with flats, think about retiring your ballet slipper shoes until spring and instead moving into smoking slippers. They look just as they sound: like old-fashioned slippers a man would have donned with his smoking jacket, but they have a refreshing look for fall and winter. Much hipper than loafers and more current than ballet flats, smoking slippers are a more substantial version of the Toms canvas shoes you wore all spring and summer—plus they come in every color and material imaginable. Good choices include a striking mustard yellow version at Top Shop ($100), Cole Haan calf hair version in leopard print ($218), or ZiGi Girl’s studded version that looks four times more expensive than it is ($40).
3. Mix-Master Texture
Mixing prints was big at the beginning of the year, but now it’s all about mixing textures. The unexpected mix (leather with lace, lace with cotton Ts, coats with different fabric for the sleeves) just looks so right now. The simplest way to master texturizing is to buy one new piece that does the mix-up for you. An outstanding top of the season is Aiko’s “Dovina” blouse, which mixes leather and rayon in a color-blocking effect ($198). It will work with a pencil skirt, tweed pants or jeans. A metallic lace peplum top by Vince Camuto ($119) gets the hard/soft mix just right. DKNY pairs a flowery print dress with a solid color block yoke ($355) for another unexpected matchup. And Express has an endlessly versatile pencil skirt ($60) of ponte knit with faux leather trim down the sides.
4. The Charm of the Arm
We have cycled through many different jewelry trends in the past five years: broaches; statement necklaces; multi-strand mixed media necklaces; stacks of bangles; cocktail rings. But if you are looking for just one piece of new bling, try an ornate bracelet. Call it The Great Gatsby look (which will be heading towards us like a hurricane next spring) or maybe it is the influence of cable television’s Game of Thrones, but one elaborate, encrusted bracelet (worn loosely so it can dip down over your wrist) looks so perfect now. J. Crew’s Grand Stone version ($99) is going to tie into everything you already own, from crew neck sweaters and jeans to work dresses. Or Francesca’s has a crystal daisy bracelet ($16) with just enough swag to capture the feeling.
5. Belting It
Too often, a belt is the Rodney Dangerfield of accessories: it doesn’t get the respect it deserves. It is the perfect finishing touch that pulls an outfit together—whether you wear it over a cardigan or circle it around a dress as well as with all your pants. It can carry you from season to season, and even year to year—plus the cost of a statement belt doesn’t have to exceed your fashion allowance. Great choices include: a leopard print belt from Land’s End ($44 or $52 for plus size); Nordstrom house brand Halogen’s two-tone skinny grey number ($32); Rachel Zoe’s half-inch pop of color in aquamarine or coral ($85); or Cole Haan’s “Zelda” (there’s that Great Gatsby theme again)—a less-than-an-inch black-and-white animal print with a gorgeous silver oblong buckle ($68). Even if you just lace a great belt through the loops on your jeans, where it’s always covered by a sweater this season, you will still know it’s there. Adding a good belt can have the same effect as wearing fantastic lingerie: you are going to move with more confidence. And that is what updating your look is all about.