Ask Allie: When are Wardrobe Classics No Longer Classic?

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How do I know if one of my staples is no longer in style? I don't follow all the trends but I do want to look contemporary. Some trends are go by in a year and some last for a longer period of time. I am not worried about the quick stuff but I don't want to look like I am in the wrong decade.

A few decades ago, it was easy to know what was in style and what was passé. Turn on any TV show, open any magazine and you would see the same skirt lengths, leg widths, shoulder silhouettes. The same colors that were hot for fashion were also popular for everything from duvets to dish drainers. These days, almost everything goes, which means there’s more chance for looking dated.

Now, that may seem like a contradictory statement, but the thing is, while pieces from the ‘80s may seem to be contemporary now, unless you’re a True Fashionista and can carry off any vintage with panache, you’ll find the 2012 version of the 1982 garment has little touches that make it different and modern and wearable.

How to Stay Current

A few decades ago, the advice would be to read fashion magazines, but these days most fashion magazines only offer fantasy – shoes that cost a thousand dollars, spreads with themes like alien love children or Bonnie and Clyde… it’s very hard to translate Vogue into everyday life.

However a few magazines do it well, but they are not your typical fashion magazines:



  • Real Simple – While Real Simple offers crock pot recipes and 100 ways to reuse a toilet paper tube, it also does a fantastic job of translating current fashion trends and offering contemporary versions of wardrobe classics and how to wear them. While they will occasionally feature an $800 dress or $500 pair of shoes, most of the time Real Simple shoes wearable fashion t reasonable pricepoints, available at your nearby mall.


  • O – Oprah’s magazine is a great fashion resource, where not only are current trends featured in a classic manner, but they will do in-depth reviews of wardrobe classics such as jeans or white shirts. While the clothing pricepoints are often more expensive, the styles are simple enough that it’s easy to replicate the look for less at your nearby department store. Another nice feature of O is they often show the fashion on non-models – you’ll see current styles on women over 40, under 5’7”, over a size 6.


  • More – Though I am not yet 40, I am a subscriber of More magazine and have been one for a couple of years. More does focus on working women over 40, but they feature classic fashion in every issue. Since their audience is professional women, they showcase fashion that makes sense for the working woman – weekend attire with polish, career-wear that goes past the boring navy skirt suit. Like O, they don’t always offer budget-friendly brands, but they provide spreads that are believable, and can be replicated at a lower pricepoint.

I often find more inspiration from catalogs than I do magazines. Catalogs are a retailer’s way of showing the story behind their fashion, creating spreads of ensembles that are wearable without distracting from the individual garments. Through catalogs, you can really see what is the current length of trouser, how people are belting outfits, what style of shoe to wear with a certain style of skirt, and little details like how many buttons to leave unbuttoned on a shirt or how much top to blouse out when tucked in.

My favorite catalogs for knowing current versions of classics:

  • Talbots Talbots has become more stylish in the past couple of years, but they still provide fashion that is quite classic and traditional. Talbots does a good job of adjusting the silhouettes of wardrobe classics to keep current but not cause their shopper to be a fashion victim. The current Talbots catalog shows the current fit and length of spring cropped pants, that florals have made a return, how to wear a chunky resin link necklace or stack of bangles in a work-friendly manner, that skirts can be paired with belts even if the skirt doesn’t have beltloops, that the clutch purse has returned even for daytime, and what style of shoe works with all the different lengths and widths of spring’s trousers.
  • J. Crew – While J. Crew has a more defined personal style than many others, their style is one that is popular and emulated by other retailers. A glimpse into the J. Crew catalog will quickly show that there isn’t one standard way to tuck in a blouse, that layers are hot, and layering jewelry even hotter. J. Crew also does a great job of showing current beauty trends, through very specific choices in hairstyles and lipstick shades.
  • Garnet Hill – If your personal style leans more towards bohemian, Garnet Hill’s catalog can be a great resource. While many other boho-inspired retailers stick to the wide-leg cropped pants, unstructured jackets and tunics, Garnet Hill’s garment choices vary with the runway trends. As pants got more narrow over the years, so did Garnet Hill’s, but they did it in a way that was still floaty, beachy, travel-worthy and relaxed. The colors change as well – they always have sunwashed fabrics and basic black, but will add hues as well as textures that connect to recent fashion weeks.

A good way to know what is considered stylish is to watch television. While you won’t find contemporary fashion during Downton Abbey, you can find it on many sitcoms, dramas, and news channels.

If you work in the corporate arena, watching Good Morning America or Today is a great way to see how to break out of matched suits but still look professional. The female hosts, as well as their guests keep it conservative, but full of personality with their choices in color and accessories; they also will be trendy yet stylish with their footwear.


I like watching sitcoms to get ideas for casual wear. While I don’t expect TV characters to be the height of fashion, I do find them to wear pieces that are on-trend without being so trendy that the episode will look dated in a couple of months. Shows like How I Met Your Mother, New Girl, Happy Endings, and Hart of Dixie will show contemporary fashion that is wearable for weekends and nights on the town. Such shows also often feature brands and retailers that are easily accessible – I have to give props to the blog The Possessionista who does a phenomenal job tracking down the designers behind the fashions on popular television shows.

Blogs are such great inspiration for everyday fashion, and how to make wardrobe classics look contemporary. I love scrolling through the blogrolls of my favorite blogs to learn of new blogs on the block (or blogs that are new to me). In my Google Reader, I organize fashion blogs by style – weekend/casual style, work style, fantasy fashion… this way if I need specific inspiration I know exactly where to look.

Don’t assume a “fantasy fashion” blog can’t offer inspiration for you with your wardrobe classics – you may get a creative way of pairing pieces you already own – I would have never paired stripes with leopard if I hadn’t seen Blair of Atlantic-Pacific pair polka-dots with leopard!

Where do you get style inspiration? How do you keep current with trends and learn new ways to wear your wardrobe staples?

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One Comment

  1. How I Met Your Mother is a great example. Starting in season 2 and 3 the wardrobe people really stepped it up and Robin and Lily started dressing so freaking cute. I can still go back and watch it 6 years later and covet their cute boots, dresses, sweaters, and accessories.

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