Sunday 28th February 2021
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Anatomy of a core wardrobe: Part 2


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Several winters ago, on a Sunday night so frigid that under normal circumstances nothing would have made me leave the house, I traveled to the farthest reaches of the Upper East Side for an impromptu dinner party. It was at the home of a friend’s recently deceased godmother—a fearsome/beloved fashion world eminence of whom there are a very few each generation;  a woman for whom scholarships are named, and short documentaries are made. My friend was having people over to pay tribute to her famously  sprawling Park Avenue duplex—and by extension, the woman herself—before movers came the next day. The evening was memorable in many ways, and highly instructive in one. Most of the woman’s important clothes had already been sent off to the Costume Institute, so there wasn’t much to see in the way of flash. But my friend directed me to an unassuming-looking hall closet, and when I opened the door, I saw something truly amazing. One long rack of  no less than forty versions of the same exact quite simple shift dress, executed in every fabrication and color you can imagine: cotton, silk, tropical wool and charmeuse, houndstooth, black, fuchsia, and simple dove grey.  Here is what she wore for the last decade or two of her (very long) working life: pretty the exact same thing, every day. This discovery overjoyed me, and whenever I feel like I should be taking more and bigger chances with my wardrobe, I think of that closet, and that woman, who knew exactly who she was.  And it is in that spirit that I present my second installment of the things I wear all of the time—but sadly, do not have in multiples. I’ve extolled the virtues of the Clare Vivier messenger bag on more than one occasion, and I’m very fond of this tote shape, too. And of the blue and the black, which is an unstoppable combination always.


A slouchy black dress with just a little bit of something unexpected going on never lets me down. And I love the sleeve length here—just a couple of extra inches throw a lot more sophistication  into the whole enterprise.


Tops with some interesting drape to them are a cornerstone of my wardrobe—because they’re cool, but also of course, because of their superior powers to camouflage one’s less desirable spots gracefully. I’ve got a Helmut Lang top from another season that’s very much like—but not identical to— this one, and I wear it so much I hate when it’s time to send it to the dry cleaner.

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A V-neck cashmere cardigan, and a companion super-lightweight cotton version. They make a nice counterpoint to all the drapey asymmetry of my favorite tops, and do so without creating too much bulk.


The jacket that makes the outfit interesting.

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Walkable platforms—inevitably quite 70s-inspired in design, although that’s never really a conscious choice.

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Posted on April 29th, 2013 13 Comments

13 Responses

  1. Stakra says:

    Great story and selections. Now I must lie in wait for that lovely dress to go on sale!

  2. Sarah says:

    I love the story of the shift dresses. One advantage of “girls of a certain age” — by now many of us know what shapes work well for us. For our bodies and our lifestyles. Why waste time and money trying to make other shapes work in the name of being adventurous? That’s what shoes, bags, jewelry, hats, scarves, and -colors- are for!

  3. Tee-Bone says:

    Great story – one I’ll certainly keep in mind. Since layoff (and subsequent freelance lifestyle) last year, I’ve enjoyed weekend wear 24/7. Boyfriend jeans and a white v-neck (madewell) t? Couldn’t get easier/more comfy/flattering for me right now.

  4. mims says:

    omg yes! those longer sleeves hide that little unlovely dimple of “cush” above my elbow that i can never seem to get rid off. That waistline detail in the dress swooney too.

  5. farah bano says:

    I love this story! I agree that once we figure out the “cut” that works, why not buy multiples? Even when I travel, I try to purchase multiples when I can afford.
    I also love the idea of having a core wardrobe. I am trying to build a core wardrobe of grey/black and navy dresses, and invest in shoes and jewelry. I look forward to your PART 3 of the core wardrobe!

  6. kristie says:

    That is a magnificent story. Thank you so very much for sharing it. I love that you center it on her self-knowledge and self-confidence.

  7. Tamara says:

    Ok. I clicked on that cute jacket figuring it would be pricey and I’d forget about it (just redecorated my house…need to behave a little!) needless to say, it’s on its way to me…I’ve never ordered from Zara. I’m hoping the size is good…(I ordered my usual)

  8. diane says:

    i must own 12 shift dresses in different weights and neutral/black and a few colors, first it makes getting dressed easy, two you save money they never go out of style, and three, bags/shoes/jewelry/cardigan are easy to change up or update, by the way i am 49 and have been doing this since my thirties, i bought great quality, some of mine are 20 years old

  9. c.w. says:

    Love the story. My slouchy black dress is more of a column and by Eileen Fisher––highly recommend (and I hate to admit it, but I’ve fallen in love with her harem pants––yes, harem pants––an item I thought I would never ever ever purchase in a million billion years). My platforms are Kork-eze (more expensive, but super, super comfortable and make my 5’2.5″ height more like 5’4.5″ which is lovely. My Helmut Langs were purchased at a T.J.Maxx (you truly never know what you’ll find there), but I’m missing an “interesting jacket.” Lands, I’ll just have to go Shop Ping!!!!

  10. Kim | says:

    I would love some hints about how to choose the right kind of drapiness for a drapey top. I’m afraid of too much volume or weirdness so I just stick to closer fitting things. Help!

  11. gablesgirl says:

    Beautiful story. I must find my signature shape. And by that I mean the one for my 47 year old, in great shape for my age but I’m not 27 year old body.

  12. ads says:

    I’ve been thinking about this topic lately too. I’d like to purchase clothes that I will have for many years to come–classic rather than trendy and well made. One wonderful thing about being in my forties is that I now know what I like and what works for me. This means saving up for things that I want, but buying clothes/accessories of good quality is also about not buying disposable clothes that are made by exploited workers in Bangladesh, or countries with similar labor practices. I’ve started to pay attention to where things are actually made.

  13. Eliza says:

    I would love to find the “right” simple dress for my shape and have it made in various fabrics and colors. $200-400 a dress. Where can I do this? There’s a business here for someone….