We know: basics are a safe bet. They're functional, work with everything and don't go out of style. But they can also be... too basic. In contrast, fashion-forward clothing is exciting and can give us that love-at-first-sight feeling. But it can also be difficult to tell which garment you're going to love for years to come, and which you'll leave in your closet after a wear or two. It happens to the best of us. (It has certainly happened to me—looking at you, neon jeans from 2013).
So how do you buy more advanced pieces that have the everlasting qualities of basics? We’re sharing the shopping rules we live by—the ones that (usually) save us from mistakes and from adding to landfills.
Read on for the 4 most important questions to ask yourself to make sure you're making the best addition to your closet, both from a financial and environmental standpoint.
1. Can I make this piece work with what I already own?
The super chic color-blocked suit you just fell in love with might be perfect in many ways, but which blouse will you wear with it? Which pair of heels? If you realize a garment you're coveting is leading you down a rabbit hole of more stuff you suddenly need to buy (and that you otherwise won't need), it may be time to pause. What works instead? Staples with unexpected details. Think asymmetric white shirt or embellished denim.
2. How many times can I wear this?
Sometimes the power of a piece lays in its novelty. For example, the sheer embroidered dress that turned every head at that wedding last week is bound to look somewhat stale if repeated again next week. Of course, you may be the kind of woman who can pull of layering it with a blazer for work or wearing it over jeans for a casual Friday night, and if so, bravo! You just found a perfect investment piece. But if you are considering a garment and can think of only one occasion that it will work for, think twice before buying. Great clothes are meant to be worn on repeat. What works instead? Versatility. Think pieces that can be dressed up and down, like dresses that work as well with elegant heels or sneakers, items that you can layer or wear alone, and colors that are interesting without being exhausting.
3. Does it suit my body? Or do I just wish it did?
For me, it’s overalls. Love them. That perfect blend of arty-cool and menswear-sexy is so my style—at least, I wish it were. In reality, I have never tried on a pair of overalls that didn’t make me look and feel completely frumyy (and, believe me, I’ve tried dozens). This doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with my figure, or yours. None of us need a better body. We all simply need to remember to wear what flatters us and makes us feel like a million bucks. If the first thing you think when you put a garment on is “God, I really need to get serious about losing that five pounds,” back away slowly. What works instead? Find out what your body shape is and dress to flatter your figure.
4. Does it spark joy?
Marie Kondo may take organizing a step (or a mile) too far for most of us, but there is true genius in her approach to determining which objects to invite into our lives. Her “spark joy” test—does the object make you happy in that we-all-know-it-when-we-feel-it kind of way?—is a brilliant litmus for fashion, as well. Does it make you feel beautiful? Does it make you feel inspired? Do you want to put it on the second you open the box? Yes? Then go ahead and get it already!
According to Whitney Bauck, Fashionista editor and founder of ethical fashion blog Unwrinkling, we should "only buy thing [we]'ll wear at least 30 times [over their lifetime] and invest in better quality items that are made to last". We completely agree. Ultimately, if you're buying clothes you truly love, they will never really feel out of style. Even a “trendy” piece will last for years, as long as it works with your wardrobe and suits your body. And this is the key to building a sustainable wardrobe that goes beyond basics—selecting pieces that you will enjoy and feel great in season after season.
Did we miss something? Share your tips in the comments section below.
Words by Kerry Folan. Kerry is a writer and editor with a special interest in sustainable fashion. Her work has been published in the Washington Post, Racked.com, and Glamour.com, among other media.