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  • Smart Buys

    Dressing-Room Diaries

    Here at Wardrobe ICONS, we can’t resist smart buys – by that we mean pieces that are excellent quality, but don’t have a designer label. So we hit department stores and searched the high street for the very best cuts, fabrics and styles. Here’s how to revive your transitional wardrobe with long-lasting essentials.   


    When it comes to finding the smartest buys out there, we don’t have a fashion editor fast-track. Nope, we shopped for days to compile this story, with piles of clothes slung over our arms and multiple trips to the dressing rooms. And even though it was hard work, we absolutely loved it. Perhaps because there’s nothing more satisfying than finding a coat in the perfect shade of camel, or a killer pair of slingbacks, for a smart price. Read on for the pieces destined to become stylish staples for seasons to come.



    “I don’t usually gravitate towards high-waisted trousers, but this pair caught my eye in Whistles – and turned out to be a perfect fit. The key is to find ones that combine a weighty fabric, which hangs rather than clings, and a button-up front, which gives you a much smoother silhouette. And I prefer navy to black – it somehow looks more sophisticated. I’ll wear this ankle-skimming pair with boots now and heels when spring hits. With a white shirt the look is office-ready, but I love it with this khaki shirt too, which gives it that hard-to-nail, smart/casual vibe.”



    “When you want elevated basics with a bit of a twist, Mango is always a good place to start. I always find the kind of grown-up essentials that round-out a modern work wardrobe, like this pair of high-waisted trousers. The fabric is a little thin, but the cut is flattering, and when you pair them with a tonal ribbed top and strappy heels, you’ve got a great look.”



    “Not all pinks are created equal – often they’re a little too bright or garish to chime with my everyday wardrobe. So you can see why this perfect shade of antique rose caught my eye in J.Crew, who always seem to nail preppy transformers. The leather inner is so soft and comfortable, and the velvet gives these backless loafers a luxe finish. I’ll be wearing them with tailored pieces to give my weekday wardrobe a lift, and jeans too.”



    “I’ve slowly been falling in love with python all winter long, and it’s now gone from trend to essential for me. I love it as an accent, so I know this pair of Boden kitten heels (the only height I can realistically wear these days for any length of time) will go straight into high-rotation. The style is super-flattering and I love the flash of red, which is eye-catching without being too complicated.”



    “What I love about Cos is that as a brand, it really stays true to its minimal aesthetic – making most of its pieces timeless and impossible to place – while always keeping things modern with colour and cut. I’m obsessed with sky blue and love tailored knitwear too, so this wool-blend two-piece really hit the spot. And the finish and silhouette is great. Here, the jumper has a flattering cuff around the neck, while the skirt is a subtle A-line, meaning it falls in the most flattering way.”



    “One of my favourite workwear pieces in winter is a slightly oversized knit dress – it’s so cosy and comfortable, but still easy to dress up when need be. I immediately loved the muted colours in this Topshop dress when I saw it on the hanger, and loved it on too – but it really only works when you go big. To look cool, the dress should hang, not cling.”



    “When I start to feel bored with my basics, I look for an easy transformer to make classic pieces look more relevant. Right now, for me, it’s perspex. The trend has been around for a while, but I hadn’t been able to find a style I liked until I stumbled on this little beauty in Topshop. The challenge is that perspex bags can look cheap so easily. Not this one. Quality details, like the wood-bead handle, heavy-cotton inner pocket and decent zip, make it look really smart.” 



    “Regular readers will know that I love basket bags, and so no surprises that this Topshop one caught my eye. I think it looks like something I could have picked out of my grandmother’s accessories drawer from the 50s. The cotton drawstring and faux-tortoiseshell finish it nicely. It feels sturdy and looks vintage.”



    “After so much oversized, masculine tailoring this winter, I loved pulling on this elegant coat. It was a good reminder about how feminine tailoring (which Boden does so well) really is the ultimate shortcut to looking polished. Plus, what you can’t see is the cool red panel running down the back of the coat – and you know how I love a classic with a twist. I layered basics underneath – wide-leg jeans, a white shirt and black kitten-heels – all of which would make smart, everyday essentials.”



    “In the past we’ve talked about the fact that camel is a shade that’s very hard for brands to get right (unless you’re MaxMara). But this coat from John Lewis & Partners stopped me in my tracks. It’s the perfect shade of camel and very (very) expensive looking. This is partly down to the colour, but also because it’s so simple. There’s no hardware or tricky details. And the soft, boiled-wool finish feels very light, making it a really good weight for heading into spring.”



    “When it comes to shopping classic silhouettes in quality textures like wool-blends, cashmere, heavy-duty cotton and linen, Cos is the place to go. And the palette is always perfectly muted: this terracotta cashmere cardigan, chunky wool-blend cardigan and herringbone wool trousers look fab together, but would also play nicely with all my other basics.”



    “I love chinos. I love them dressed up. I love then dressed down. And come spring, I wear them almost every day. So I’m always on the lookout for a pair to add to my collection. As you can imagine, I’m a little fussy – and this Topshop pair made the cut. The fabric isn’t as thick as I normally like, but it feels soft, the cut is flattering and the military green shade makes them super-versatile.”



    “Hands down, some of the best-value cashmere is now being produced by John Lewis & Partners. It feels weighty when you hold it, but not too heavy when you wear it – which is really what you’re looking for when it comes to layers. And then there’s the sheer range of shades and styles, including an oversized boyfriend and V-neck, the latter of which I snapped up in baby blue.”



    “When it comes to buying outerwear on the high street, it’s worth remembering that the less detail a coat has, the more expensive it looks. In fact, a mac like this one from Cos in a quality waxed fabric with a simple belt and sharp collar will keep everyone guessing.”

    LEG IT


    “If you don’t yet have a pair of leather leggings (and want some), you need to buy these ones from Cos. Seriously. I’ve tried them on everywhere, and this pair is just so good. My number-one tip (apart from BUY THEM) is to size up, because they do run small. I also ended up buying this navy merino wool polo-neck, because it’s such a good staple.”



    “I couldn’t resist this little pair of Topshop transformers, which look far more pricey than they are, because the gold is quite thick and the charms mismatched. I also couldn’t pass on this relaxed-fit, heather grey jumper, which feels super-soft and has the kind of design details (the most important being a decent cuff around the neck and wrists) that I look for in knitwear.”



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