Buy It Once, Buy It for Life: Five Essential Wardrobe Staples for Women

A few years ago I picked up a book, Gossip, by Beth Gutcheon. She’s a favorite writer of mine and sadly not well-known. A particular line has stuck with me:

“In Europe, […]  you buy the very best you can afford and then you wear it over and over again. I went all the way through college with one very good wool skirt and three cashmere sweaters.”

Over the past several years, I’ve made a conscious effort to break from the cultural impetus I grew up with, with its focus on newer, trendier, and always more. We are overwhelmed with choices in our country–and often by our own closets.

I feel very strongly about investing in a few exceptional things—which is why my blog is called “Fewer & Better.” What almost all of my recommendations have in common is that they are “buy once, buy for life.” My mantra: buy the classics. Buy the best you can afford and repair when needed.

While every woman is, of course, different, I think there are five “buy once, buy for life” pieces that have a place in every wardrobe.

Everyday Shoes You Love

Too many of us spend hundreds on shoes we wear only a handful of times per year. I think you should invest just as much, if not more, in your everyday shoes–after all, you’ll be wearing them every day! Narrow down your favorite style (I have an upcoming column on mine–loafers), figure out which color(s) will go with the majority of your wardrobe, and pull the trigger. My top three everyday shoe labels are Belgian ShoesStubbs & Wootton, and House of Zalo*. All of these shoes are handmade, incredibly comfortable, and timeless. As long as you regularly resole them, you should have no problems wearing them for years to come. My collection of Stubbs & Woottons and House of Zalo shoes were built up by my mother and grandmother and all are a minimum of 30+ years old. It is a true testament to the value of good craftsmanship.

The Perfect Cashmere Sweater

Every woman needs a good cashmere sweater, preferably one formal and one more casual. I have noticed that people are overly precious with cashmere, which seems a shame. Your nice things are to be used! Wear your sweater for the purpose for which it was intended—to keep you warm, whether you are sitting in an office or out on a walk.

Most of my sweaters are vintage, but my favorite modern-day purveyor of cashmere is absolutely By Merryn. Her knitwear is all made at a family-owned knitwear-only factory in England (you can see the process here) and are all hand-finished, both reducing waste and preserving traditional craft. It is wonderful that By Merryn’s knitwear not only preserves a degree of traditional craftsmanship, but also helps ensure the continuation of a family-owned knitwear factory, one of the few remaining in England.

You can read my review of her Erica sweater (my favorite, worn a minimum of twice a week) here on my blog. She’s also been generous enough to offer a discount code for my readers, which you can also find at that post.

A Really Good Cocktail Dress

I’ve noticed a significant uptick in cocktail attire events (a dress code that seems to be replacing black tie for a majority of parties.) Having one good, perfectly tailored cocktail dress is a game changer for me. I don’t have to struggle with what to wear when I receive an invitation, and I can change the look with my accessories. Molly Moorkamp* makes fantastic dresses. I recommend getting one of her solid dresses (or skirts), which will lend itself more easily to a new look with a silk scarf or a necklace. My go-to cocktail dress is no longer produced by Molly, but her Brynn dress is a similar silhouette with long sleeves.

Pearl Earrings

There is absolutely no earring more classic yet practical than simple pearl studs. They have taken me everywhere, from the tennis court to cocktail parties. Buying your pearls from a well-known purveyor means that your earrings can be mended or polished by the store (in the case of my earrings*, Mikimoto, though many other jewelers offer this service as well.) My pearl earrings were given to me by my mother. You can read my in-depth review of my pearl earrings here.

A Classic Trench Coat

One column in and my trench coat has already made a number of appearances, as it should! A trench is such a timeless three-season piece, and if you have the lining, it’s easily warm enough to wear year-round. My trench coat is more than forty years old and it is worn frequently throughout the year, first by my mother and now by me. This piece is especially meaningful to me because my mother gave it to me when I started my first real job out of college. I had thought it was too long for me in my early 20s and considered shortening it, but I am so glad I did not–it would have ruined the drape. I love its mid-calf length and I’m glad to have it exactly as it was when my mother bought it. As a commenter mentioned in my first column, Burberry will undertake any necessary repairs for you—another reason to buy quality products and hang onto them. You’ll always be able to get them repaired. The modern style most similar to mine is the Burberry Waterloo Heritage trench, which you can find here*.

Are there any must-have pieces that I’ve missed? Please let me know in the comments section below!

This article was written by me and originally published on Ivy Style as part of my Women’s Ivy column. I retain ownership of all text and images included in the original column.

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