1. The Trench-ish Coat. Like so many other enduring looks, the trench coat got its start in the armed services. As its name suggests, the coat was worn by British and French soldiers while fighting in the trenches of WWI. A rather sad association, but the coat has also enjoyed enduring peacetime popularity. The traditional trench is double-breasted, belted, and often has a lining that can be removed for warmer weather wear. It is also rather long, hitting well below the knee. Today there are hundreds of trench spin-offs to choose from. The slightly shorter and narrower version is a foolproof way to finish a look. It gives jeans and a T-shirt some starch while keeping dressier looks from veering into fussy. And although Burberry still rides high in the trench world, there is no reason to feel that you must spend $1,200 just to get that plaid lining. Everybody now does something trench-ish, from Prada to H&M. Just remember that in a trench, as with all great design, form should follow function. Ask yourself if the coat provides adequate warmth for where you live, assuming you’ll be wearing it from the early spring into late fall. Is it waterproof? Does it hit at a flattering spot on the leg? Is it too voluminous for your frame? Because even the world’s most expensive plaid will be cold comfort if you look like your coat is swallowing you alive.

2. The Sweat Suit Alternative. There is something appealing about pretending we live lives that require prim little suits during the day and only the most challenging vintage Balenciaga by night. Even if that is your life, isn’t it safe to assume that every so often you just need to be comfortable and enjoy some easy, unrestricted movement? For some of us, that might be almost every day, which makes the ease of the warm-up suit, running suit, or sweat suit all too seductive. The truth is, with a bit of investigative effort and imagination, you can find something just — or almost — as comfortable that will not tell the world that you may take a nap or hit the gym at any moment. For winter, try some cashmere pants, but instead of topping them with a matching cashmere hoodie, opt for a cardigan or sweater-coat that can work with all sorts of other pieces in your wardrobe. Why not try a cardigan with a crisp white tee, some black Capri pants, and a pair of skimmers? Or how about some slim black pants or dark jeans with a dark gray V-neck sweater? In warm weather, a great-fitting tee and some breezy linen pants will also do the trick. Maybe bring along a cashmere cardigan from your winter collection in case you encounter a blasting air conditioner. Soft cotton jersey pants should be avoided if one is going anywhere other than the yoga studio. Many a woman is walking around New York City right now with no idea that her pants not only reveal the shape of her bottom, but the shape her bottom is in. The only dimples that one should display in public should appear next to one’s smile.

3. The Boot, the Pump, the Ballet Flat. Far, far more useful and interesting than an "it" bag, is a beautiful boot. Whether it is a traditional flat equestrian style or something with a dangerous heel, there are few fall and winter looks that don’t work with a boot. A black boot is always useful, but a gorgeous brown pair is less expected. Dark greens can also be subtle and work with autumnal colors. Since strappy heels are now expected year-round, a classic pump is a fresh alternative. Classic means a rather delicate heel and a toe not so rounded as to evoke Minnie Mouse. The ballet flat, which should have a place of honor on every shoetree, can function like the sweetly sophisticated older sister of the flip-flop. Flats are just as comfortable, and, unlike the flip-flop, they work with both the most casual looks and the most sophisticated. Peeking out from under a wide-legged trouser or with a skirt, ballet flats are feminine and graceful. They are also perfect for travel. They are easy to get in and out of at airport security checks and comfy for the flight. You’ll arrive in style while your plane-mates — many in velour tracksuits and clunky sneakers — look ready for bed and/or some jogging.

More essentials on the next page!

Text copyright 2007 Tim Gunn and Kate Moloney from the book
Tim Gunn: A Guide to Quality, Taste & Style, published by Abrams Image
4. The Shapely Jacket and the Go-Anywhere Top. In fall and winter, throwing on a beautifully fitting blazer with jeans and boots is always chic. The combination of course, can take on almost unlimited shadings. Something tweedy with an equestrian boot immediately says Greenwich, Connecticut, while a shrunken, schoolboy blazer and some motorcycle boots is all rock-and-roll. A summer-weight version, unconstructed and unlined, can work like a cardigan while imparting a much sharper look over dresses and tees. Although what goes under your jackets will vary with the seasons, it is imperative to have a store of tops that you know will work. These can be button-downs or thin cashmere or other knit. For summer, a great-fitting tank is essential. Happily, most are affordable enough that you can get them in a few colors.

5. Signature Jewelry. Perhaps we should split this category into two. First we have the piece that makes an impression and may satisfy all of one’s accessorizing needs. In this category we place the incredible cocktail rings designed by Victoire de Castellane. Not only would it be foolish to try to wear any other jewelry with them, they cost so much, very few of us could afford anything else after purchasing one. So on one hand we have the "make a splash" signature piece, and on the other we have what we might call the "personal" signature piece. For some of us, maybe it is the classic strand of pearls, and if so, bully for you. But if you are not a pearl person — or if you are but want to find something new — there are so many other ways to go. How about a gorgeous sculptural cuff or some simple gold hoops a la Bridgitte Bardot? Keep in mind that size does not a signature piece make. The key to something becoming a signature piece is that it is always with you. Makes sense, doesn’t it? We find there is something almost metaphysically pleasing about the idea: No matter what you wear, you have your special talisman/necklace/bracelet with you. Certainly we can all use a bit of continuity in this mixed-up world we live in, no? Speaking of which, as you run from place to place, a striking watch is always appropriate and functional. Plus, it is so much more discreet to glance at your wrist rather than rummaging through your bag to look at your cell phone. There are so many styles, from the Tank — another classic that has martial beginnings — to the Tonneau; there is a shape and style for everyone. One note: Resist the urge to buy the watch — or bling — of the moment. There was a time when it seemed that Tiffany must have been handing out those sterling silver heart necklaces to every girl between the ages of eleven and twenty-one. God only knows what the traffic on Fifth Avenue would have been like if everybody decided to take Tiffany up on their request, stamped on each heart: "Please Return to Tiffany and Co." Bedlam! Legions of girls, some in their Juicy warm-ups, some in their cashmere pullovers and button-downs, trooping up the Avenue. . . . We shudder at the thought.

6. The Under Arsenal. This seems like common sense, but many a stylish outfit founders upon the rocks of poor foundation garments. The thong, although brilliant for removing the possibility of the dreaded VPL — visible panty line — does leave one rather exposed. Your under-wear drawer should be like a Boy Scout, always prepared. That simile is rather strange, but we trust you understand. The key to preparedness in the undergarment world can be summed up in one word: nude. Whatever shade you are nude, you
must have panties and bras in tones that match
you and will not show through sheer fabrics. Keep in mind that a top that seems perfectly opaque to you at 7 a.m. may, in the blazing sun of noon, be one step away from scandalous. Nude is always a safe bet, especially now that tissue-thin T-shirts and sweaters are so popular.

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Text copyright 2007 Tim Gunn and Kate Moloney from the book
Tim Gunn: A Guide to Quality, Taste & Style, published by Abrams Image
7. The Day Dresses. The very phrase evokes a bygone era, doesn’t it? You know, bridge parties, rigid hairdos, and even more rigid social codes. Of course, both social codes and hairdos relax considerably after too many Manhattans at the country club. Happily for us, the day dress is still around and is perfectly hip and contemporary.

Every closet needs at least two for those mornings when separates pose way too much of a challenge. Although there are few things easier than throwing on a dress, something about them communicates that you have made an effort. This will lead to all sorts of nice treatment and may get you upgraded to a suite, or first class, or that table at Michael’s you’ve always dreamed of. Your cool-weather dresses can be jazzed up with different tights or stockings. In summer, all you need are some streamlined leather sandals or ballet flats. Since our world has become increasingly casual, oftentimes a day dress can carry on through the evening. Yes, the classic advice for transitioning from day to evening is to change your jewelry, but does anyone want to do that anymore? Why not take advantage of the adornment nature has provided for you, the bust line? Many dresses, especially wrap dresses, can become dangerously low cut as you wear them. You can spend the day adjusting and retying, or instead simply wear a camisole under the dress. When evening arrives, remove the camisole and go forth.

Do you have a fashion questions? Ask our expert, Miss Chic!

8. The After-Five Look. The little black dress is, as we know, unbeatable. However, a gorgeous pair of tuxedo pants and a tank is another way to go. So often evening means "bigger," shinier fabrics; more skin; and a tighter fit; so there is something downright subversive — and chic — about going the other way.

What is most important is that if you received an invite to a cocktail party for that evening at 3:00 p.m. — terribly rude, but it happens — you have a look ready to go. Not just any look, but something you feel great in.

9. The New, Cheap, Terribly Trendy Item. Think of this as the pressure-release valve. An unavoidable part of style is discipline. But all that refusing in the name of elegance can feel restrictive. With the arrival of stores like H&M and Forever 21, you can buy a trendy item without having to stare mournfully at it four months later wondering why in god’s name you spent four hundred dollars on a faux-fur chubby. Indulge occasionally in a twenty-dollar something or other. If you notice these items beginning to take over, though, you must be merciless in cutting yourself off. Cold turkey. This is not to suggest that all shopping done at H&M and its brethren is of this type. Just the outrageously of-the-moment items.

10. Denim. There was once a time before denim. Yes, it is true. Now we wear it everywhere, even to the opera and to religious ceremonies — well, we don’t, but we’ve seen it! The basic denim wardrobe requires two fabulous pairs, one for dressing up and one for running around. If you wear jeans every day, of course, your collection should be larger. However, we feel that even the most ardent denim lover does not need more than ten pairs. Keep in mind that the average lifespan of a denim trend is twenty-four months. So please don’t invest too heavily in the trend of the moment. Considering how expensive designer denim has become, it’s better to fill out your wardrobe with fashion styles — stovepipe, cigarette, cropped — from lower-priced lines. And please, be kind to that flesh around your midsection. Forcing it to choose between popping over your waistband and trying to burst a button is cruel. Go a size up and cut the tags off if you must.

Text copyright 2007 Tim Gunn and Kate Moloney from the book Tim Gunn: A Guide to Quality, Taste & Style, published by Abrams Image www.abramsimage.com