How do you define a classic? There are classic films, classic cars, literary classics, and of course, the reason that you are here: classic fashion.
I’ve previously shared how to personalize your Classic Style with my Classic Styles Twists, like Edgy Classic or Soft Classic , but I think it’s time that we really dive into what it means to embrace a classic style, shall we? By definition, a classic is an outstanding example of a particular style, something of lasting worth or timeless in nature.
Compromising quality for a lower price
But there’s one key element that holds true for any type of classic, whether it’s fashion, films, or books: quality.
Quality is at the essence of classic style. And it is the quality of a piece that ultimately makes it timeless, something that you can return to again and again. Something you can keep for years, even decades because it will last.
For example, let’s take the current New York Fashion Week. Since her death in 1971, nearly 50 years have passed, and Coco Chanel’s vision of refined, classic fashion still holds a prominent position on today’s runway, and it doesn’t show signs of slowing down anytime soon. After her death, the brand lay dormant for 10 years until Karl Lagerfeld, who recently passed, took over and revived the fashion house.
How did he do that? He established the iconic symbols and pieces that have been slightly tweaked and modernized over the years. He re-released the original designs in limited editions. He created the double C logo, added it to many of the pieces, and made it a symbol recognized the world over. He used symbols from the archives, like pearls and camellias, to make the brand recognizable. He made the tweed jacket over in a thousand tiny ways without losing the signature design. Karl Lagerfeld used the classic timelessness of Chanel’s pieces to take it from a fashion house to a fashion empire.
Who are some other classic style icons? Audrey Hepburn, Kate Middleton, Jackie Kennedy and Jackie O. (technically the same woman, but they led very different lives. I wrote about that here), all of whom have been idolized for their elegance when it comes to their choice of garments.
Grace Kelly was also particularly known for her classic style, which allowed her impeccable taste to shine through. She often wore understated gowns showcasing solid, neutral colors. And even on more casual days, she was still graceful with a fitted turtleneck and tailored pants. She was known for her simple sleeveless neutral shirts and black pants and shoes. Even her accessories were simple, “I favor pearls on screen and in my private life,” she said.
Classic pieces don’t have to have a Chanel price tag to be good quality. You won’t find good quality at Old Navy. You can find good quality at Boden, for example.
But in terms of tangible items, what does a classic wardrobe look like in modern life?
Classic style characteristics
Clean silhouettes, tailored cuts, neat hems, neutral colors, simple stripes or minimal detailing. Often the excellent tailoring is the detail that grabs the eye. Paired down jewelry. Simplicity. Smart, structured fabric. Exquisite quality. And perhaps a splash of red lipstick, to name just a few. If you find yourself nodding along, then keep reading.
For the classic woman, value is also incredibly important, as items are intended to be kept for long periods of time. Classic style is investment dressing at its best – and a classic woman isn’t afraid to spend money upfront on quality pieces for her wardrobe knowing that they will be reached for time and time again and last for years.
Classic style isn’t just about style, either. These women exude a quiet confidence, they feel no need to overtly announce their arrival with flashy over-the-top fashion trends. Understated simplicity is their angle, and draws the attention they deserve and they will undoubtedly get. In the pictures below, Meghan Markle is wearing all black, or black and white, but her outfits immediately draw the eye because of the small details.
What isn't classic style
Sometimes it is just as important to know who you aren’t. You may have unknowingly been drawn to classic style without knowing exactly what defines a classic wardrobe, but instead, you already know what styles you don’t like.
For example, trendy, cutting-edge styles aren’t your thing. Busy prints and too many colors in one outfit don’t usually speak to you, nor too flowy or asymmetrical styles. You prefer clean lines and more timeless styles and cuts that you see yourself wearing for years to come. No frills, no fuss, and nothing over the top. Classic women prefer small details that make a basic piece special: buttons, a notched lapel, jewel details, ruffles, peplum, bell sleeves, ties, or ribbing, like in the Meghan Markle examples above.
A good rule of thumb for the Classic Style Woman:
If this sounds like you, then you fall in line with some of the fashion greats and their classic style. So how do you best embrace all that is classic?
Fear not, I’ve broken it down for you based on classic work attire, a classic laid-back weekend look, and how to dress in classic style on a fancy night out. And if you want to learn how to add your own twist, keep reading.
Classic style in the real world
When it comes to work attire, think structured blazers and tailored pants for creating a polished look. A properly fitted blazer instantly pulls together your look and can elevate simple blouses or a cotton-button up, while tailored pants are both flattering and professional. A sheath dress can be switched up with a blazer, a cardigan, layered with a button up blouse, or worn on its own. A few separates can make up a variety of outfits: sweaters, button ups, skirts, cardigans, blazers, dresses.
Ankle pants are also great for casual Fridays, while still nailing that perfectly put-together look. And take a page out of Grace Kelly’s style book and pair the ankle pants with a sleeveless turtleneck in a neutral color.
Oh, and the quintessential classic staple – a trench coat. The warrior of the classic wardrobe, the perfect addition for work, nighttime, as well as the everyday look. The more Minimal Classic you are, the more you may prefer a single-breasted trench coat.
On The Weekends
Striped tees are perfect for achieving the effortlessly cool French girl look. Pair with black slim jeans and red lipstick for an al fresco brunch with girlfriends or a day out at the museum.
Wide-legged pants with a fitted blouse bring both style and comfort to the weekend, or opt for a pencil skirt to elevate your look for a special occasion.
A Night Out
Wrap dresses offer a flattering and timeless silhouette. The LBD (little black dress) was created by Coco Chanel for the classic woman, but it doesn’t always have to be black. Tie up a low bun and pair with simple earrings and heels, or opt for a clutch and strappy shoes. Both create a perfectly elegant, put-together, fuss-free look.
And for chilly evenings? A wrap, or, you guessed it, the perfect trench coat.
Perhaps you’re a true classic style lover at heart, and you’ve been embracing this style for many years. The great thing about identifying your classic style is that there are always staple pieces in your wardrobe that you can count on – and then it is super easy to re-calibrate with the seasons by adding a scarf or boots while still staying true to your essence. I wrote about how to dress classic without looking dated to help you keep your timeless pieces modern.
But if you’re new to the classic style, that’s totally okay too. Being well dressed is a discipline, and there’s a lifelong learning curve. In which case, I’ve shared some mistakes to avoid when developing a classic style wardrobe from scratch.
If you don’t want to figure it out on your own, I create the Stunning Style Wardrobe Guides each season. 30+ classic pieces. 100 outfit combinations. A private community, and much more! I created a 10-day FREE trial so you can see exactly what I have to offer!
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THINGS TO AVOID WHEN CREATING A CLASSIC WARDROBE
Classic pieces aren’t only known for their clean lines and smart cuts, but they should be comfortable as well. Pieces are meant to become staples that will last for years to come. If you don’t feel comfortable in something, you’re never going to reach for it, so it’s best to take the time to find these pieces. Take it from Coco, “Luxury must be comfortable, otherwise it is not luxury.”
I’ve had the same black pencil skirt for 20 years, and besides the fact that the fit is impeccable, it has some stretch to it, so it’s also very comfortable and easy to wear. I can eat my lunch AND sit down afterward.
As mentioned before, classic style is defined by quality pieces. Now, this doesn’t mean that every single purchase you make needs to be expensive. But it is important not to compromise on crucial things like fit or fabric – otherwise, you will be replacing these items shortly. Instead, try to curate each piece carefully. This might mean buying one new item a month or one new item a season. The goal is to have quality pieces that you can love and wear for many seasons to come. You can find quality in the less expensive stores as well. That black pencil skirt I mentioned? I got it at The Limited.
I tend to invest the most money in bags, shoes, and outerwear because they really elevate your less expensive items. They tend to be the most durable pieces, and will last for a decade or more if you take good care of them.
Sticking To All Black
While I love all black with all my heart, don’t limit yourself in thinking a classic wardrobe just means dark colors. The whole range of neutrals is great for mixing and matching, and don’t be afraid to add a shoe, bag, or scarf with a pop of color. (photo credit here, here, here)
ARE YOU READY FOR SOME CLASSIC STYLE INSPIRATION?
If you’ve been nodding along with this article, you’re a woman with classic style. Check out these posts to find more style inspiration.
If you are not sure what your style is yet, please take our Classic Style Twist quiz below, and then read about the different Twists here to learn how to bring your own personality type through while still embracing classic style.
4 thoughts on “What Is Classic Style?”
I love this. It’s to be read over and over again.
Fit also is important, I believe. Clothes too tight or too loose look cheap, no matter their quality. They’re meant to be our friends, not our fat-guilter or our portable tent, lol! So ignore the size tags and buy for the fit. Cut that nasty, rude tag out, if necessary! And tailor as needed.
Yes, yes, yes! The number on the tag is arbitrary. Buy what fits and flatters!
We need more classic trends similar to those worn by Audrey Hepburn and Jackie Kennedy!
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