'Fashions fade,' said Yves Saint Laurent, 'Style is eternal'.
Casting a critical eye over my wardrobe during lockdown, I realised there’s nothing like the absence of opportunity to wear 90% of your clothes for focusing the mind on what’s important to you and what isn’t. It struck me that my most stylish garments, the ones I treasure most, are not the statement pieces or the achingly on-trend things, but elegant, simple staples in luxurious natural fabrics. The clothes that stand the test of time are those that don’t scream for attention, but whose quiet yet unmistakable quality draws the eye. Sleek Merino Polo Necks in ivory, navy and aubergine; well-cut trousers in navy barathea or wide-legged pants in black wool crepe, cream silk shirts and Cashmere Crew Necks. They all live up to that William Morris ideal of being both beautiful and useful and spark vast amounts of joy - no Marie Kondo cull for these.
All of this navel-gazing has taught me some valuable lessons. Think about what your wardrobe needs before you buy, and if you see something you like, think hard about how it will fit into the life and outfits you already have. Buy thoughtfully, prioritise quality and style over quantity and ephemeral trends, and a comparatively high initial outlay will make for infinitely better value over time than several cheaper pieces that won't earn their keep. Now that we're slowly beginning to return to the office, and workwear is once more on the agenda, the clothes I want to invest in are those that are timeless yet versatile and I will wear time and time again. Here's what's on my shopping list:
Far from something reminiscent of the nineteen fifties, a contemporary twinset is the perfect bridge between the informality of working-from-home and a more pulled together office look. A high-button cardigan over a Short Sleeved Merino T-shirt looks smart enough for a meeting and effortless with tailored trousers. It can also achieve dressed-up chic with a statement skirt and on WFH days will be comfortable but smart on a Zoom call. Neutrals like navy, camel or ivory are always good, but a bold red would be my choice - it needs nothing with it to make it look modern, and it's a more versatile colour than one might imagine.
The style trick beloved of the upper echelons of the New York fashion pack is to wear white rather than black in Winter. Soft white knitwear is a not only a brilliant brightener for the face (it honestly takes years off you), particularly if you have the last gasps of a summer tan (or a healthy glow out of a bottle), but also has the knack of making you look pleasingly well-heeled. A skinny polo neck in ivory or white is really chic under a jacket, but I have my eye on a Classic Short Sleeved Cashmere Jumper because it works as hard for dinner as it does at one’s desk and Cashmere keeps you cool. One of my favourite combinations is a ballerina length evening skirt in a jewel colour with a white cashmere jumper - you’ll always look elegant and stylish, and never over-dressed.
If the idea of winter white takes your fancy, a white Tissue Blanket Cashmere Scarf is an excellent investment as well as a practical one. Light as air, deliciously warm but never too hot, it looks effortless wrapped around your neck for daytime or draped over your shoulders for the evening. I like single blocks of colour (so if you like the Tissue Blanket Cashmere Scarf, do consider buying a jumper in the same shade), but contrast is also good. Johnstons of Elgin’s signature Cashmere Stole is another piece you’ll wonder how you ever survived without. The new Ombré designs are a clever way to dress up an otherwise workaday outfit. I have lost count of the ways I wear mine. The Graphic Two-Colour Cashmere and Silk Stole also hits the spot - the red and navy option would add a dash of contrast to the red twinset, or to navy outfits I already own, but if neutrals are more your thing, there are other elegant colourways to choose.
I do think we'll all be a little more relaxed about what we wear when we go back to the office, but smart jackets are still an excellent way to signal that you mean business. Something slightly less tailored like Johnstons of Elgin’s Double-Faced Merino Drop Shoulder Jacket fits the bill and is versatile enough for all eventualities. What’s more, if jackets for meetings aren’t your thing, it’s warm enough to wear instead of a coat over a Polo Neck or Crew Neck Jumper.