1: Buy a serious handbag
Every woman should own at least one serious designer handbag. It doesn’t matter where you get it – new, eBay, the sales, or that most underrated of sources, the ‘good as new’ shop; a good bag will be your friend for life. You’ll always feel like someone to be taken seriously. I bought my first one in 1989 (in the original Prada boutique in Milan). I still use it and it still makes me feel special.
2: Hold on to your good things
There’s a bogus piece of fashion wisdom which says you should get rid of anything you haven’t worn for two years. It might be true for chain store tat, which starts to look tired very quickly, but don’t throw out your designer pieces. The whole point of investing in them is that quality fabric and tailoring lasts and the time will come when you will want to wear them again.
3: Buy cashmere
Invest in the best cashmere you can bear to pay out for. It will repay you with a lifetime of fluffy cosiness. The black cardigan I bought from the Scotch House in 1986 seems to improve every time I wash it.
4: Understand cocktail dressing
Nothing to do with little black dresses; this is the modern way of putting together a wardrobe. A mixture of great chain store pieces, vintage items (which can just mean something you’ve had for 20 years) and proper designer (sources, as for handbags above). The secret is to have a bit of each in every outfit. Never all chain store, designer or vintage, head to toe. The magic is in the mix.
5: Don’t succumb to vanity sizing
Don’t buy the smallest size you can do up. Buy the size that looks best. If I’m not sure, I take them all off the hangers, mix them up and try them on randomly – take a size, any size – so my decision isn’t affected by the lure of the numbers 8 or 10. Equally, don’t buy a bigger size just because your low self-esteem thinks you are a fat bastard who doesn’t deserve better.
6: Be age appropriate
By which I mean, don’t wear clothes that are too old for you. There is no legal age at which we have to become sensible. Enjoy the fun of buying something silly, whether it’s a pair of leopard-print pyjama pants for cocktail parties (guilty as charged), a mad necklace or gold platform shoes.
A corset top or a leather mini skirt might be taking it too far, but it all depends on what suits you. If you have supersonic legs and wear it with black opaques and chunky flat shoes, that skirt could be fabulous. You’ll know deep down if you’ve crossed your personal mutton frontier.
I’m not taking those trousers back.
7: Enjoy trends, but don’t get hung up on them
Fashion is a massive global industry relying on us, the consumers, constantly wanting new things, as any crusty will tell you.
On the other hand, the love of novelty is a fundamental human characteristic and it’s a great tonic to embrace new clothing ideas. Just don’t for one minute get sucked into the idea that being ‘in fashion’ matters.
8: Spend more on things for every day than special occasions
Show me a wedding invitation and I will show you my good-as-new shop treasure. Be a thrifty shopper for things you’re only going to wear once and spend your hard-earned bucks on the best T-shirts money can buy – or whatever it is that you wear every day.
The same goes for shoes to wear to work. Dance the night away in Topshop’s silliest heels, but hit the office in something from Prada’s pragmatic range (they always do chic yet sensible styles, which are never featured in magazines), or a pair of Chanel ballet flats. Life is what happens every day, not the special occasions, so make your fashion investments for that.
Just as with a regularly serviced car, you can extend the life of all your clothes and accessories by looking after them on a day-to-day basis. Use shoe trees – wooden for stout shoes, plastic for more delicate styles – keep them brushed and polished, and get them re-heeled.
Keep designer handbags in the dust bags they came with. Polish them sometimes. Invest in good coat hangers (I have assembled a large collection of vintage padded ones from junk shops) and air clothes out after you’ve worn them. Brush coats and jackets, and sponge off small stains.
Dry clean only in desperate circumstances; there’s always a risk your favourite things will come back mangled.
10: How you feel matters more than anything
This is the most important rule of all. It doesn’t matter what you’re wearing, or how you look in the mirror: what really matters is how you feel. That’s what you’ll project to the world. If you feel good, you’ll look good – and if you feel self conscious or uncomfortable, that’s how you will come across.
Get to know the items in your wardrobe that always make you feel good, so you can reach for them on the blah days and use your clothes for an instant moral boost.
Me? Sometimes I just can’t face the day unless I put on my battered old cowboy boots…