Where to get the new wardrobe essentials

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Frankie Graddon | The Times

The one thing that makes the fashion world go round is, of course, a new trend. Established during fashion month, broadcast by the fashion media, before eventually infiltrating the high street, new trends have, for decades, dictated the clothes we’ve bought and worn. Creating a constant demand for newness, we buy buy buy and wear wear wear and then, when the season changes, new trends are born and the cycle starts all over again.  

Or is it? Recently the mood has been shifting towards the not-so-new and classic. Wardrobe staples, keepers, failsafes — whatever you want to call them — are becoming 2019’s must-haves. Basics are the new cult buy.

At the end of last year Asos, the UK’s leading online-only clothes retailer, reported a 400 per cent increase in sales of trouser suits — a wardrobe perennial by anyone’s standards — and tipped the arguably less classic combination of tailored jackets and matching shorts as one of this year’s biggest sellers. Asos is also backing long-sleeved mididresses for 2019 (on the back of the sell-out success of last year’s green floral print iteration), while Pinterest has reported a rise in searches for classic wrap dresses.

Meanwhile, classic denim shapes are reigning supreme, with the fashion search platform Lyst reporting skinny jeans as a global bestseller and Marks & Spencer (which has the highest market share of jeans in the UK) naming skinny and straight jeans as its key styles.

Reflecting – or perhaps fueling – this consumer appetite for basics is the current roster of ‘it’ brands which, rather than focusing on flash-in-the-pan pieces, is championing wardrobe keepsakes. “Giuliva Heritage Collection is a great example of a brand offering true, timeless fashion,” says Elizabeth von der Goltz, the global buying director at Net-a-Porter. She says that the Italian label’s “classic styles with a twist” (think tailored trousers, striped blazers and woollen coats, of which Alexa Chung and the stylist Pernille Teisbaek are fans) have performed particularly well on the site.

Arjé, Blazé Milano and Orseund Iris are other fashion-editor favourites, all of which focus on simple, timeless designs. Arjé’s shearling bomber jackets and cashmere rollnecks are sought-after. Ninety Percent’s wardrobe essentials have been worn by Michelle Obama. “Seventy per cent of the collection is carry-over, meaning it will last past one season,” says the label’s creative director, Ben Matthews, who explains that longevity is at the heart of the brand’s offering. “It’s about slowing down the pace of the current hyperactive fast-fashion market. Considered, affordable and built to last.”


The high street is backing basics too, with Arket, Meraki and Madewell all joining grey crewneck-purveyor Cos within the last 18 months. John Lewis & Partners’s relaunched own-brand fashion range has its roots firmly in wardrobe staple territory. “The pieces are simple and modern, enabling you to build these into your existing wardrobe — there are no fashion gimmicks,” explains Iain Ewing, the head of womenswear and accessories design.

Marks & Spencer has moved away from the trend-led one-hit wonders it has become known for (the pink coat, the suede skirt, that polka dot jumpsuit) and focused on wardrobe building blocks. To that end, the basic T-shirt offering has been elevated and core denim shapes — jeans, shirtdresses, jackets — are the basis for Holly Willoughby’s fourth Must-Haves collection.

So why this move towards the tried and tested? Could it be that the sheer volume of trends is turning us off them altogether? Where a handful of designers once set the agenda for the season ahead, the boom of social media and influencers means that hundreds of trends are now on our feeds every season. Should we be doing pastels or brights for spring? Both! And neutrals too? Exhausting. And with outfit inspiration no longer just coming from the top down, is the idea of a trend redundant anyway? The recent outbreak of “fake trends”, such as the ankle scarf (yes, a tiny scarf wrapped around one’s ankle) parodies the entire notion.

Of course, there’s also the increase in consumer awareness about the sustainability of our wardrobe choices. “We have to be more mindful about how the way we live our lives impacts the environment,” says Matthews. The appeal of moving away from buy-fast, wear-once pieces has never been greater. Add to that a dash of economic instability and reduced consumer spend and it’s no wonder that comforting classics with lasting power are feeling desirable.

So have trends fallen out of fashion? “There will always be a demand for those bonkers, statement pieces in your wardrobe,” says Matthews. “Like anything in life, it’s a balance.”

And what should we be putting in our baskets this season? “Key wardrobe classics such as a khaki trench, a navy blazer or a slick black dress,” says Von der Goltz, who explains that when shopping for staples, “always look for the updated, unique versions that will remain interesting in years to come”. Because basics are anything but boring.

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