1. SHOW SKIN STRATEGICALLY
Looking truly sexy involves knowing what to bare—and what to keep under wraps. Otherwise, where’s the mystery? “Choose one—only one—body part and show it off,” advises Jen Rade, stylist to Jenna Fischer and Angelina Jolie. “If it’s cleavage, don’t show your legs. If it’s your legs, stay covered on top.”
2. ROUND UP WHITE BUTTON-DOWNS
They elevate jeans and keep ball skirts from drifting into fantasy-land. But all that mileage comes at a cost: a short shelf life. So buy three, don’t overbleach (which can cause yellowing), and refresh regularly.
3. ACCESSORIZE IN BRIGHTS
If you’ve got a closet full of neutrals—be they navy, black, camel, or gray—add energy with boldly hued shoes and bags. Not only is a hunter green satchel more lively than ho-hum black, but it’s also surprisingly versatile.
4. THINK IN MULTIPLES
Take a cue from Jackie O, who had a closet full of sheath dresses. If you find an especially flattering fit right off the rack, go ahead and buy doubles. When it works, why question it?
5. KNOW YOUR STRETCH
The secret formula for a soft but formfitting T? 95% cotton, 5% Lycra spandex. For jeans to hold their shape, they need at least 2% Lycra.
6. HEM YOUR PANTS FOR A SHOE HEIGHT
“The biggest mistake women make is wearing pants that aren’t the right length for their shoes,” says stylist Kate Young. To fix this, hem to either heels or flats—no going back. Generally, hems should just graze the tops of your shoes and be from 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch off the floor.
7. THROW ON A SCARF
It’s the ultimate accessory according to a host of the best-dressed women we interviewed. Stash one in your purse or carry-on to transform simple Ts in the time it takes to make a knot.
8. GO HANDS-FREE FOR EVENING
A dressy bag with a chain helps you hold crudités and a cocktail—plus, it lends a cool edge to evening wear, says stylist Cher Coulter. Wear the chain diagonally across your body for the best effect.
9. CONSIDER THE WEAR AND CARE
Before you buy, try to gauge how a piece might hold up after a few washings. And don’t shell out for clothes you can’t, or won’t, take care of. If you know you’ll never hand-wash that embellished sweater or fancy bra, walk away.
10. EMBRACE YOUR SHAPE
“Once you know which silhouettes flatter you, filter trends ruthlessly,” says designerShoshanna Gruss. For instance, if you’re petite and shapely, it’s best to avoid tall columns and billowy maxis even if you love them. Go for a dress with a defined waist and just-above-the-knee hem.
11. MAKE A LIST BEFORE YOU SHOP
Not of what you want to buy, but of the 10 fave items in your closet. This will help you zero in on pieces that mesh with what you own (or remind you that you never actually wear big floral prints).
12. HIT THE DRESSING ROOM PREPARED
If you’re shopping for that ultra-important dress, get a true feel for the fit by bringing your hip or thigh slimmer with you. And while you’re at it, bring heels, lipstick, and a hairbrush. These will help you get a better sense of the final result.
13. ALWAYS CHECK OUT THE REAR VIEW
And don’t leave the house until you like what you see. Every angle matters. Trust us
14. ROUND DOWN IN DENIM
When in doubt, go with the smaller size in jeans. They always stretch, and nothing’s more unflattering than the unintentionally baggy derrière.
15. EDIT YOUR CLOSET
Clothes need breathing room! You should be able to see every item without rummaging. Consider donating anything you haven’t worn in the past year.
16. LAYER YOUR NECKLACES
Coco Chanel‘s more-is-more approach still makes a statement today. You can do multiples of the same material, or better yet, go for contrast: Try a femme piece with edgy chains, feathers with beads, or pearls with diamantés.
17. TOUCH THE INSIDE
A garment’s lining is often a designer’s calling card, and a good way to judge quality. A well-crafted lining is a sign that the whole piece has been sewn with care.
18. OPEN YOUR MIND
Always take one “it’s cute but so not me” thing into the fitting room. You never know!
19. SHOW SOME LOYALTY
A great-fitting dress or pair of pants from a line one season may mean similar success the next. Designers, especially higher-end ones, tend to size their clothes based on a regular fit model.
20. WHEN IN DOUBT, WEAR NUDE PUMPS
Matched to your skin tone, they’re a pretty safe bet. (And they make legs look longer.)
21. WEARING WHITE? SEEK OUT LIGHT
Keep in mind: White clothes always look more see-through in daylight. Check yourself out in a bright setting to be safe.
22. STRIPE IT UP
“Striped pieces are a nice, classic way to pull yourself together for the weekend,” says stylist Tina Chai. A red- or navy-and-white bateau neck, for instance, has presence and versatility.
23. UPGRADE YOUR BUTTONS
Sometimes, the only giveaway that your cute jacket cost less than lunch money is its cheap hardware. Swap in nicer buttons, or have a tailor do it.
24. NEVER BUY A BORING COAT
“Outerwear should never be an afterthought,” says Holmes & Yang co-designer Jeanne Yang. “So many people only see you in your coat—if you’re not wearing something great underneath your trench, they’ll never even know!”
25. OWN SOMETHING LEOPARD PRINT
Make the print “a staple in your accessories wardrobe,” says stylist Rob Zangardi. It’s timeless, racy enough, and always glamorous.
26. MIX YOUR PRINTS
Combining colors, scale, and patterns in a way that looks dynamic takes practice, but there are some basic tricks to getting it right. You can wear two prints that repeat the same colors or mix a large-scale pattern with a smaller one. What’s even easier is to use the second motif as an accent (like Zoe Saldanain Vionnet, bottom).
27. CONQUER YOUR FEAR OF COLOR
To play it safe, combine a neutral, like flax, with something bolder, like yellow. But think twice about pairing intense hues with black, which “can look dated,” says designer Chris Benz. For something punchier, try two colors that are beside each other on the color wheel, such as coral and orange. Not sure where to begin? “Notice what colors you love and respond to in your décor,” says Benz.
28. GO FOR THE KNOCKOUT ACCENT
If your evening dress is a stark stunner (or has a lot of embellishment), one single showstopping accessory, like Grace Kelly‘s earrings, is all you need.
29. VET YOUR VINTAGE
Nothing comes back the same way, and the jumpsuit of 2011 is not necessarily the same as a version from the ’70s. Check out the difference in Raquel Welch‘s and Katie Holmes‘s jumpsuits. There are subtle design tweaks that make any revival slightly different from the original. Does that piece from your “archive” really work now? Ask a trusted friend for a second opinion.
30. ONLY BUY A BARGAIN IF YOU LOVE IT
Be dubious of that voice that tells you you’ve got to buy because it’s “only” $39 or that if you don’t scoop it up now, you’ll never find it again.
31. TRY A THICKER WAISTBAND
It will pull you in a bit (so long, spillover!) and also help even out your proportions.
32. GO BEYOND THE BLAZER
You should already have your go-to tailored jacket. But a wardrobe of less formal toppers will help you look pulled together even on casual days. Opt for a leather jacket with wool trousers, a jean version over a silk shirt, or—stylists’ favorite!—an army jacket over just about anything.
33. MASTER MENSWEAR
Don a pantsuit a la Bianca Jagger and you’ll immediately stand up straighter. Anna Johnson, author of Savvy Chic, says “a waistcoat, a crisp pin-striped shirt, or a really big watch or cravat telegraphs power.” Don’t forget to balance it out with lipstick and taller shoes.
34. MAKE FRIENDS WITH A GOOD TAILOR
Nothing raises the quality of moderately priced clothes more than having them altered to suit your shape. Build a relationship with a tailor or dressmaker who knows your body and your taste and you’ll never look back.
35. LOOK FOR TWISTS ON CLASSICS
The right tweak can turn a staple into a statement. Try tuxedo pants in a graphic print, a trench in silk, or the classic L.L. Bean tote in camouflage.
36. DON’T SKIMP ON A T-SHIRT BRA
The right one will give you confidence and shape under those unforgiving tissue Ts
37. ADD AN ELEMENT OF SURPRISE
Whether it’s grosgrain with sequins, a motorcycle jacket over a formal gown, an oversize choker with an easy white T, or a vivid belt like Gisele Bundchen‘s, a touch of contrast makes good outfits great
38. RECAST YOUR JEWELRY
•Loop a chain through the clasp of a brooch (as we did, bottom). Suddenly, it’s a necklace!
•Wrap your chains or lariat around your wrist for a tough luxe bracelet.
•Snap clip-on earrings onto flats for an instant evening shoe.
39. SPEND YOUR BUDGET ON ACCESSORIES
“Cool shoes, interesting jewelry—those can really elevate your look,” says stylist Isabel Dupré, who notes that a wardrobe of the right little extras lets you be more relaxed about the rest of your outfits.
40. HAVE A STYLIST EMERGENCY KIT
• Double-stick tape for loose hems or a gaping bodice
• Tide To Go eraser pen for getting wine off whites, fast
• Safety pins for allover damage control
• Bra clip to control peekaboo straps
• Lint brush or roller to run over your coat or woolens
• Makeup sponge for removing deodorant stains
41. PAIR LOOSE WITH TIGHT
Few mortals can pull off head-to-toe baggy. So team your billowing pieces with something body-conscious. (Hint: This is what leggings were made for.)
42. JAZZ UP YOUR LBD
Simpler shapes cry out for styling. Try dressy jackets or a slip-on shrug, colored shoes and bags, or tinted sheers plus booties.
43. GET STUDS
“Fake or real, big or small, they will go with any color, fabric, or style of cocktail dress and will never compete with other jewelry,” says stylist Rob Zangardi, who works with Rachel McAdams.
44. DRESS FOR FIRST CLASS
You want to be comfy, sure, but also chic enough to be tapped for an upgrade. A sharp blazer and scarf or a lightweight cashmere wrap is the unofficial uniform of jet-setters worldwide. To complete the outfit, just throw on jeans or leggings, then add flats, heels, or riding boots.
45. CHECK THE RISE
On trousers, the distance between the crotch and the waistband is critical to the fit. It’s also not something that’s easily altered, so make sure pants are neither too snug nor droopy in this area before you buy them.
46. DO A CASHMERE QUALITY TEST
• The thicker the knit, the denser its gauge, which means there is more cashmere in it.
• Gently stretch the body of the sweater to test if it snaps back. A lower-quality cashmere won’t.
• While some great cashmere is milled in the U.S. and in China, a label that says “Made in Scotland” or “Made in Italy” often indicates a superior weave.
47. CREATE YOUR OWN LOOKBOOK
Got compliments on your outfit today? Snap a photo of it with your phone. You’ll have a quick reminder of what to wear the next time you’re in a rush.
48. DRESS FOR YOUR BODY, NOT AGE
Arms svelte enough for a sleeveless sheath? Legs toned enough for shorts? Show off what you’ve got—while you’ve still got it.
49. …But Watch Out for the Matronly Tipping Point
The pleated silk skirt or little pastel jacket that looked so cute on you at 25 can start turning frumpy at 40.
50. CAN YOU SAY D’ORSAY?
This style pump will always slim down a thick ankle because the vamp is cut close to the toe box and the sides are cut away. Super-flattering.
Got your own fashion tips, post them in the comments section below