According to a quick scan of airport bookstores, the common factor in being an adult is investing. Property, shares, bonds and long-term deposits rate highly on best-seller lists but cashmere coats, tweed trousers and silk dresses are rapidly joining this transition to feeling like a grown-up.
On the Paris runway this season, long and luxurious leather trench coats in bruised purples, charcoal woollen trousers and sharp grey suiting outnumbered bright, shiny instant fixes as people begin to approach buying clothes the way they’d buy a sofa: does it look good, will it last for years, can you sit down in it?
The appeal of dopamine dressing, with its seasonal pinks and greens is fading as we all seek the delayed shop.
Sydney designer Carl Kapp is ahead of the curve, recently staging his first runway show in 15 years for customers focused on stretching their budgets for pieces with staying power. His front row was filled with women wearing $1500 trousers and $1700 dresses, looking for their next big purchase.
“Many of them are successful working corporate women,” Kapp says. “They have families, are busy, and appreciate quality and craftsmanship. They want something timeless and modern. They don’t compromise in their work life or wardrobe, so they will wait to get the right thing.”
A big budget helps when looking at the Paris and Sydney runway, but for designer Sarah-Jane Clarke, investment dressing is a return to mindful shopping rather than an opportunity to splash cash.
In the ’90s, Clarke co-founded denim brand Sass & Bide with Heidi Middleton, delivering “It” outfits season after season before selling the brand to Myer in 2013. Now her eponymous label, Sarah-Jane Clarke, focuses on timeless collections that glide over trends and still appeal after the 10th or 12th outing.
“Investment dressing is buying the best-quality fabric one can afford with a focus on the silhouette and fit,” she says. “We want to invest in pieces that are timeless, flexible and relevant but not too caught up in a hot trend.”
A flowing midnight-blue drawstring dress or voluminous gold silk-linen pants fit Clarke’s investment bill, but prints require careful consideration.
“We want to invest in pieces that are timeless, flexible and relevant but not too caught up in a hot trend.”
“Prints can often be placed at a time and season,” she says. “I tend to favour earthy and neutral colours that can be easily pared back with seasonal colours. The exception to the neutral palette is gold and silver lamé. It’s a timeless evening fabric that’s always ready to make the wearer shine.”
Looking at her own wardrobe, Clarke pulls out a camel trench coat from 30 years ago to demonstrate her commitment to investment pieces.
“I purchased it at Portobello markets when I lived in London in the late ’90s.”
Both Kapp and Clarke say the key when allocating your annual fashion budget to three or four key pieces is understanding your body. “Knowing the shapes that work for you allows you to invest with confidence, empowering you to wear a piece multiple times, in different ways,” Clarke says.
“We are always listening to our customers about fit,” Kapp says. “They will often ask how it will fit in a bigger size. One of our biggest-selling dresses is one that’s designed to flatter whether you’re a size six or 16.”
The size of the customer is one thing, but reducing the size of fashion waste is growing in importance.
“Overconsumption is at the root of our unsustainable shopping habits,” says sustainability expert and host of the Wardrobe Crisis podcast, Clare Press. “Certainly, it’s good advice to look for the most sustainable materials you can, and seek out responsible brands. But probably the simplest, most effective action you can take to reduce the environmental impact of your wardrobe is to buy fewer pieces. As Vivienne Westwood famously said, ‘Buy less, choose well.’ ”
A report by the Australian Fashion Council last year said that the average Australian purchases 56 new items of clothing a year, a dramatic shift from the parents of many Baby Boomers who made do with an outfit for best, another for work, and very little in between.
“We’re buying way more clothes than our parents and grandparents did,” Press says.
“The secret is to re-frame the story away from deprivation. You can still enjoy fashion and the thrill of the new – just do it more mindfully.
“I thought for days about an amazing coat I bought last winter from The Social Outfit, and went back to the store twice to try it on before handing over my money.
“Truth was, I didn’t need a new coat – I’ve already got a beautiful one in similar colours from MacGraw. But in the end I did buy the coat, and I was clear in my reasons: the colours are my favourites, they suit me and the rest of what’s in my wardrobe; it’s a versatile, easy-to-wear cut that goes with everything; the way it was made is 100 per cent in line with my values.”
She adds that the fabric was donated deadstock and embroidered by the Afghan Women’s Sewing Circle, which was set up to help migrants build community in their new homes, and up-skill at the same time. It’s shopping with a clean conscience that gives pleasure time and time again.
“At my show there were women wearing pieces from years ago that were layered to look fresh,” Kapp says. “What hasn’t changed is that feeling they had when they tried it on for the first time.”
Miuccia Prada demonstrated the staying power of a classic grey jumper this season. Prada jumpers were tucked into embellished white skirts on the Milan runway, while fashion editors in the audience pulled them over crisp white shirts. Look for Goldilocks styling; an oversized or too-fitted sweater will get less wear as trends vacillate. If grey leaves you flat, red is the season’s power colour. And judging by Carla Zampatti’s and Valentino’s loyalty to red, it’s a hue that will continue to pop for years to come.
The price of many coats is already high enough to give you pause before purchasing. “I love working with coats and have a cashmere one at about $10,000 that is popular,” says Kapp. If you want one that lasts for decades, stick with classic shapes. Trench coats – whether those worn by Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Meryl Streep in Kramer vs Kramer or Meghan Markle – are a style staple. Burberry’s take has been reinterpreted by labels at different price points, and the wool camel coat is a close second; look to Max Mara for inspiration.
Hopefully, everyone who purchased a micro-mini bag capable of holding no more than a single breath mint realised they were a passing phase. And while giant totes have recently been spotted on the runway, it’s best to take the middle ground. The slouch-style hobo bag, popularised by Bonnie Cassin at Coach in the ’70s, was revived in the noughties and is enjoying yet another renaissance on the arm of supermodel Bella Hadid. Chocolate suedes and deep greens are timeless options.
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