Become a Fabric Expert
Your best bet is a natural fiber. “If it’s not from the earth or from an animal—think silk, cotton, and wool—the material often looks inferior,” says Beth Amason, a fabric coordinator for New York City clothing manufacturer Vandale Industries who has sourced materials for Anthropologie and Topshop. Still, not all finer fabrics are necessarily fine; make sure the material is soft and smooth and has a nice luster. To test the resilience of silks and knits, pull the fabric across its width and lengthwise. Lesser-quality materials will sag, an effect that will get more pronounced after multiple wearings, says Amason.
But don’t rule out all synthetics. Textile manufacturing has improved dramatically since the 1970s, the era of leisure suits—it’s now possible to find polyester, nylon, and rayon that resemble natural fibers. Polyester versions of satin and chiffon can be especially luxurious, as long as they’re not too shiny or stiff. When it comes to blends of natural and man-made fibers, like silk-and-nylon, check the tag, which lists the proportions of each. “Make sure that there’s a higher percentage of the natural fiber,” says Amason.
Choose Your Color (and Pattern) Carefully
Wear one neutral head to toe. Going monochromatic can instantly elevate a look, according to New York City–based celebrity stylist Amanda Sanders, who says black, ivory, taupe, and gray are particularly sophisticated. The shades don’t have to match exactly—unless you’re pairing black with black, in which case mismatched shades cheapen the outfit, says Samantha von Sperling, a stylist and the director of Polished Social Image Consultants, a wardrobe-advising service in New York City.
Expand your palette with deep tones. Go for burgundy, eggplant, or indigo instead of pastels and brights. “With dark tones, you focus on the silhouette, and imperfect details tend to disappear,” says Leah Feldon, the author of Dress Like a Million (On Considerably Less) ($14, amazon.com). But you can add any color in small doses—with a scarf, a necklace, or a cardigan.
Stick to classic prints. Opt for simple, uniform patterns—stripes, polka dots, plaids, or color blocking—which are nearly impossible to mess up. Splashy florals and abstract designs have the potential to look like projects from an amateur art class.