The lesson: Every woman should have a fabulous cocktail dress on hand.
The background: During Prohibition, fashionable flappers suddenly needed a not-too-formal, not-too-casual outfit to wear for those very hush-hush cocktail parties. Thus, the abbreviated evening gown was born. Ninety years later, cocktail dresses are still indispensable. Have just one go-to dress, like either of these chic styles, and you’ll be set for any social event that pops up.
2 of 7 Roland Bello
The lesson: Use inexpensive costume jewelry to elevate an outfit.
The background: Coco Chanel and her rival Elsa Schiaparelli both introduced lines of ornate, affordable faux baubles at the start of the decade. Suddenly all women, not just society debutantes, had the freedom to accessorize and began piling on lavish, eye-catching necklaces, rings, and bracelets for everyday wear. Similarly, this vivid array of bangles can add a fashionable spark of personality to your closet basics.
3 of 7 Roland Bello
The lesson: A strong shoulder begets a smaller waistline.
The background: The padded shoulders and puff sleeves favored by movie star Joan Crawford, and years later by Dynasty’s Joan Collins, started big trends. Now the bold shoulder is back, but don’t be scared away. Modern styles are more graceful than the 80s linebacker look, yet they still make your hips and waist appear smaller in comparison.
4 of 7Roland Bello
The lesson: Invest in a structured, ladylike handbag.
The background: Although it was designed in 1892, the Hermès saddle bag didn’t make waves until 1956. That was the year Hollywood royalty (and real-life princess of Monaco) Grace Kelly was photographed carrying the boxy style to shield her pregnancy from the paparazzi, sparking a craze for the newly christened “Kelly bag.” Today you need to get on a waiting list for an Hermès bag, but this design in red patent leather offers the same kind of classic sophistication that will turn heads years from now.
5 of 7 Roland Bello
The lesson: Recharge your look with bold prints.
The background: The Age of Aquarius was all about rebelling against the prim and pastel styles of the 50s. Psychedelic music, free love, and pop art went hand in hand with the graphic patterns and far-out colors of the time. These days, look to a geometric skirt or a bubble-print dress to punch up anything in your closet that feels a little too, well, conventional.
6 of 7 Roland Bello
The lesson: Give yourself a vertical―yet manageable―boost with a platform shoe.
The background: Yes, the platform was around in the ’30s and ’40s, but it wasn’t until decades later that this style, characterized by a thick sole that offers height without the discomfort of spike heels, became the symbol of an era. In the 70s, trendsetters like Stevie Nicks, Cher, and even Elton John couldn’t resist the pick-me-up of an extra inch or two… or five. You don’t need to scale those heights, but a little lift from these metallic slingbacks can make you look longer and leaner without the wobble of stilettos.
7 of 7 Roland Bello
The lesson: Leggings aren’t just for dance class.
The background: Movies such as Flashdance and Fame glorified the lives of dancers and prompted a fad to get physical (or at least look the part). Soon leggings were as common on the street as they were at the ballet bar. Today this style lends a comfortable layer under short dresses and allows you to look stylish and stay on your toes.