Beauty News

How to put together the perfect chain store outfit

Good style is no longer the sole domain of the rich and famous; we ask four style-savvy Kiwis how to put together the perfect high-street ensemble.

Head-to-toe designer looks are so last decade; these days, the rich and the famous know the value of a savvy chain store purchase just as much as we do.

Just ask Michelle Obama, with her penchant for J Crew, or Kate Middleton and her wardrobe of Topshop dresses.

We asked four stylish Kiwi women to put together a chain store outfit, from the current season or their own wardrobe, and tell us why it works so well.

Presenting the eight rules of ‘I can’t believe it’s not designer’ dressing…

Kylie Cooke – Film, TV and music video stylist

1. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

“The circle of design is quite small,” says Kylie Cooke, a film, television and music video stylist. “Designers are constantly referencing history – for example, the high-necked Victorian blouse trend – so you want something that’s a really good version of an original.”

The design team at Country Road, Cooke believes, are great at staying on track with the upcoming trends.

“They will pluck whatever is happening on the catwalks in Europe and infuse it into their collection, with a better price point.”

She cites one of their latest looks – the embroidered white cotton-blend dress she’s wearing here – as an example. It’s influenced by the New York brand March 11, who create high-end folk pieces inspired by traditional Russian dresses – the circle of design, as Cooke says. A March 11 original dress would set you back roughly $2000, but the Country Road equivalent is one-tenth of the price.

“It’s a great version; they’ve kept the beautiful sleeve detail but got rid of the split to make it more wearable,” says Cooke.

If you’re looking to buy a chain store piece that you want to wear for a while, ask yourself this question: has this look stood the test of time?

Cooke’s tip is to “look for pieces that have classic design details”. If you can trace it back to a previous era, think 50s-cut midi skirts and high-necked blouses, 70s-inspired flares and folk-look dresses, then your piece will stay timeless.

2. Go cheap and cheerful with accessories

A longtime favourite of stylists and teen girls alike, shopping mall mainstay Lovisa is Cooke’s number one pick to add some interest to an ensemble – anything from an outfit for a black-tie event to a work get-up. And layer, layer, layer.

“I love to use a mall brand accessory to jazz up something, give it a little bit of edge and personality. Whether it’s for toning down a designer piece or amping up a high-street piece, they’re a good way to get your personality in there. I like to go over the top with oversized pieces.”

Naomi Larkin – Editor, Simply You magazine

3. Add some glitz to your existing wardrobe

Growing up in rural Northland, Simply You editor Naomi Larkin and her two sisters used to create their wardrobes from the Butterick pattern book.

These days her wardrobe is a little less homemade and a little more high fashion; she cites Dries Van Noten, Ann Demeulemeester and Rick Owens as some of her favourite designers, but some of her most beloved items also include a Zara leather jacket, a Japanese-pattern H&M dress and numerous knits from Country Road.

Larkin says the cheap thrill of a chain store purchase can be a great way to up the ante.

“High street is good for a bit of sparkle or sequins, something that you don’t need to pay a lot for; you’re topping up an outfit with a bit of glittery glow. It’s very easy to wear a designer’s look from head to toe but it’s much more fun and creative to mix in other pieces.”

Her pick here is an embellished black tulle skirt from Seed Heritage, with a miniskirt slip. A piece like this could be worn for a black-tie event but Larkin teamed it with a simple French Connection jumper to make it more office-appropriate.

4. Steer clear of obvious trends

When going for a showy piece, Larkin cautions against directly embracing a current fad and instead suggests looking for something that’s a nod to the trend, rather than an ‘obvious piece of the moment’. And never compromise on quality – the detail on a good chain-store piece, such as the intricate design on this skirt, is what sets it apart.

“It’s got to be a decent fabric, fit and cut. The same things I look for in a designer piece, I’m still looking for in a high-street piece, just at a lower price point.”

Sonia Greenslade – Stylist and NEXT fashion editor

5 Think outside the box

As a stylist and NEXT fashion editor, Sonia Greenslade is aware she’s at a distinct advantage when it comes to knowing what’s available in stores, because so much of her time is spent sourcing outfits.

Ironically, Greenslade shops for herself very little – “The last place I want to be on my day off is a shop!” – but over the years she has built up a wardrobe complete with not only stand-out designer pieces but a great base of good-quality high-street items.

Greenslade’s unexpected pick for a great basic T-shirt? Dotti. That’s right, the shop you’re most likely to associate with your teenage daughter.

“People think ‘Oh, it’s just for young people’, but you just never know what you might find,” says the 47-year-old.

“I’m never scared to go into certain shops – sometimes you find absolute treasures. I don’t buy too many prints because they date more easily, and I always buy good-quality fabrics, because they last.”

6. Don’t be afraid to show off your shape

The issue with being a grown-up woman shopping in a chain store is that you often have to navigate your way through pieces that have been cut with a younger shopper in mind – the crop top trend, for example, is not kind to those over 21. But that doesn’t mean you have to forgo revealing skin entirely.

Take Greenslade’s chambray off-the-shoulder top from Portmans: the denim makes it more casual but the cut is both ladylike and flattering for all figures.

“I like to wear things that show off unexpected areas,” says Greenslade. “I’ve always been told I have nice shoulders. It’s feminine but easier than flashing your cleavage.”

The same could be said of her Glassons pants: utter the letters ‘PVC’ and you might be met with a doubtful glance. But the looser fit and drawstring waist makes them less intimidating than a skin-tight pair would be, and more wearable on a daily basis.

Jacqui Ansin – Founder of PR firm Lily & Louis

7. Don’t be put off by younger brands

Before you look at the price tag, you should look at the fit – and this goes for both high-end purchases and chain store ones. Jacqui Ansin, the founder of boutique PR firm Lily & Louis, says it’s her number one concern when she goes shopping.

“I have a difficult shape, and I’ll buy anything – whether it’s cheap or expensive – based on whether or not it suits my body.”

Ansin’s high-street pick is a Glassons jumpsuit that she purchased a couple of years ago. It became an instant favourite for fashion events and openings, paired with heels or teamed with a long top, bomber jacket and sneakers for a more casual look in the weekend.

“I have a mix of fashion clients and corporate clients, so I need to be able to cross over both. It’s nice that I get so many comments about it and I’m always so happy to be able to say, ‘It’s from Glassons’.”

The chain store is still a regular haunt for the 46-year-old – “I take my stepchildren, and my 83-year-old mum shops there as well” – and even though her favourite brands include couture designer Trish Peng and celebrity favourite Sass & Bide, she still often turns to more street-style brands for big events.

“We had a big event with George [Kotsiopoulos] from [E! Entertainment show] Fashion Police, and I had thought very carefully about what I was going to wear, and had planned on quite an expensive outfit. But on the night, I went home and grabbed an $80 jumpsuit I’d got from ASOS – it was beaded and amazing and everyone raved about it.”

8. If you find a gem, buy two

There’s a reason Ansin’s trusty jumpsuit is still going strong: she bought two.

“I loved it so much I went straight back and bought another one. It’s an essential piece and I knew I’d use it a lot – and I have thrashed it. When a piece is that flattering and that affordable, you’re going to keep it in your wardrobe for a long time.”

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