By Bridie Clark, Author of The Overnight Socialite
You know the type: It’s raining, or 3 am, or the middle of yoga class and this woman looks crisp, pulled together, ready for her close-up. Her hair is freshly blown-out, her jewelry is tasteful Cartier. Linen wouldn’t dream of wrinkling when she wears it. Seeing her, you envision a walk-in closet full of neatly folded Italian cashmere. She must be rich, you think. Her look would be impossible to achieve — or maintain — without a trust fund and a lot of free time.
Actually, the “socialite look” — we’re talking Aerin Lauder, not Paris Hilton — is just a matter of mastering a few basic rules.
1. Figure out what works and stick with it. Anchor your wardrobe with clean lines, good fabrics, classic tailoring. Develop a signature look . . . even a uniform. Avoid trends. The look you’re striving for is fresh but timeless, and most trends have an expiration date.
2. Before you make a purchase, try to calculate Cost-Per-Wear. A Burberry trench that you’ll wear every spring for the rest of your life could be worth a splurge. Likewise you’ll always want to wear a great watch, “everyday” jewelry with just the right amount of bling, a simple clutch for evening, a T. Anthony tote that’s comfortable but chic. A little black dress is part of every socialite’s arsenal — make sure yours fits perfectly, and you’ll wear it all the time.
3. Buy at the right time. Stores need to turn over their inventory to make room for new arrivals, so keep your eye out for sales. There’s definitely a right time (usually January) and a wrong time (November) to buy that shearling coat.
4. Buy more than one. Say you find the perfect pair of jeans. The right length, the right wash, the right silhouette from every angle. This is a good moment to splurge by doubling down on an extra pair (and if they’re really that fabulous, two). Same goes for all your basics — white tailored shirts, black ballet flats, socks. This way you’ll have a fresh set to rotate in when the original starts to show wear and tear.
5. Never compromise on fit. Who cares if it’s cashmere — if the sweater doesn’t fit properly, donate it. Keep your wardrobe as streamlined as possible.
6. Take care of what you have. Even if you’re short on “staff,” it’s worth it to pay close attention to the laundry. Skip bleach — it will hurt the fibers of your clothing after many washes. Instead, soak whites in hot water using detergent and a bleach alternative, like white vinegar. Be vigilant about separating colors. Your jeans and delicates should never see the inside of a dryer. Lastly, spot-clean items instead of always dry-cleaning — it’ll save you money, and save your clothes the chemical treatment.
7. Never pay retail. Why blow your budget at the mall when there are so many places to buy designer clothing at deep discounts? Gilt.com (become a member by signing up at gilt.com/theovernightsocialite), eBay, and consignment shops are just a few of the spots you’ll find marked-down treasures that look like you bought them on Fifth Avenue. Somebody did.
8. Master a speedy daytime beauty routine. We all need to get out the door quickly sometimes. After your shower, massage a small amount of mousse into the roots of your hair, flip your head and use a flat brush to blow-dry hair into straight, shiny panels. Smear on some tinted moisturizer with SPF, some mascara, and some lipgloss, and you’re good to go.
9. To paraphrase Coco Chanel, remove one accessory before you walk out the door. Less is more. If you want to look effortlessly elegant, put quality ahead of quantity and keep your look simple.
10. Exercise clothing should be worn solely to exercise. Ok, and back and forth to the gym. Socialites don’t allow themselves to lapse into that comfy, sloppy look that can be so tempting on a Sunday morning.
Splurge vs. Save List
Classic pieces — the little black dress, the Chanel ballet flats, the perfect clutch — that you’ll wear for years to come.
If you plan on making it as a socialite — in the Jackie O, not Casey J mode — you’ll be dashing off countless thank you notes. Invest in personalized stationery. Sites like tinyprints.com offer an affordable alternative to monogrammed letterpress.
Charitable giving. Nothing’s worse than a socialite who struts the red carpet but can’t write a check for an important cause. No matter what your budget, find some way to give — or give your time — to the organizations that resonate with you.
Staying Bergdorf blonde can be an expensive habit. Fortunately, most of the top salons hold “training nights” for stylists’ and colorists’ assistants to hone their skills under the watchful eye of the experts. Sign up, and you’ll get top-end color for significantly less than the salon’s usual rates.
Furniture. Estate sales, auctions, and online sites like 1stdibs.com and eBay have heirloom-quality pieces to lend sophisticated polish to your home. If a piece isn’t quite heirloom-quality — but the price is right and the bones are solid — give it a coat of high-gloss paint, in a quirky turquoise or a punchy coral.
Hostess gifts. Hand-wrapping small items — soaps, candles, a few chocolate truffles — adds a personal touch which will impress the recipient.
High-end exercise classes and personal trainers. You can check out what’s keeping Gwyneth so fit at tracyandersonmethod.com, or purchase a DVD. Core Fusion, a class that’s popular with the Posh Upper East Side set, is also available on DVD. Or you can downward dog along to a Jivamukti yoga CD, the choice of fit and fabulous yogis in downtown Manhattan.
Retail. Paying full-boat is for the masses. Instead, explore sites like Gilt.com (you can become a member by visiting gilt.com/theovernightsocialite), designer outlets, or your local thrift and consignment shops. Make enough of a name for yourself, and it won’t be long before designers are sending you their wares.
© 2010 Bridie Clark, author of The Overnight Socialite
Author BioBridie Clark graduated from Harvard University, and has written for The New York Times, Vanity Fair, New York, and Quest. Her debut novel, Because She Can, was published in nineteen countries. She lives in New York City.