Thursday, September 12, 2013

A Wardrobe for All Seasons

We had three glorious days of crisp, cool weather last week…just the right amuse-bouche before a bountiful fall dinner waiting to be served.  The warm colors of fall are MY colors, and I will soon be in my element – deep russet and gold, mossy green and earthy brown.  

But, I will add these vibrant colors as accents (shoes, handbags, scarves, jewelry, etc.) to a wardrobe of neutrals.   Neutrals form the backbone of my wardrobe, and this, Ladies, is the way to create a timeless, versatile wardrobe for all seasons…..something the Hollywood star and style icon Marlene Dietrich knew a thing or two about. 

Born Maria Magdalena Dietrich von Losch (1901-1992), she would become one of Hollywood’s most glamorous and highest paid movie stars.  Despite the usual highs (box office dynamite) and lows (box office poison), her career spanned more than 50 years. 

Not a natural beauty, Dietrich’s cunning camera instincts made her an expert on angles, lighting and how to apply make-up to create the shadows and illusions that would become the Dietrich Look.  (Dietrich on the subject of make-up:  “Too bad most of us need it.”)

Glamour was what her fans expected of her, and glamour was what they got. 

But Dietrich’s off-screen style was very different. 

Dietrich’s personal style was relaxed and casual.  She was the first Hollywood actress to wear men’s trousers in public.  Her adoring fans quickly adopted her signature black trousers and silk shirts.  

And when it came to color, she had very definite ideas on that, as well.  But, why don't we just let La Marlene speak for herself on the subject. 

And speak she does, in her own voice and in her own inimitable style, in Marlene Dietrich’s ABC (Doubleday; 1st edition 1962).  In it she expounds on everything from life and love to fashion and style. 

"Don't buy green, red, or any other flamboyant color dress. A small wardrobe must consist of outfits you can wear again and again. Therefore, black, navy blue and grey are your favorite colors. Don't believe the sales talk that you can have five dresses for the price of one. And don't buy cheap materials, no matter how expensive the dress looks to you. Don't say you can't afford a dress made of expensive materials. Save up for it. Another suggestion, don't send your clothes to the cleaners all the time. Spot-clean and press them yourself. It's worth it because they last longer.  And while you're saving up for that good black dress, on your next date wear a black sweater and skirt. Nothing wrong with that as long as you don't ruin the elegance of the outfit by overemphasis of the bosom.”

She is spot on when it comes to spot cleaning.  I always have a packet or two of Shout Wipes in my purse for emergency spot cleaning on the go.  They have come in handy more times than I can count. 

While I don’t entirely share Dietrich’s dictum against green (olive green is a great neutral, in my view), she is absolutely correct about building a versatile, seasonless wardrobe around neutral colors. 

The most important thing you need to know when choosing neutral colors for your wardrobe is that, except for black and white at the opposite ends of the color spectrum, neutrals come in warm and cool tones.  For example, the color taupe can be warm (yellow based) or cool (pink based), so make sure you choose the right shade of taupe for your skin tone.   After that, it’s all about the fit and the fabric. 

Here are the 10 Basics in neutral colors which should be in your closet: 

1)      Silk blouse in white (cool) or Off-white (warm);

2)      Silky T-shirt  in white (cool) or Off-white (warm);

3)      Cashmere cardigan in black/navy/taupe/grey;

4)      Cashmere pullover in black/navy/taupe/grey;

5)      Trousers in black/navy/brown/grey;

6)      Black blazer;

7)      Black pencil skirt;

8)      Dark-wash jeans;

9)      Little Black Dress;

10)   Trench Coat in black/olive drab/beige.

Now comes the fun part – adding that eye-catching accessory which gives you and your wardrobe that special flair.  A great accessory speaks volumes about your personal style and can be anything from a pricey lizard handbag to a quirky pair of two dollar earrings. 

So, if you need to update your wardrobe this fall or maybe start from scratch, think about neutral basics and colorful, interesting accessories, and you will be well on your way to creating a wardrobe for all seasons. 


  1. Dearest Marie-Thérèse,
    Marlene knew a thing or two about style and class! She presented herself very well; even in her men style pants!
    So true about not buying cheap materials, it is a give away and it will not hold up, nor make for flattering wear.
    Great post!

    1. Ma chère Mariette, I know you share my admiration for Dietrich. She was a great lady on so many levels.

      Her style advice, like her persona, is timeless.

      Hugs, M-T

  2. Love the post and agree completely with that concept. It takes a while to understand this, but as we get older it becomes more apparent and easier to accomplish. I LOVE the beige loafers.... who's are they. Thank you for your wonderful posts.

    Warmly, Kathleen

    1. We are clearly on the same page, Kathleen. I appreciate your comments very much.

      Unfortunately, the image of the beige loafers is one I started using years ago when I was doing seminars on "French Style 101." I no longer remember who makes them or if, in fact, they still do. They are lovely, though, aren't they?

      I will do a quick check to see if I can find anything similar for you and let you know.

      Thanks again for stopping by.

      Cheers, M-T

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  18. Hello Marie-Thérèse - About beige loafers, I have just bought some this month in readiness for warmer weather and they are made by the wonderful GEOX company, perfect for women of a certain age. Nobody would guess they are anything else but chic but the secret is that they are beautifully lined and of breathable material, so healthy and easy on the budget.
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