How to Identify a Classic


Over the weekend, I flipped through a Saks Designer Lookbook that was stuffed with some of the latest trends: oversized layers, thigh-baring slits and petal skirts.

The kicker? The lookbook was from 1995, and the designs were almost 20 years old.

It got me thinking: What defines a classic? And more importantly, how can you pinpoint the trends with the longest shelf life? When you choose correctly, a wardrobe investment can pay off — perhaps not every single year, but every decade.

Here’s a rundown of the trends from the 1995 lookbook — and how they are reappearing on runways now.

Dramatic, Oversized Layers

Left: Zoran outfit from Saks 1995 Lookbook | Top Right: Look from The Row SS 2015 | Bottom Right: Ruffled Turtleneck by 3.1 Phillip Lim, available at Saks

This year, everything related to outerwear will be oversized, from coats to scarves. But the king of this aesthetic is Zoran: His slouchy, minimalist clothes are the clear inspiration for this revival of maxed-out basics. (Cathy Horyn dubbed his look “Gap for the very rich.”)  Zoran is so averse to publicity, I can’t determine if he is alive or dead — but luckily, many retailers are churning out similar styles. Based on how delectable Zoran’s clothes still are — even the older items on eBay — these pieces are smart investments. (The Phillip Lim version is available here.)

Strong Shoulders 

Left: Vivienne Westwood Puff-Shouldered Short-Sleeve Jacket in the 1995 Saks Lookbook | Top Right: Vivienne Westwood SS 2015 Look | Bottom Right: Michael Kors version, available at Neiman Marcus

Puffed sleeves seem synonymous with the 1980s — but their constant reappearance proves the look is quite classic. Provided there are no shoulderpads underpinning the design, you can safely invest in one piece and wear it year after year. Vivienne Westwood revisits this trope every season, but if you’re allergic to her price tag (jackets start around $1,000), Michael Kors’ version looks remarkably similar — and is on sale.

Thigh-Baring Dresses

Left: Donna Karan Thigh-Slit dress in the 1995 Saks lookbook | Top Right: Altuzarra x Target Crane Dress, available now | Bottom Right: Kate Upton in a red version of the trend earlier this year

Angelina was certainly the catalyst for the recent craze for thigh-high slits. And it appears that thigh-high slits are another safe investment — provided you have the bodily comfort level required. (I haven’t gotten there yet.) This look is a kissing cousin to our next time-traveling trend:

Tulip Hems

Left: Valentino Tulip-Hemmed Dress in Saks 1995 Lookbook | Top Right: Rachel Zoe version | Bottom Right: Shoshanna design currently available at Bluefly

Tulip hems, also called “envelope hems,” have recently been revived by designers and mass retailers alike. More interesting than a traditional pencil silhouette, it’s totally safe to convert to this silhouette. (It’s also a nice transition for fall, too: I bought the Rachel Zoe version in consignment, and I’ll be pairing it with high-denier tights and boots.) If you’d like the Shoshanna version, which is eerily similar to the Valentino, it’s just $85 at Bluefly.

Peter Pan Collar

Left: Calvin Klein design in the 1995 lookbook | Top Right: Peter Pan collar at the Michael Kors SS 2015 show | RED Valentino version available at ShopBop

Peter Pan collars are often dubbed “twee” by haters, and every few years, there’s another article wondering why the trend has returned. The disdain is apparently quite fierce — last year, Zooey Deschanel vehemently defended her love of the collars to critics who deemed them anti-feminist.

It’s time to face the music: Peter Pan collars are perfectly acceptable, every year, every season, any time, day or night. If you want to make the investment, the RED Valentino version can be found here.

Dressy White Shorts

Left: Karl Lagerfeld shorts in the 1995 Saks Lookbook | Top Right: Chloe shorts, available at Net-a-Porter | Bottom Right: Elizabeth and James shorts from SS 2015 Presentation

Imagine my surprise when I saw these “dressy” shorts in the 1995 lookbook. (I was utterly convinced this was a modern invention.) Turns out, nothing is new when it comes to fashion. I think this longevity earns these shorts a place in the classics category. If you decide to take the plunge, please note that the look is best served with a modest length and covered-up top. The Chloe shorts are available here.

Extra Credit: The Bandage Dress

Left: Herve Leger bandage dress in the 1995 Saks Lookbook | Top Right: Lindsay Lohan in the exact same dress in 2007 | Bottom Right: Me wearing a knock-off version in 2009

Truth be told, I’m not QUITE ready to deem the bodycon dress as classic. It’s overtly sexy, which is not a characteristic I associate with clothes that can be worn for decades. However, the design did indeed exist in the 90s, although it didn’t go viral until 2007. (The fervor has since cooled.)

Should you wish to hedge your bets that there will be a renaissance, there are a fleet of options available at Nordstrom that could prove to be wise investments.

One last piece of trivia: The 1995 bodycon was $5,190, while the modern versions clock in under $2,000.

  • MilatimaDesigns

    Nice post! I love fashion but keeping up with every new trend is draining! Mentally and in the wallet lol! I say if it looks great but isn’t too unique or flashy, it could be a classic =)

    • Diana @ The Style Pragmatist

      I’m with you — better to keep things classic and wear them for a few decades than try to keep up with every trend. I always need to remind myself that fashion is a BUSINESS with a goal to make me spend every cent.