WHAT TO LOOK FOR: It’s all in the fabric. Tightly woven wool will keep its colour and shape better than synthetics. And the fabric will usually have more drape to it, providing a smoother, more flattering line. The waistband shouldn’t curl over, and the fabric on the inside of the waistband should match the pocket lining. Also, designer pants may contain subtle details that only the wearer will notice, such as a quirky print on the inner waistband or pocket lining, an engraved initial on the smallest of belt buckles or hand-stitched buttonholes. Teenflo and Theory provide some of the best-fitting pants in the biz, but nothing beats a designer version. I swear by a pair of Stella McCartney pants – I’ve had them for three years and get compliments every time I wear them. Plus, they still look like new!
WHY YOU NEED IT: It’s the easiest way to look polished at work. Plus, it’s a no-brainer when you’ve got a sudden job interview or dinner date (just pair it with a dressy top – think shimmer, embroidery or lace).
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: The blazer should follow the contour of your body, with tailored but relaxed shoulders and a nipped-in waist, and move like a sweater. Super-fine wool is the preferred fabric, as it resists wrinkling, breathes naturally and provides insulation. The collar, sleeves and shoulders should lie smoothly against your body (no puckering!), lining and pockets should be made of cotton or silk, patterns should line up at the seams and buttonholes should be hand-sewn.
TIP: The more stitches per inch, the better the quality. For suit bottoms, the black-pant rules apply (see Black pants, below). Look for fine wools in neutral shades and steer clear of items with puckering near the seams or in the fabric. Suits from designers such as Prada, Armani Collezioni and Paul Smith offer great quality, as do suits from Ewanika and Milli boutique in Toronto and Leone in Vancouver.
WHY YOU NEED THEM: Whereas your Ugg boots and espadrilles may only last for a couple of seconds, a pair of ladylike shoes remains classic season after season and works well in a casual or dressy environment.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Leather soles, smooth stitching on all the edges, soft lining with inverted seams and no traces of glue. They should also bend easily and then resume their shape.
TIP: Help your shoes last by treating them with care. Use the appropriate polish and sprays, reheel and resole when needed and alternate their daily wear. I love labels such as Browns, Sigerson Morrison, Cynthia Rowley, Emma Hope and Christian Louboutin, available at stores such as Browns across Canada, Cole Haan and Zola in Toronto, Mona Moore and Rosenstein in Montreal, and Bruce in Vancouver.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: Finely woven cotton, evenly stitched seams around the edges of the collar and cross-stitched or mother-of-pearl buttons. Also look for a gauntlet button (on the sleeve opening near the cuff, which ups the sophistication factor), tails that are long enough to meet in between the legs (better for tucking in), roomy sleeves and pleats where the fabric gathers at the cuffs (tapered versions are signs of a production shortcut). Homegrown designers Lida Baday and Zenobia (from Montreal) offer some of the smartest white shirts I’ve seen.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: One hundred per cent cashmere on the label – a cashmere blend (usually a mix of silk, rayon or viscose) lessens the quality. A thicker yarn (two-ply or more) also increases the softness factor. Hand-knit seams are another special touch that increase price and quality. Marlowe and The Cashmere Shop in Toronto (two of my favourite haunts) have oh-so-soft basics in neutral and seasonal shades. And Mount-Cashmere in Vancouver has one of the largest cashmere collections to choose from. Also, don’t miss out at your favourite department stores. They offer private-label cashmere at a variety of price points.