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I'm 49 and Have Finally Worked Out My Perfect Capsule Wardrobe

If anyone knows whether an item is worth buying or not, it's Tracey Lea Sayer. Having been in the business of fashion for 30 years now, Lea Sayer is a style insider who says it like it is. She wants her clothes to work hard for the money and is a dab hand when it comes to hunting down timeless high-street pieces. In addition to sharing her knowledge as fashion director at Fabulous magazine, she charts her own wardrobe over at @TraysLounge. Her outlook is about buying less, buying better and restyling what you already own. This month, she shares the capsule wardrobe she has finally fathomed out. Over to you, Tray!

Five years ago, I dragged myself kicking and screaming onto social media. Instagram started as a social experiment for me. I was desperate to stay employed in the business I love, and the industry was changing, so I forced myself in front of the camera, even though I had been a behind-the-scenes stylist for the last 30 years. Now I don’t bat an eyelash at having my picture taken, and it has become part of my job. Taking daily #OOTD pics on my phone has been a real eye-opener for me because it has made me study what I wear more closely than ever before.

You would think that working in fashion for so long would give me a good grasp on the trends that come around every single year, wouldn’t you? But no! Before I documented my looks, I was like a fashion goldfish. Each time spring arrived, I was suddenly like, "Ooh, I need a whole new wardrobe. I have NOTHING to wear!" I have been a sucker for fast-fashion trends just like everyone else, but the more I posted on social media, the more and more I saw the same classic items crop up on my feed at the same time each year.

Finally, I realise that building a smaller, less flashy and more sustainable wardrobe suits me much better. You will notice that the outfits below have a lot of the same items in them. This is because that is how I dress in real life. My closet (or feed) isn’t filled with new pieces worn once and then discarded. I work hard for my money, so I want my wardrobe to work hard for me in return—it’s that simple. The thought process behind this gallery isn’t rocket science, but I can assure you that if you invest in some of these key pieces, you will never look into your closet and despair again. These items are the building blocks for outfits that you can restyle for many, many years to come. Personally, I think that is far more stylish than being the height of trend-led fast fashion.

1. THE TREMENDOUS TRENCH COAT

On Tracey: River Island trench coat; La Redoute scarf and shirt; Levi's jeans; Arket loafers

I didn’t own a trench until five years ago, and now I don’t know what I ever did without one! This perfect wardrobe piece keeps me covered come rain or shine, making it an essential trans-seasonal purchase. I can wear it over a hoodie and joggers, some smart tailoring, and it even looks great in an editorial shoot over a ball gown. A trench has great value for the money, always feels smart and has been around since the 1850s, so there must be something right about it! It is a forever item that is worth investing in.

On Tracey: Arket shirt; Inès de la Fressange x Uniqlo scarf; Kin at John Lewis & Partners trousers; La Redoute trainers

I have always been guilty of borrowing lots of style ideas from the boys, and one of my favourites is an oversized blue shirt. This classic menswear piece looks great with a pair of navy pants and a blazer, with a pair of city shorts or even thrown over a bikini… if I ever get to go on holiday again!

3. THE DRESS-IT-UP-OR-DOWN SHIFT

On Tracey: Arket dress and blazer; Next bag; La Redoute plimsolls; Zara boots

Some people look fantastic in Instagrammable dresses, and some of us—i.e., me—look like we are in fancy dress! I have tried puffed sleeves, smocking, clashing florals, big collars and ruffled hems, but they do nothing for me. You might be surprised to know that I only own four dresses. I bought this one three years ago from Arket. It is comfortable, skims the body and doesn’t cling in all the wrong places. I can dress it up or dress it down. So why would I need 10 other dresses when I have found The One?

4. THE LUXE SWEATSHIRT

On Tracey: F&F jacket; Isabel Marant sweatshirt; Levi's jeans; COS trainers

Since having kids in my 30s, I haven't often treated myself to designer togs but stalked this sweatshirt online for years before I finally treated myself to it in January after a particularly tough few months. I am usually the last person to buy into a viral trend because I think very carefully before I invest, and I often find that if I wait, I normally see how quickly the hype fizzles out.

WFH made me realise that while I was at the top of my game with workwear, I didn’t really have any clothes for the weekend. So after three years of placing this sweatshirt in my Net-a-Porter basket, I finally splashed out £200 on it. I have teamed it here with a 20-quid F&F shacket because that’s how I roll.

On Tracey: Arket jumper; Kin at John Lewis & Partners chinos; Dune scarf; La Redoute plimsolls

I have worn Breton stripes since I fell in love with Jean Paul Gaultier in the '80s. I'm not big on prints, so this bad boy breaks up big blocks of colour in my wardrobe and adds an extra dimension. Nautical is a bit of a standing joke in fashion because it gets re-spun every year as a "new" trend. Arket just sent me a mailer entitled Modern Marinière. I applaud its new name for it, but the nautical sentiment is exactly the same each time! 

6. A SMART SHIRTDRESS

On Tracey: Topshop dress and blazer; Next bag; La Redoute plimsolls

In my opinion, shirtdresses are The Business! They are smart for work, always look fresh and can be belted or worn loose depending on your preference. You can also wear them over trousers or unbuttoned as a big over-shirt for a completely different take. The key to all the pieces I have chosen for my capsule is that they can be styled in lots of different ways. Call me old-fashioned, but it's essential for me.

7. A PAIR OF DO-IT-ALL JEANS

On Tracey: La Redoute shirt, scarf and plimsolls; Levi's jeans

I have had a love affair with denim since the '70s. Back then, I lived in a brand called Lois, but once I hit my late teens, Levi’s became my go-to for all my denim needs. I am all about comfort dressing, and jeans are the comfiest item that I own. The hard bit is finding the fit that really works for you. After that, you will never look back, and price per wear, they will definitely be the cheapest item in your wardrobe. At the moment, I am obsessing over double denim so have added this cute batwing shirt to my favourite Levi’s Ribcage jeans. Well, I am a product of the '80s!

On Tracey: Uniqlo shirt; Kin at John Lewis & Partners chinos; Arket loafers

This simple, unassuming item always makes me feel box-fresh. It also works as a massive light reflector, so it can be very flattering on your face! You can wear yours in lots of different ways, but I like to style mine with classic chinos. Try it like an over-shirt with a simple white vest underneath, wear it buttoned right up for a cool Scandi look, or even wear it unbuttoned to the waist with a pair of dress pants for a sassy black-tie look.

9. THE "BORING" BEIGE BLAZER

On Tracey: Arket blazer, jumper and loafers; Next vest; Levi's jeans

This is, hands down, the most-worn jacket in my wardrobe. Last summer, I shot an IGTV entitled "5 Ways to Wear a Boring Beige Blazer," and since then, I have worn this key piece at least another 95 different ways! Beige is a neutral, so it goes with anything and everything; this makes it one of the easiest items to mix into what you already have in your wardrobe. Fuss-free, no-frills dressing—my kind of vibe.

10. A CHEERY SILK SCARF

On Tracey: River Island trench; La Redoute scarf and shirt; Levi's jeans

Over the past few years, I have realised that wearing dark colours with my changing complexion and grey hair no longer suits me. The cheapest and easiest way to cheat this with an existing wardrobe was to just add a colourful scarf. This and a splash of red lipstick always makes me feel brighter—and doesn’t cost a bomb!

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