6 Stylist-Approved Wardrobe Staples That’ll Make Your Closet Feel 10x Bigger
For Dione Davis, finding amazing styling solutions is not unlike dating. “When I first see a piece of clothing it’s like the first date, so I do those obvious choices,” she says. Outfits would remain relaxed, uncomplicated, come-as-you-are, until it’s time to break out of the shell. “The second time I style something out, that’s when I really start playing around.” However, in this metaphor Davis isn’t merely adept at creating one-off complementary pairings; as a stylist, building a closet of wardrobe staples is a life-long commitment. Shopping is done thoughtfully based on quality, function, and endlessly creative ways to find multiple uses for classic garments.
“Wardrobe building has always been a part of my life even though I never thought I would have a career in fashion,” says Davis, who’s the styling director at Tibi, a brand that needs no introduction among fashion editors or stylish women anywhere who appreciate a sharp blazer. Following a career as a professional ballerina that began in her pre-teens, Davis experienced an injury in her early 20s that lead to a change in paths; in 2013 she worked retail at the Tibi boutique, then eventually joined the corporate team in 2015 as a stylist. “For an in-house stylist, it’s really about visual storytelling and then connecting the dots to make it a consistent message across all channels,” she explains of her current role. “Big picture: My job is basically ensuring that the aesthetic is consistent from the highest level, which is runway, to something like e-commerce styling and even when it comes to advertising for our partners.”
While Davis has worked her magic behind the scenes for years, honing the elevated-yet-effortless styling signature to Tibi's Fashion Week shows and lookbooks, it’s more recently that the brand’s fans have seen her work her prowess live in the weekly Style Class series on Tibi’s Instagram account, alongside founder Amy Smilovic, and a Style Hack series she posts on her own. Here you can spend a few minutes watching Davis transform a pair of button-down shirts into about 10 different top options and instantly realize that you may be underestimating how versatile your clothing can be.
“The pandemic has been making me do a lot of crazy things with button-down shirts,” Davis says, sharing that some of her best outfit ideas lately come to her in her dreams. “It is some David Lynch territory at this point.” Yet, combined with Davis’ other sources of style inspiration, including Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy, Princess Diana, and her own mother’s wardrobe in the ‘80s — “She was all about elegance, even when going to the grocery store" — the outfits she creates always manage to be both unexpected and pragmatic.
“I really want to help people not buy crap anymore,” says Davis of her young Instagram Live series. She encourages spending thoughtfully and revisiting what can be repurposed in your own closest without making knee jerk purchases. “That really came out of the pandemic,” she adds.
But the beauty of Davis' approach is that it lasts — past pandemics, past seasons, and past any changing trend cycles. With this in mind, she's provided the details on precisely which pieces go the furthest in anyone’s wardrobe, as well as advice on how exactly to wear them and — should you be in a position to shop — exactly what to look for. Read on, take notes.
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The Most Versatile Classic Item: The Oversize Button-Down
If there’s a way to twist, criss-cross, or unconventionally fasten a button-down shirt, Davis will find it. With several videos on her Instagram account as proof, the stylist creates entirely new outfits with just a few tweaks of the “without-fail” item — a term used by the Tibi team to identify pieces can be worn year-round. However, the button-down shirts with the most styling potential fit specific criteria: “I personally like for things to have a nice defined collar, even an elongated collar is very chic,” she says, adding that a curved hem is preferred over a straight-cut, so it has longer fabric along the sides to play with.
That said, you can see the results of Davis’ playful styling on her IGTV where she demonstrates hacks, such as crossing the two sides of the button-down like wrap top across her torso, securing each end by tucking them into a pant or skirt waistband. She also stretches the shirt’s shoulders slightly outward to create a look of a bateau-like neckline. For an advanced look, she removes an arm from one of the sleeves and creates a more avant-garde, one-shoulder silhouette.
“I crave newness a lot because I do have a bunch of repeats,” says Davis of her closet, which relies heavily on these without-fail items. “When I have something new, my first knee-jerk reaction is not ‘I love this top, let me completely change it.’ I normally just do that with my basics, that way I keep them forever and still love them.”
The Most Versatile Classic Item: The Single-Breasted Blazer
“It has to be either navy or black to start,” says the styling director of her most trusted wardrobe piece: the blazer. “If you don’t have either of those things, don’t buy anything else until you do.” According to her, the best and most versatile option is a single-breasted, single- or double-button silhouette that has a relaxed fit and falls to the mid-seat. Nothing cropped or shrunken and no decorative button closures. “You’re going to be tired of it in six months,” Davis advises. Plus, in order to assure you get the most use from the piece, she recommends a fabric that works in all seasons, specifically a virgin wool blend.
“The pandemic has been really hard because I love to wear suits but I feel a little weird about wearing a suit right now,” she says about her approach to styling. “I still think it’s very relevant to build a wardrobe. And I’ll break them up now. I’ll wear a blazer with a cargo pant or something more athletic looking, or wear my suit pants with a sweatshirt.”
However, Davis’ blazer hacks go beyond what to pair it with. For example, she suggests tucking a blazer into loose-fit pants and securing it with a belt to create a DIY jumpsuit. She also uses common items such as safety pins and vintage brooches to manipulate the silhouette and give her more styling options.
“I get really nice black safety pins that are really big and exaggerated so I give it more of a [Maison] Margiela look,” she explains. “I take my blazer and cinch it at the waist by crossing it over. It’s the same as you would do if you tuck it, but you cross it over and pin it far over, past your arm, and it gives a really cinched-up look. That way you don’t even have to wear an underpinning for it — it’s like a blazer-as-a-top situation for a nice defined waist.”
Another instant silhouette change? “I’ll scrunch a sleeve and use a vintage brooch to pin the sleeve at the elbow so it stays.”
The Most Versatile Classic Item: The Mid-Rise, Relaxed Trouser
When it comes to selecting a pant silhouette with the best price-per-wear, Davis says nothing beats the versatility of a mid-rise, relaxed trouser. “There shouldn’t be any pulling on the pockets, it should just fit like a dream when you put it on,” she explains of the relaxed shape. Once you’ve found a pair, that’s where the options begin.
“The reason I say relaxed at the waist is because you can play around with a belt to make it a paperbag waist,” she explains of one of her signature style hacks. “Even if it has belt loops, you take the belt underneath the belt loops and pull it up and tie the belt tight. Then you have a completely different pant.” For a slightly more special approach, Davis also creates this chic, high-waist look with a string of rhinestones in place of a basic belt.
In addition to achieving two different waistline silhouettes from one pair of trousers, Davis also says that a relaxed-leg pant can also be adjusted to complement your footwear. “If you have a shoe with an ankle wrap or ankle strap you can put that around the pant leg and that gives you another silhouette that’s very Bottega-esque,” she says. In the case of a statement-making, tall boot, “I take a really nice long tube sock and I tuck my pant into that tube sock and then I slide my tall boot over that. Then you have a really cool, tucked pants-into-boots situation. It’s very Princess Diana.”
The Most Versatile Classic Item: The Silk Bias Dress
“There are endless options with a silk bias dress,” says Davis of this season-less style. She suggests choosing either a spaghetti-strap option or something thicker if you prefer to conceal a bra strap beneath it. “It doesn’t even have to be insanely clean or simple, but it must be a solid color like a beige, black, navy, or steel grey.”
When it comes to wearing this staple in myriad ways, Davis calls it “artful layers.” This includes wearing your silky dress over everything from a simple t-shirt to a more voluminous blouse with a contrasting texture. To transform a slip dress’ innately slim-fit shape, she also recommends pairing it with boxier tops, such as an oversize denim jacket or the same blazer you’ve already invested in. “Even putting a cashmere sweater or a longer menswear-inspired bowling shirt on top of it gives it a completely different look,” she says. Plus with any top that can be tied or defined at the waist, your slip dress instantly mimics the look of a skirt — no need to buy one.
The Most Versatile Classic Item: The Cardigan Set
“Anytime you make your life easier — and you’re doing that with a matching set — I think it’s great,” says Davis. She says that all manner of two-piece ensembles — a suit, a matching skirt and top, or a cardigan set — inherently offer tons of options to your wardrobe. “Especially if it’s a color that is seasonless,” she adds.
While Davis prefers cardigan set with a coordinating cropped top, she suggests styling the otherwise prim and polished look in a way that’s more modern. “Pairing it back with a nylon jogger pant and a sandal will kind of give it that sportier twist,” she says, recommending also pairing it with biker shorts or a capri-length athletic legging, à la Chanel's Spring/Summer 2019 collection. “What I want to avoid is when you start buttoning the top button and leaving it down at the bottom,” says Davis, “it gets very Marmie.”
For a tailored, everyday ensemble, Davis pairs a cardigan set with either high-waist shorts or a paper-bag-waist trouser. However, for the more advanced, Davis applies the same same styling hacks she used for the aforementioned button-down shirt. As long as the fit is looser and the sleeves are longer, any cardigan can be converted to a one-shoulder or wrapped-silhouette top in her book.
The Most Versatile Classic Item: The One-Piece Swimsuit
For Davis, the black one-piece swimsuit is a season-less replacement for all manner of everyday tops, including your gauzy white tee or black tank from your favorite basics brand. The sleek, body-hugging silhouette can elevate in ways other can not. “If you have a black or brown one-piece and it maybe has one or two little details on the sleeve or a cutout, it adds just a little dose of luxury that you wouldn’t get from your regular basics,” she explains.
Davis’ go-to approach to styling a one-piece is to bring some refinement to her athleisure. “I want to look like what Carolyn Bessette looks like when she leaves the gym.” That means pairing chic swimwear with a more relaxed silhouette like jogging pants or oversize dad shorts, she says. Meanwhile, for an elegant ensemble, she pairs the piece with midi-length skirts.
For more unexpected options, Davis says that if a one-piece isn’t too tight, she suggests layered it over a button-down top during the colder seasons. “If you have a good, substantial black bathing suit, that can also be worn with a really elegant skirt as a cocktail set,” she adds.