Here's my motto: Clothes are necessary, fashion is optional, and style is up to your accessories. They are a shortcut to creating a pulled-together contemporary look every single day. Keeping accessories current — notice I didn't say trendy — makes all the difference. Here are nine everyday essentials to power up even the most basic, boring or laid-back wardrobe.
An "expensive-looking" daily bag
A nice bag simply upgrades everything you wear. You don't need logos or a designer nameplate, but a well-made black or tan bag with the classic look of a luxurious iconic style — like the Hermes Birkin or the quilted Chanel 2.55 — adds priceless good taste. A structured black satchel or shopper style — like the H&M Leather Handbag ($129) or the Target Women's Double Handled Shopper by A New Day ($37) — is large enough for a laptop or tablet, with compartments for organization. It's just plain chic. The softer the leather (real or faux), the better.
A black or tan leather tote
Nothing wrecks your style faster than schlepping multiple bags. But we all have two-bag days when extras like foldable ballet flats, a water bottle, sneakers, snacks and gym clothes are essential. Do yourself a big style favor: Buy a leather or sturdy nylon tote — like the Old Navy Black Faux Leather Tote ($35) or Target Women's Color Block Nylon Work Tote with Faux Leather Trim in Black by Merona ($50) — that is matched or toned to your handbag. It makes the difference between sloppy and sophisticated.
Elegant two-inch pumps
Make spiky high heels history, and move on to lower-heel versions of the pointy-toe classic (anything over two inches and you lose mobility, stability, and balance). Pumps and kitten heels — like Everlane The Editor Heel ($155) and MICHAEL Michael Kors MK Flex Kitten Pumps ($99) — or a low block heel such as Everlane The Day Heel ($145) are refined examples that work with everything in your closet.
Black ankle boots
Tapered flat booties are practical for ankle pants, leggings or jeans, and pivot from casual to dressy. Look for elastic side gores and a back pull tab for on-and-off ease. A sleek style — like the Target Lara Chelsea Booties by A New Day ($35) or H&M Leather Chelsea Boots ($70) — never ages. Chic waterproof synthetic lookalikes — such as the Sam Edelman Tinsley ($55) or Target Alex Chelsea Rain Boots by Merona ($25) — make changing shoes unnecessary on rainy days.
A long supple scarf in a print
Knotted, looped or just left hanging, a scarf frames your face, makes plain necklines interesting and fills V's that dip too low. It is a vital part of a contemporary daily "uniform." Choose one long enough — at least 70 inches — in a lightweight, flexible fabric like viscose-modal blends, gauzy silks, acrylics and polyester. Experiment with new ways to wrap and tie (a column on this coming up!), and look for texture, prints, stripes, ombre and frayed edges, fringe or tassels — like the Anthropologie Striped & Checked Scarf by Shiraleah ($68) or Target Women's Crinkle Scarf by A New Day ($15) — to make the twists and draping fresh each time. Or just collect infinity scarves — like the Ann Taylor Leopard Infinity Scarf ($35) — and make a wrap a snap.
A narrow belt
A slim half-inch belt is all function and flattery. Add it to dresses, long slim sweaters, tunics and popover blouses to define or suggest a waist without crowding your torso or bosom. It gives structured jackets, suits and coats an instant makeover. Stock up on leather (real or faux), metallic, snakeskin, sparkle, suede and animal-print versions like the Banana Republic Leather Skinny Belt ($38) and the White House Black Market Black Skinny Micro Exotic Belt ($39).
A jeans belt
A simple one-inch leather belt with a classic silver or gold buckle fits through loops and adds panache to all your jeans — from black ankle-cropped straight leg to vintage-wash boyfriends. Choose black or tan in sync with your everyday bag and boots — like the Loft Modern Leather Belt ($40) or Gap Grommet Leather Belt ($30) — for a sophisticated, thought-through effect. Watch the length. It should buckle to fit at several spots (the waist, just below and a tiny bit below that) for maximum versatility.
Simple pearl or cubic zirconia studs on posts are OK but have lost their fizz. Time to update with multistones like the Banana Republic Aligned Marquise Asymmetric Studs ($28) or the Anthropologie Shirley Post Earrings ($38). Try bigger, colorful single stones; an asymmetric design or pairing (one white pearl, one black pearl); or a symbolic shape like pavé stars or bows that reflect your mood.
Big dark sunglasses
Instant glamour and camouflage! Choose a lightweight frame, which won't dent your nose or cheeks, in an aviator, angular or cat-eye shape — like the Madewell Asbury Aviators ($55) or Banana Republic Satya Sunglasses ($98) — to provide definition (and mystery). UV-protected lenses shield eyes from sun damage and keep red, puffy and makeup-free eyes from public view.
For more beauty and style tips for women age 50-plus, check out The Woman's Wakeup: How to Shake Up Your Looks, Life, and Love After 50 by Lois Joy Johnson and AARP's Beauty & Style app for tablets.