Javascript is not enabled.

Javascript must be enabled to use this site. Please enable Javascript in your browser and try again.

Skip to content
Content starts here
CLOSE ×
Search
Leaving AARP.org Website

You are now leaving AARP.org and going to a website that is not operated by AARP. A different privacy policy and terms of service will apply.

10 Clothing Items Shopping Pros Always Buy and Never Return

Wardrobe staples that look stylish and fresh for any season

Woman examining dress in clothing store
Cavan Images/Cavan/Getty Images

Do you check the reviews of shoppers before putting items in your cart? Wonder if whatever you’re buying is too boring or “young” — a fad or fabulous? Do you always look for free shipping and free returns ... just in case? Though women 50-plus have been driving retail fashion’s post-pandemic comeback, complaints about fit, sizing, trendiness and escalating prices are common. As a fashion writer, editor, stylist and personal shopper my job is to know where to find low-cost dupes of high-end items, which styles will work for mature bodies and lifestyles, and what’s really worth it. Here are 10 sure bets to buy, try and never get stuck with again.

1. A black statement bag

(Left to right) Poppy Women’s Classic Quilted Leather Handbag in Black; Area Stars Fringe Faux Leather Hobo Bag in Black; Mango Croc-Effect Bag in Black
(Left to right) Poppy Women’s Classic Quilted Leather Handbag in Black; Area Stars Fringe Faux Leather Hobo Bag in Black; Mango Croc-Effect Bag in Black
Walmart; Nordstrom; Mango

Ask any fashionista or influencer for her dream bag. The answer will be a black Chanel, Hermes Kelly or some other instantly recognizable but unaffordable choice for most mortals (even on consignment). However, sift through the endless barrage of more moderately priced hobos, satchels and crossbody purses, and you’ll find pure gold. Low-cost faux leather bags with the look of a big-deal designer find — as well as personalized details like quilted or embossed finishes and lavish helpings of chains and fringe — do exist. They’re the ones pros snap up two at a time. Buy it in goes-with-everything and looks-more-expensive black like the Mango Croc-Effect Bag in Black ($80, shop.mango.com), the Poppy Women’s Classic Quilted Leather Handbag in Black ($35, walmart.com) or the Area Stars Fringe Faux Leather Hobo Bag in Black ($98, nordstrom.com).

member card

AARP Membership — $12 for your first year when you sign up for Automatic Renewal

Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP the Magazine.

Join Now

2. A fresh, basic black sweater

(Left to right) Old Navy Textured-Knit Tunic Sweater for Women in Black Jack; Quince Mongolian Cashmere V-Neck Sweater in Black; Treasure & Bond Plus Drop Shoulder V-Neck Sweater in Black
(Left to right) Old Navy Textured-Knit Tunic Sweater for Women in Black Jack; Quince Mongolian Cashmere V-Neck Sweater in Black; Treasure & Bond Plus Drop Shoulder V-Neck Sweater in Black
Old Navy; Quince; Nordstrom

Some women prefer a neck-lengthening V, others a cozy cowl or a hip-friendly tunic length. But regardless of style, every woman loves a new black sweater. Whether cotton or cashmere, it kicks off the season sans pills or pulls and makes you feel sophisticated day or night. You can’t have too many. Choose a relaxed crew like the Old Navy Textured-Knit Tunic Sweater for Women in Black Jack ($40, oldnavy.gap.com), a V like the Treasure & Bond Plus Drop Shoulder V-Neck Sweater in Black ($59, nordstrom.com) or the Quince Mongolian Cashmere V-Neck Sweater in Black ($50, onequince.com). Manipulate the fit yourself. Too snug? Go up a size for a contemporary look.

3. A classic white button-front shirt

(Left to right) Sexy Dance Oversized Linen Button Down Blouse in A-White; Gap Women’s Perfect Shirt in Optic White; Eileen Fisher X Linen Button Front Shirt in White
(Left to right) Sexy Dance Oversized Linen Button Down Blouse in A-White; Gap Women’s Perfect Shirt in Optic White; Eileen Fisher X Linen Button Front Shirt in White
Walmart; Gap; Bloomingdale's

Sound boring? Well, it’s one of the most indispensable style-makers around, freshening a dull, fatigued complexion and brightening an all-black wardrobe stat. It’s the what-to-wear solution for last-minute work meetings (just add black pants!), dinner out (add jeans or make like Sharon Stone at the Oscars and add any skirt) or when your closet feels too cluttered with tees. Look for a soft woven fabric but a crisp shape like the Gap Women’s Perfect Shirt in Optic White ($50, gap.com), or go with a roomy linen version like the Sexy Dance Oversized Linen Button Down Blouse in A-White ($23, walmart.com) or Eileen Fisher X Linen Button Front Shirt in White ($158, bloomingdales.com). And yes, linen is now a year-round thing.

4. A pull-on skirt in a neutral color

(Left to right) Anne Klein Women’s Pull-On Faux Leather Skimmer Skirt in Black; The Get Women’s Faux Leather Midi Skirt in Anthracite; Liz Claiborne Women’s Midi A-line Skirt in Charcoal
(Left to right) Anne Klein Women’s Pull-On Faux Leather Skimmer Skirt in Black; The Get Women’s Faux Leather Midi Skirt in Anthracite; Liz Claiborne Women’s Midi A-line Skirt in Charcoal
Macy's; Walmart; JCPenney

This is the pros’ big secret to avoiding fit issues. There's nothing like an elastic waist to make extra pounds and bloat disappear and give sweaters and untucked tops a fashionable base. Give your zip-ups to Goodwill and invest in a comfy but refined A-line style like The Get Women’s Faux Leather Midi Skirt in Anthracite ($32, walmart.com), a knit like the Liz Claiborne Women’s Midi A-line Skirt in Charcoal or Taupe ($44, jcpenney.com), or an updated relaxed pencil style like the Anne Klein Women’s Pull-On Faux Leather Skimmer Skirt in Black ($99, macys.com).

Entertainment

AARP Members Only Access to Special Entertainment Content

Access curated AARP entertainment articles, essays, videos, films and more

See more Entertainment offers >

5. An everywhere, anytime dress

(Left to right) River Island Plus Tori Long Sleeve Shirtdress in Black; H&M Women’s Dress with Tie Belt in Cream/Zebra-Print; Alex Mill Jardin Shirt Dress in Bay Leaf
(Left to right) River Island Plus Tori Long Sleeve Shirtdress in Black; H&M Women’s Dress with Tie Belt in Cream/Zebra-Print; Alex Mill Jardin Shirt Dress in Bay Leaf
Nordstrom; H&M; Alex Mill

Remember the little black dress? Well, it has grown into a modern, seasonless, multitasking midi that works with flats, boots or sandals solo or layered up. The ones to look for have some sort of sleeve, a V or button-front neckline, optional waist tie or belt for body definition, and a length that lets you sit and stride. Choose a print like the River Island Plus Tori Long Sleeve Shirtdress in Black ($88, nordstrom.com) or H&M Women’s Dress with Tie Belt in Cream/Zebra-Print ($35, www2.hm.com/en_us), or a solid neutral like the Alex Mill Jardin Shirt Dress in Bay Leaf or Dark Navy ($188, alexmill.com). It’s a virtual wardrobe on a single hanger.

6. Smart-looking loafers and mules

(Clockwise from top left) A New Day Women’s Kiki Mules in Black; Naturalizer Kayden Mule in Cognac; Sam Edelman Loraine Bit Loafer in Emerald
(Clockwise from top left) A New Day Women’s Kiki Mules in Black; Naturalizer Kayden Mule in Cognac; Sam Edelman Loraine Bit Loafer in Emerald
Target; DSW; Nordstrom

Once those Gucci loafers and mules hit the fashion scene, there was no turning back. Stylists regularly snap up lookalikes of these classic and classy shoes for celeb clients — and themselves. Key ingredients to look for are a refined shape and some hardware at the instep, but the color choice is all yours. For the richest effect stick to neutrals like black and tan such as the A New Day Women’s Kiki Mules in Black ($30, target.com) or Naturalizer Kayden Mule in Cognac or Black ($70, dsw.com/en/us), though a deep green like the Sam Edelman Loraine Bit Loafer in Emerald ($150, nordstrom.com) can add a welcome pop of posh color for fall.

membership-card-w-shadow-192x134

AARP Membership — $12 for your first year when you sign up for Automatic Renewal

Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP the Magazine.

7. An animal-print blouse

(Left to right) Vince Camuto Elegant Leopard V-Neck Top; Loft Tiger Print Everyday Shirt in Whisper White; Big Dart Long Sleeve Button Down Blouse in Leopard Print
(Left to right) Vince Camuto Elegant Leopard V-Neck Top; Loft Tiger Print Everyday Shirt in Whisper White; Big Dart Long Sleeve Button Down Blouse in Leopard Print
Bloomingdale's; Loft; Amazon

A tiger- or spotty leopard- or cheetah-inspired print is not an everyday item, but it is one you’ll reach for time and again. What makes these tops so versatile is the combo of bold print; clean, unfussy silhouette (skip the frills); and neutral colors. Look for a collared button-down like the Loft Tiger Print Everyday Shirt in Whisper White ($65, loft.com) or Big Dart Long Sleeve Button Down Blouse in Leopard Print (starting at $19, amazon.com) to pull together an urban day look fast, and choose a dressier flowy V-neck like the Vince Camuto Elegant Leopard V-Neck Top ($79, bloomingdales.com) for evening.

8. A knit blazer

(Left to right) Madewell Brushed Knit Redford Blazer in Houndstooth Check in True Black; J.Crew Cecile Relaxed Sweater-Blazer in Hthr Khaki; Bryant Ponte Double Breasted Blazer in Navy
(Left to right) Madewell Brushed Knit Redford Blazer in Houndstooth Check in True Black; J.Crew Cecile Relaxed Sweater-Blazer in Hthr Khaki; Bryant Ponte Double Breasted Blazer in Navy
Madewell; J.Crew; Lane Bryant

Tailored blazers and their structured shape will never go out of style. Whether single- or double-breasted, cut straight or slightly nipped at the waist, body-skimming or oversized, this notched-collar favorite is always on the to-buy list. But buying and wearing are two different things. Fashion-relaxed pros have now started looking for softer versions of the blazer in substantial ponte or sweater knits. The ones to snag are comfy but shapely updates like the Bryant Ponte Double Breasted Blazer in Navy ($100, lanebryant.com), J.Crew Cecile Relaxed Sweater-Blazer in Hthr Khaki, Navy or Hthr Walnut ($168, jcrew.com) or Madewell Brushed Knit Redford Blazer in Houndstooth Check in True Black ($128, madewell.com).

9. Black straight ankle jeans

(Left to right) Everlane The ’90s Cheeky Jean in Washed Black; Gloria Vanderbilt Plus-Size Amanda Short-Length Jeans in Black; Chico’s Boyfriend Ankle Jeans in Deep Water Wash
(Left to right) Everlane The ’90s Cheeky Jean in Washed Black; Gloria Vanderbilt Plus-Size Amanda Short-Length Jeans in Black; Chico’s Boyfriend Ankle Jeans in Deep Water Wash
Everlane; Macy's; Chico's

Pros know these are the stand-in for black pants if you’re a jeans lover, and for leggings and joggers if you’re so casual that pants have disappeared from your wardrobe. Look for a pair that is nonclingy (stay away from skinny styles) and structured enough to hold you in — so they manage to look edgy and understated while pairing easily with tailored jackets and more polished tops. Try styles like the Chico’s Boyfriend Ankle Jeans in Deep Water Wash ($90, chicos.com), the Everlane The 90s Cheeky Jean in Washed Black ($108, everlane.com) or the Gloria Vanderbilt Plus-Size Amanda Short-Length Jeans in Black ($52, macys.com). The key is to choose a pair in your favorite brand for a familiar fit.

10. Striped tees and sweaters

(Left to right) L.L.Bean Women’s Signature Wool-Blend Sweater, Pullover in Sailcloth Stripe; & Other Stories Relaxed Collared Sweater in White Stripes; Aqua Cashmere Stripe Quarter Zip Cashmere Sweater in Peacoat/Ivory; Talbots Women’s Plus Authentic Talbots Bateau Neck Tee — Palm Stripe in Sandcastle Multi
(Left to right) L.L.Bean Women’s Signature Wool-Blend Sweater, Pullover; & Other Stories Relaxed Collared Sweater; Aqua Cashmere Stripe Quarter Zip Cashmere Sweater; Talbots Women’s Plus Authentic Talbots Bateau Neck Tee — Palm Stripe
L.L.Bean; & Other Stories; Bloomingdale's; Talbots

The allure of stripes is an easy-to-acquire habit. Once you start it’s almost impossible to stop collecting everything from boat-necked tees to button-down shirts and chunky sweaters — all embellished with horizontal bands of color. Fashion editors always use the phrases “French-inspired” or Breton to describe these pieces, but actually one needs look no further than our own American flag and preppy collegiate history to get the hang of it. Timeless and chic, they’re just about the best friend your jeans can have. Choose a sporty sweater like the & Other Stories Relaxed Collared Sweater in White Stripes ($89, stories.com/en_usd), Aqua Cashmere Stripe Quarter Zip Cashmere Sweater in Peacoat/Ivory ($198, bloomingdales.com) or L.L.Bean Women’s Signature Wool-Blend Sweater, Pullover in Sailcloth Stripe or Navy Stripe ($129, llbean.com), or go for a tee like the Talbots Women’s Plus Authentic Talbots Bateau Neck Tee — Palm Stripe in Sandcastle Multi ($75, talbots.com).

My final word: Hurry! These 10 items are most frequently marked out of stock or wait-listed, so shop early in the season to avoid disappointment or just scoop them up whenever spotted on sale.