Accessories: They Can Make or Break an Outfit

You can wear beautiful clothes every day, but you'll find that accessories can really make an outfit shine. Here's what to get and how to wear it.
Anna Wintour, accessories, sunglasses, Lob hairstyle

There’s a showstopper of an earring by Alexander McQueen that’s been popping up in magazines over the last few months. It features a giant silver orchid ($1490) that drops from a stem attached to the ear and falls past the collarbone in an explosion of ruffles and petals. So dazzling is this piece that I can’t recall a single thing about who was wearing it and with what.

Granted, you might not get much wear from it… ‘Oh, that thing again,’ people will whisper after the fourth or fifth time out – though it’s a fine piece if you’re traveling and always finding a new audience.

More wearable is the orchid necklace, oversized as well, that would be glorious peeping out from an open-neck silk top or cashmere sweater ($4590, but what price is fabulous?). A ring completes the collection at $1390, though we can hardly advise wearing all three at the same time. Unless you’re in Dallas. Or Vegas.

These are just the kind of spectacular pieces you should gather to flesh out your wardrobe. We are assuming that you’ve pared your closet back to basics – including only what makes you look and feel terrific – that you can pair the this and the that with the that and the this endlessly, always perfectly turned out for any occasion, from the office to a gala, to pizza and a movie… once you’ve brushed off the dog hair.

If you’ve done this ruthlessly and well, you’re probably left without much in the closet. In fact, you might find your refined collection of flattering basics, things that can be worn in endless combinations for decades, pretty boring. Tasteful, beautiful, but without much character – intentionally. 

What happened to girls just wanna have fun?

Wait! What you’ve got left is the perfect backdrop for embellishments, from jewelry to shoes, scarves, hats, jackets, handbags, even stockings or socks.

It’s also the perfect backdrop for colors you might be wary of buying as basics but still love. Say, chrome yellow or lime green, which are often hard to wear. Try a pair of wildly colored gloves with a basic black topcoat; I wear red leather with mine, while the idea of a red sweater gives me hives.

Or, consider a signature look. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was known for her collection of brooches, Vogue Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour for covering her face with sunglasses (would you recognize her without them?), and designing woman Iris Apfel, who stays in shape at 102 lifting armloads of bangles and a neck load of enormous beads. My friend Maggie has what she calls a black blaze streaking across the top of her cropped, mostly white hair. She’s unmistakable.

Ideas? As the holidays approach, find interesting bits and baubles at craft shows or poke about for vintage items in “antiques “and thrift shops  (somewhere, there’s another Renoir in hiding). In the meantime, here’s a selection of accessories from the wonderful to the bizarre, a jumping-off point for displaying or discovering your personal style.


Hermès has been the first name in Parisian scarves and accessories since 1837, with a haute equestrian look that predates Ralph Lauren by more than 125 years. Their heavy silk hand-rolled scarves in divine colors, like the Planifleurs 90, are passed down for generations. Visit the website for ways to wear it. $510.

Echo is another old-timer with a deserved reputation for exceptional quality and fabulous color, like the Fantastica 36″ Silk Square that’s so dazzling it would be a shame to stick it in a drawer. $159.

 To bring out your inner big cat, loop this leopard chiffon scarf from Walmart around your neck and prowl. I keep getting shocked by the stuff I find at this big box store; someone there has an eye. $4.29. You read that right.


Just a gorgeous pair of handmade-in-Italy cashmere-lined red lambskin gloves from Fratelli Orsini. Also available in 5 other colors for $99. For $10 more, make them touchscreen compatible.

Totally impractical but irresistible (I mean, I’ve gotta have these, for what I don’t know) black feathered lace fingerless gauntlets from Amazon. Oh, right, the copy says Halloween. An excuse! In 25 color combinations. $22.99.  

It’s a glove! It’s a bag! It’s the Dolly Glove Leather Tote by Balenciaga at Bergdorf Goodman. At $4,290, chances are very, very good that you won’t see anyone else with it. An installment plan is available.


Nothing says power like a pair of cuffs. Elsa Perretti’s Bone Cuffs for Tiffany are timeless, sinuous, elegant, and sexy. $1850, but double that for two, and you need the full Wonder Woman effect. Also available in gold, rose gold, and blackened copper (good for arthritis).

Or, stack a dozen narrow sterling silver cuffs, or wear just one. $32. On Etsy, where you can get lost for hours.

Trust me. No one will notice your extra chin when you have on a Bulgari necklace that intertwines amethyst, citrine, rubellite, blue topaz,  and pink quartz with rose gold, dazzling diamonds, and green tourmaline inserts. This one’s price falls under the category of…if you have to ask…

Another fine distractor is the pomegranate pink Poppy Scarf-Necklace by Mignonne Gavigan at Anthropology. $575.

On another hand, 2,582 buyers love Amazon’s Bib Statement Necklace, 100% glass crystals in 8 color combinations for $14.90. Given the price point, I’d suggest you reserve it for candlelit evenings.  


If you’ve got it, flaunt it. Try this scalloped leather corset belt with a silk shirt and palazzo pants (I consider them basics). Available in noir only (if it’s under a grand, they call it black). $1350. At Saks Fifth Avenue.

Too much of a budget buster? Try this lacy black corset belt from Amazon. $14.99.

I love the louche look of this Michael Kors double buckle suede belt. It reminds me of one I had in the 70’s, a true signature piece in mocha only. Neiman Marcus. $795.


I don’t know when moto jackets became such a thing, but these shorties go over everything from day to evening, adding a touch of cool. The slightly rumpled Mauritius Wild Moto Leather Jacket from Shepler’s Western Wear reminds me of a softened stick of butter. Just delicious. $298.

Dusters are also huge, with good reason – they’re a fling-it-on-and-go piece that looks so insouciant on a breezy autumn afternoon. Like this color block knit number at Nordstrom, it’s fantastic over a solid black, gray, white, or tan ensemble. $115.  

And one last thing, a giddy piece that Anthropology calls a kimono, in ballet slipper pink or beige, this sweater jacket is shaggy with fringe and just the icing you need atop a pair of jeans, a pencil skirt, or a slip of an evening dress. Oh, mama, how cool are you? $120.

More Accessories we’re loving:

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