Is there a more perfect style combination than modern and classic? The two seem to contradict each other when in fact they can complement each other quite well if done correctly. I’ve been in love with this style for years and have studied countless women who have mastered it.
Modern classic style is a niche fashion style that mixes the principles of classic feminine style with a modern touch so that it does not look dated. The result is elegant and sophisticated outfits with an emphasis on quality rather than fashion trends.
Not only is this style timeless and versatile but it will also make you more autonomous with your personal style as you won’t have to rely on the latest trends to feel fashionable. I think we can all agree, the goal of fashion is to look great and feel great so why not develop a sense of style that will help you look and feel great for years to come no matter what.
This style is mostly used in Europe and the UK and is starting to gain popularity in North America for women who are seeking sophisticated yet feminine outfit ideas that can stand the test of time. It doesn’t mean you have to fill your wardrobe with top designer clothes, but rather focuses on authenticity and comfort so here are some principles that can help you achieve this effortlessly sophisticated look.
How to dress in a modern classic style?
To achieve a modern classic style in your wardrobe it’s important to create a good foundation of wardrobe staples with classic silhouettes, necklines, hemlines, colors and textures that are versatile as well as long-lasting. This style really emphasizes signature pieces over trendier fast fashion clothing, polished and clean make-up and hairstyles and tasteful quality accessories. It’s important to be attentive to your own body type and what compliments you in terms of proportion, color and fit.
11 Rules To Master Modern Classic Style
1. Diversify your basics
The number one rule of the modern classic style is pairing high-quality basics really well. To amplify this even more, it’s a good idea to diversify your basics with different shapes (necklines, proportions, cut etc.), fits and materials. Not only does this allow you to create more outfits with less items of clothing but it helps your outfits to look different from one another, keeping them fresh and interesting.
To do this, focus on a few core neutral colours like white, black, beige and grey. Then try to find some basic pieces that have different necklines, different silhouettes like loose or fitted, and different fabric like silk, cotton or synthetic.
One thing to avoid when trying to master the modern classic style is avoiding patterns and materials that could be dated or unconventional. Stick with a diverse range of staples in a limited color palette so you can mix and match with ease.
Modern classic wardrobe staples:
- A loose white button down– I focus on high-quality fabrics like 100% pure cotton or silk to show a more refined taste.
- Palazzo trousers – One of my favourite ways to elongate your figure when paired with heels, you can choose linen, cotton or polyester or you could just choose to diversify by having a range of core colors.
- High-waisted skirts – It could be loose and floaty, form fitted like pencil skirts or more hefty materials like genuine leather, there are so many ways to rock this one.
- Turtleneck sweaters – Audrey Hepburn was onto something! Turtlenecks are an easy and sophisticated layering piece
- Little black dress – This is an obvious one but it can be done in so many ways according to the season so always and great piece to invest in.
- Blazers – You can choose fitted or oversized
- Simple gold jewelry – I absolutely adore fine jewelry that can be worn every day without fail – focus on a good set of rings, maybe the perfect necklace stack or dainty earrings with beautiful detail.
- Classic heels – a selection of open and closed-toe heels in a few basic neutral colours will help to elevate the most of your modern classic outfits.
- Knee-length wool coat – Merino wool is fantastic and you can find it in many different colours, you don’t need to diversify too much in terms of the shape here as it’s a more practical piece.
It goes without saying that some wardrobe staples or their materials might not be suitable for all climates so it’s important to assess your own needs and adapt them accordingly. Your lifestyle is also an important factor to consider. If you’re a busy mother for example you might want to go for a classic loafer rather than a stiletto.
2. Be particular about fast fashion clothing
You do not have to avoid fast fashion brands completely. In fact, if you are particular about the quality of clothing you purchase from them then it can actually work to your advantage as these brands are constantly working to create more relevant takes on stable pieces.
Fast fashion clothing is usually not as long-lasting as more specialised brands but that doesn’t mean you can’t find something great that’s tailored to your needs. Stay away from the trendier items and go for more classic styles, check out the label to assess the fabric, and make sure to fit it on and get a closer look at the seams.
Zara blazers are pretty well made for example and they usually stock more neutral colours so, being able to save in one area will allow you to invest a bit more in the area that you prefer, like lingerie, accessories, shirts or shoes for example.
3. Play with fit and form
A poorly fit garment can make an outfit look instantly messy or dated. For the modern classic look you will want to find a balance between loose and tailored to achieve the maximum effect. Notice I’m not using the words baggy or oversized because you really want to focus on looking casual and comfortable while at the same time, very put together.
You can also contrast different fits, in the outfit below, you can see I’m wearing a more fitted trouser with a loose and comfortable cardigan so the outfit feels relaxed but sophisticated. The sweater is loose but not oversized and partially tucked in, while the pants are more form fitting around the waist with a straight leg. Keeping the palette monochrome helps elevate this outfit as well and helps maintain that classic vibe.
This outfit would not work as well if I chose loose fitting pants as it wouldn’t look particularly clean or contemporary, and we want to avoid that as much as possible.
4. Use trends to punctuate
Trends come and go every season and some are definitely more flamboyant than others. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun with trends when you want to dress in a modern classic way. The best way to incorporate trends is to adapt them in a moderate way into your style.
Don’t try to adapt every trend, just one or two of your favourite ones is enough to have fun with your outfits and also keep them looking on the modern side and not outdated.
For instance, if you love the sorbet colors that are trending this season, you can opt for a more pastel shade of it so that it won’t clash with the majority of your wardrobe and will be easier to mix and match. Try to avoid mixing more than one trend in order to stay as close to the modern classic style as possible.
Below you can see how some trends can be styled both with a modern classic look and with a trendy approach.
However, try to stay away from fast fashion trendy clothing. The trendy items at these stores tend to be lower-quality so that the brand can make a profit season after season. There are more high-quality brands that also pay attention to what is trending, but they create garments that are higher-quality and less likely to be worn by everyone which will help to set your style apart from the crowds.
4. Learn how to combine the right fabrics
The modern classic style pays just as much attention to the actual material of the clothing as the pattern or color of it. It’s another way to develop and express your taste. By combining beautiful fabrics that compliment or contrast each other you will play with the balance of modern and classic.
If you want to learn about how to combine fabrics, you will find some great examples here: Great fabrics combinations for timeless and elegant outfits. Denim, cotton, leather, and suede are some of the most basic fabrics to look out for your wardrobe staples that work really well with other textures.
Try to invest in natural fibre fabrics when you can. Fabrics made from animal or plant materials like genuine leather or good quality cotton are usually better than synthetic fabrics in terms of how they fit on the body, durability and breathability too.
5. Avoid logomania
Usually I always say that there is nothing wrong with a bit of both loud and more quiet luxury items but for the modern classic style it’s really important to channel those classy, expensive vibes through the clothing and quality accessories rather than an overtly branded item.
A very obviously branded item comes across as slightly overbearing and can distract from the authenticity that the modern classic style hinges on, undoing all of your efforts through the other steps. Try to select forever classic luxury items that are more discrete and understated. They’re just as much an investment piece as logo branded items but they are much more versatile and will stand the test of time much longer.
Unfortunately, logo items have become so popular that some women rely too much on them to elevate their style, while neglecting other aspects of their outfit. That’s not to say that this is the case for all women who wear branded products but if you’re trying to achieve the modern classic style then opt for more understated designer goods.
6. Refine and express good taste through accessories
Accessories are what I like to invest in the most as I view and treat them like works of art that are carefully chosen in line with my own personal taste. Shoes, bags, belts, gloves, jewelry, hats, sometimes these items can take your outfit to a whole other level and it’s one of the best ways to make your outfits unique to you within the modern classic style.
Having a few, high-quality accessories like a watch, gold or silver jewelry, and black handbag will be super helpful on your way to building a modern classic wardrobe. If you’re just starting out, I would advise you to keep to the more versatile colors that will suit most of your wardrobe. It’s important to say that it is NOT necessary to have a handbag collection with the same net value as a house. You can also find more affordable luxury bags with really beautiful design from an innovative brand with integrity.
Personally, I like to have both affordable and designer bags in my collection which gives me a lot more flexibility to express my own taste and create beautiful modern classic outfits. I cringe when I see a woman wearing a vintage Chanel bag in the rain (not as a judgement) but try to avoid the trap of communicating “wealth and prestige” through your accessories, rather use them as a way to enhance the outfit for the situation/environment you are in.
7. Quality over quantity when it comes to jewelry
Stacking multiple rings and layering five to six necklaces has become a bit of a trend these days, but such a statement does not enhance the modern classic style. If anything it will distract from the rest of your outfit. Try to stick to a few pieces of classic and modern jewelry.
Pearls are also a great option to incorporate that classic vibe and there are some great contemporary jewelry brands that are creating more modern designs. Less is more in terms of statement jewelry with this style but a few simple staple pieces is definitely a great addition to enhance any modern classic look.
If you’re not used to purchasing fine jewelry for yourself and you’re just starting out, check out my guide on how to start your own fine-jewelry collection and is it weird to buy yourself fine jewelry.
8. Learn how to use colour to your advantage
The easiest way to start exploring the modern classic style is building a strong base of neutral colors in your wardrobe. This means blacks, whites, shades of beige/tan/nude, grey, and simple prints. Monochrome outfits have become very trendy recently but the truth is they are here to stay and will always be in style when done well.
However, don’t be afraid to explore color with your outfits, you can also do this in monochrome really well. If you want to experiment with bolder colours, opt for a two piece outfit which will help to keep it looking refined and classic. However, if you plan to mix different colors, try to keep it to two main colors max. This will help to maintain that classic vibe while allowing you more flexibility to diversify your outfits.
9. Signature silhouettes
There are many beautiful classic silhouettes that dominate the modern classic style. However, everyone’s body shape is different and certain silhouettes might not necessarily work for you. So it’s important not to feel forced to achieve a certain modern classic look. The priority is to find a silhouette that works for you and enhances your best features allowing us to feel comfortable and confident like we all should.
Classic silhouettes are usually anchored around the waist but they do not depend on size. The most important thing is to try to create some definition around the waist rather than a straight rectangle shape.
The easiest way to do this is with a belt and it draws visual attention to the waist and divides your outfit in two. However you can also achieve the same effects with clothing proportions or contrasting shapes like a turtle neck with an a-line midi skirt for example.
10. Appreciate history and culture
One of my favourite things about modern classic fashion is that it allows you to look contemporary and stylish while also being in tune with fashion history and the historic and cultural significance behind certain garments and silhouettes. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but good style and especially luxury products is so well respected because it is intricately connected with the history and integrity of long standing brands and businesses that have played a huge role in the fashion industry over the last century.
The most pertinent example is Coco Chanel’s little black dress with a string of pearls. First introduced in Vogue in 1926 and then popularised by Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s in 1961, this look is a timeless classic for when you need a touch of glamour. However, there are many interesting ways to modernise it and incorporate pearls into the outfit.
Another example is the Breton striped shirt. First introduced in 1858 as the uniform for all French navy seamen in Northern France, this shirt has been an important fashion item ever since and was worn regularly by Coco Chanel herself during the first world war at her seaside home in France. Wearing this particular garment especially when at the seaside for those maritime vibes just adds an extra layer of thoughtfulness to your outfit that I just love and is such a clever nod to fashion history.
11. Invest in your unique beauty
Everything from your physical health, mental and emotional health, how you care for your skin, hair and nails and good grooming in general, all contribute to your inner well-being and therefore the beauty that shines on the outside as well. Is there any sense in investing in a wardrobe full of beautiful clothing and accessories if you don’t invest in your best asset, which is yourself?
So whatever investing in your unique beauty means to you, whether that’s a gym membership, tailored skincare, regular counselling sessions, or treating yourself to a spa day on a regular basis, whatever resonates for you should be high on your priority list. Learn how to be kind to yourself because the most important thing about any style is actually enjoying it, and not relying on it completely to mask deeper insecurities which we all have.
The more experience I’ve had exploring my own style the more I’ve realised how enjoyable it is to actually develop a sense of taste and learn how to find clothes that express who you are and who you dream of becoming as well.
The modern classic style is here to stay thanks to it’s timeless and effortlessly chic vibe. It not only makes you look great now but will also look great in years to come when you look back and can adapt easily to different trends or eras as needed as well. I hope you found this helpful. I would love to see how you use the tips in this article to enhance your style so please please tag me on Instagram, Tiktok or Pinterest or you can or send me a message because I would love to see!
About the author
Mish has a Masters in Fine Art and she has an interest in classical design, history and culture. She loves to analyze fashion and style through this lens to help people develop authentic personal style.