Accessories can become their own little shopping rabbit hole. They’re generally fairly cheap (and can certainly be thrifted for pennies), relatively small, and can often be rationalized when clothing and shoes cannot. It can be tough to predict which items will become versatile staples, and which ones will be abandoned after a few wears. Especially since accessories are often the sartorial realm in which we branch out: We may not dress like a rocker head-to-toe, but the occasional tough-edged accessory may work its way into regular wear.
As usual, I’m not claiming to have a foolproof method for vetting accessories. But I’d like to share a few observations I’ve made as I’ve built my own collection, and offer a few ideas to mull for anyone considering a new accessory purchase.
Is it color and genre neutral?
I have lots of bracelets, including some funky thrifted bangles in an assortment of bold colors. But the ones that get the most wear are pictured here. They’re all silver or silver and black, which means they work with the vast majority of my clothing, and they’re all capable of working across a variety of outfit styles. Undeniably neutral accessories are best as finishing touches: Items that add polish and interest but don’t serve as points of specific interest or bridging pieces. In my case, that means bracelets, earrings, sunglasses, and sometimes tights.
Or, on the flip side, does it include multiple colors?
When it comes to scarves, though, I take a completely different tactic. I generally use scarves either as focal points, or as jumping-off points for interesting color schemes. Therefore, I find multicolored, printed scarves to be my most used and most versatile. Since they’ve got lots of tonal options within a single piece, they can jump from outfit to outfit and genre to genre with ease. Multicolored bags, belts, and necklaces have also proven versatile for me, though shoes, earrings, and bracelets seem harder to incorporate.
Does it fall into an aspirational genre?
OK, this is by far the riskiest pre-purchase quiz question. As I mentioned above, accessories provide a great way to dabble. Maybe you can’t wear full romantic garb to the office, corset and all. But you can certainly wear a locket or a silk sash. Preppy may not be your thing overall, but you can certainly do pearls and structured handbags with your non-prep wear. I’m no punk, no rocker, no badass … but this studded belt has proven itself to be a surprisingly versatile item. In my experience, accessories that fall into aspirational genres are best when they’re fairly small – belts and jewelry as opposed to bags and hats. But that’s just me.
In fact, ALL of this is just me. I’m very eager to hear how my observations line up with your own experiences … or if they don’t! Can you spot a versatile accessory from afar? Predict which ones will work across a wide variety of outfits? Any universals you’d care to share with the rest of us? Or are accessories too personal to generalize?