Whether it’s in a client’s closet or on a thread in our forum, as a fashion stylist I am often in the position where I have to decide whether an item is dated. In this situation the so-called “timeless items” are the most interesting because in reality there is no such thing as a truly timeless style. When we say something is timeless, what we really mean is that the style’s longevity is high. But the degree of longevity will vary. Put differently, “timeless” has an expiry date and that expiry date varies according to the specific style or item we are talking about. 

Timeless items are most often classics, vintage items, avant-garde items or iconic items. Here are my loose guidelines for thinking about their longevity.

Classics need to be updated to Modern Classics 

Items like tailored button down shirts, basic pencil skirts, classic trousers, bootcut jeans, biker jackets, Burberry-esque trench coats, tailored blazers, fitted turtleneck pullovers, pumps, single breasted wool coats, peacoats, striped T-shirts, sheath dresses, cashmere sweaters, ballet flats and flat riding boots are considered timeless inasmuch as they are always in style. Yet the actual silhouette, length and fabrication of these items can absolutely look dated after a time.

Updating these “timeless” pieces to “modern timeless” pieces is therefore essential. In my book, having a great sense of style means incorporating a certain amount of “now” into your look. That’s why classic items have to reflect the prevailing fashion era in order to be fab. 

Vintage items are timeless when worn with a big dose of Modern 

When we go back far enough in time, certain exceptionally well designed wardrobe items that are decades old are timeless when they are worn with an on-trend support act. After all, retro items are thought of as uber cool.

For example, a vintage flared ’50s skirt can look fabulous with a trendy leather jacket and shooties. A ’60s mod dress is great over a pair of skinny jeans and animal print pumps. A clutch handbag from the ’40s is stunning with a pair of trendy leather pants and modern classic button down shirt. A knee-length ’70s leather jacket is smashing over a drapey patterned dress. And wearing antique jewelry with modern classic separates is another great pairing. 

Avant-Garde items are often timeless

Avant-garde items are eccentric to the point that they could fit into any fashion era. People wearing them update their look decade after decade by keeping the support act either modern classic or very on trend.

Iconic items have the most longevity

Finally, there are items that just don’t date, even after many decades. They are as in style now as they were 50 years ago and look exactly the same today as they did back then. The public keeps buying them so there was no need to redesign. No need to fix something that wasn’t broken. These items are “iconic” because they are extremely recognizable, worn by a wide spectrum of age groups, and in many cases sported by both women and men. The original Dr. Martens lace up boot, Ray-Ban Wayfarers, Chuck Taylor Converse sneakers, Gucci loafers, the Chanel 2.55 handbag, studded diamond and pearl earrings are examples that spring to mind.

So things aren’t as simple as just investing in a so-called timeless item and leaving it at that. Even timeless items have an expiry date. The good news is that there are many classic, vintage, avant-garde and iconic items that will serve us for a very long time.