Updating a summer wardrobe with classic styles

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

How would you like to own a classic summer wardrobe or update what's already in your closet? And do it all on a minibudget? It's possible, provided you have time to shop for bargains and an awareness of how to choose classics.

Consider some of the basics that make up a smart-looking wardrobe. Watch for:

Jackets. A white jacket is a good choice. It will team with dresses, skirts, and pants. Jackets, unlined or lined, are available in cotton, which is washable , and pure linen, which must be dry-cleaned. Classic styles include the traditional blazer (my favorite), plus box and fitted versions.

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If the jacket is free of frills, all the better. It will look more expensive. Be sure to check the shoulder pads. Anything exaggerated is trendy and won't serve you well. Remember, white is the kindest color in the fashion spectrum. It lends a shimmering quality to the skin. (To wear an all-white outfit, one should be trim.) Consider $30 or under a bargain for a summer jacket.

Skirts. A skirt is another wise choice. Classic styles include those that are straight (button-down or not), dirndl, wrap, and A-line. The newest skirts are in bright fashion colors. Sears has a grouping of separate coordinating sportswear that can be mixed or matched. Regular price tags on the jackets are $ 30; skirts, $20; pants, $20; and print shirts, $16. (Watch for sales on these items.)

Dresses. A classic one- or two-piece dress is always a good addition to the wardrobe. Whether the dress is print or solid, the less ornamentation, the better. If the dress has a self-belt, you might want to replace it with something smarter looking. The same applies to the buttons. (These small changes can make an inexpensive dress look expensive.)

I found multicolored plaid separates by Liz Claiborne at Hit or Miss. Worn together, they look like a dress. The blouson top was $32 and the dirndl skirt, blouse with white pants and a white skirt. You might want to buy something more subdued. For example, a black cotton knit is ideal for both day and evening. If it comes with its own jacket, you're ahead of the game.

Pants. Pants done with the traditional straight leg are the best bet. These classics are versatile - especially in white - and take to almost any top.

Sweaters. A short-sleeve or sleeveless sweater in a fine cotton will serve you well. It will look attractive when worn over a skirt or pants and belted. I bought a white sleeveless sweater for $10 at one of those small stores featuring irregulars. (I wasn't able to find anything wrong with it.) Some of the newest sweaters are done in soft pastels.

Blouses. The most popular blouses are the romantic-looking ones that are trimmed with lace or eyelet. I spotted a pretty white blouse with lace front at Woolworth's for $9. It was the type of blouse that could be worn alone or under a jacket.

T-shirts. Cotton T-shirts are fast becoming summer classics. They're available in everyday cotton as well as pure silk. (Jackie Onassis has more than 50 T's in silk. And well-knowns such as Candice Bergen, Ali MacGraw, and Lauren Hutton also have collections of them, designed by Zoran.) T's look great under casual jackets and when worn with pants.

Shoes. Basic shoes for summer range from espadrilles to classic pumps to sandals. I noticed that Chandler's is offering espadrilles at $14.99. (Designer Perry Ellis showed only espadrilles with his spring-summer fashions.) While all heel heights are ''in,'' the high heels (3 1/2 inches) are fast becoming best sellers.

Handbags. Handbags - especially the straws - can be short-lived, so it doesn't make sense to pay a lot for them. I buy my summer bags at Woolworth's. My most recent purchase was a leatherlike white shoulder bag at $9.99. Clutches and some of the versions with handles are about $7.

The number of items you need in your wardrobe depends on your style of life and what's already in your closet. But remember, if you want to look well dressed, stick to the classics. They work year after year.

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