It has long been the traditional European woman's way of buying clothes: selecting just a few items each season and wearing them often as interchangeable parts.
With the increased cost of clothing putting a dent in already bruised budgets, such well-planned buying has become essential at every income level. But since the formula calls for a very few -- in this case just five new pieces of clothing -- each purchase must be well thought out. There's no room for errors.
Here is our minimal wardrobe of five easy pieces, appropriate for everything except, perhaps, jogging or a grand ball:
Chanel-type suit (cardigan jacket and skirt).
Silk print blouse and matching skirt.
Some coordinating color and fabric suggestions:
Red suit, silk (or silk-like) skirt and blouse in navy with a small red design; long navy moire skirt.
White suit, with red and navy print blouse and skirt; navy long skirt.
Navy suit, with red and navy print; navy long skirt.
Or the same idea, using black and red.
If you already own well-cut navy or black trousers, or a favorite navy or black pleated skirt, your wardrobe could be extended still further. (Bear in mind what you already have in your closet when deciding on your color "theme.")
The price of this style of dressing is, of course, wide-ranging. For couture versions, you could pay $3,000 and up for the real Paris Chanel suit; $900 or more for Adolfo's in New York; $500 for matching silk blouse and skirt.
Or, you could get a Chanel-style knitted suit for $150, and silk blouse and skirt for $90.
And finally, if you can sew, you could make the suit, silk blouse and skirt and long taffeta skirt for a total of about $125.
Women experienced in this kind of thoughtful shopping tend to price up to better quality -- even beyond their usual maximums.
Says one Adolfo faithful in Washington, "When I buy these four or five pieces I ask myself -- do I like this enough to wear the rest of my life? Cause chances are, if I pay this much I will have to. And if I choose well enough, I will want to."