my 6 favorite american classic must have’s

what’s your biggest fashion influence?  is it a single person?  an era?  a particular brand?  for my long time followers, you know that at my core, i love American classic women’s style.  preppy all the way to this very day.  but where did it all start?  where did my love affair with that look begin?  over the past few weeks, we’ve taken a few trips down memory lane over here on the blog, while still bringing you new content.   with shelter-in-place orders still in effect, it’s hard not to spend some of the day looking back, and well, smiling.  i thought you might enjoy a little origin story.    

a trip down memory lane

the cornerstone of this blog is classic style. with my love affair beginning innocently enough at the tender age of twelve. i remember it clearly:  a cold, wintry, Saturday afternoon at the movie theater watching Love Story spring to life on the silver screen. movies are a wonderful source of fashion inspiration. this movie is proof. when this blockbuster film burst onto the scene in 1970, it sparked my eternal love with classic American style. oh sure, i was moved to tears with the tragic story. but it was the fashion that caught my attention and my heart. yep. i had fallen in love with every. single. outfit. the young heroine wore.
 
upon returning home that Saturday afternoon, campaign movie theater began. there was no going back i just had to catch another glimpse of those outfits Ali sported in Love Story. nothing would deter me from seeing the movie a second time. not even the loud crescendo of NO that echoed throughout the house. weeks of incessant pestering ensued. please, mother, please! dad? dad? mom! mo-ther? father? papa? daddy? then one day after the last barrage of mommommom released from my lips and my mother was certain the entire neighborhood heard victory was mine. the white flag finally raised by my weary parents. ‘yes, yes, for the love of God, yes you can GO.’ the constant badgering day-in and day-out had paid off. hallelujah!
 
praise the lord. i was on my way back to the movie theater for the second time, which was a pretty big deal back in 1970. way back in the day, we never watched movies twice on the big screen. no, no. we had to wait for reruns on late-night television. and lord only knew how long that would take years and years! but triumph was mine, and i was soon on my way to the indian hills cinema.  i even got a high-five from my big brother as i headed out the door. yep, a fixed parental rule had been broken. but this time, the rule had been broken by me! for years, he’d been doing all the heavy lifting.
 
 
when i arrived at the theater, i took my seat ready to take notes. there was no going back for a third screening.  one-by-one, the outfits sprang to life. i went gaga over Ali’s navy blue pea coat, striped knit scarf, and beanie. i was over the moon with her black turtleneck, plaid wool skirt, and black tights. and those ballet flats? perfection. a belted camelhair coat. plaid scarf. white shirt. knit vest. pointy-toes flats. the list went on and on. but my favorite outfit from Love Story was the outfit she wore working at summer camp. white denim with a graphic black tee. nothing fancy, but boy-oh-boy does it work. it’s classic American style at its best.

to be certain, the American classic look is timeless and trend-proof. at its core, classic American style is all about comfort, tradition, with a little bit of rebellion thrown in for good measure. the all-American look is simple, tailored, exudes a quiet confidence, and is incredibly functional. there’s always a balance between practical and stylish. what’s not to love about a two-button blazer, a favorite pair of blue jeans and loafers? how about a simple white t-shirt with broken-in khakis? both outfits are simplicity in motion. but keeps our style game on course.

beth from Style at a Certain Age travels in style in a pinstripe blazer, white button down, blue jeans, and black slides

so what are the iconic American classic wardrobe essentials? if any, you ask? today, i’m sharing six must-have items that are 100% American that has grown into cult status worldwide. these items proudly hang in my closet, and i love to throw on every chance i get. 

blue jeans

ever since Levi Strauss teamed with Jacob Davis in 1873 and were granted a patent simply titled xx, blue jeans have transformed the way we dress. not only in America but worldwide. how many pairs of blue jeans do you own? and how many times a week do you wear them? at any given time, there are at least a dozen pair sitting on my shelf. and i’m always on the hunt for another great fitting pair.

beth from Style at a Certain Age wears high low St. John sweater, J.Crew blue jeans, Ralph Lauren button down, Sam Edelman espadrilles

boot cut | wide-leg | ankle | boyfriend | skinny 

beth from Style at a Certain Age wears items from Rachel Zoe's Spring Box of Style

beth from Style at a Certain Age wears a tweed jacket from JC Penney, yellow tie blouse, distressed denim and sandals

ray ban wayfarer

this classic sunglass is instantly recognizable and worn by celebrities, musicians, and artists alike. founded in 1952, Ray-Ban was a relatively young company when John F. Kennedy was elected president. if anyone epitomized classic American style, it was this dashing young president (and his lovely young wife). JFK was regularly seen wearing a pair of tortoiseshell sunglasses. many mistakenly claimed these sunglasses were Ray-Bans. and an instant trend was born as people clamored to buy a pair of tortoise shell Wayfarers. funny enough, President Kennedy didn’t own Ray-Bans. his preferred brand of sunglasses was American Optical. it’s true.

city girl

leather motorcycle jacket

this is the true symbol of the modern rebel thanks to the movie The Wild One produced in 1953. but the first motorcycle jacket was created in 1928 by Irving Schott co-founder of NYC-based Schott Brothers. the iconic store exists to this day. the biker jacket featured an asymmetrical zipper that replaced traditional button-down jackets. this one style tweak allowed bikers to lean over their motorcycles with ease. and it became an instant hit. brown was the favored color for years. but that all changed when Marlon Brando donned a black perfecto for his role as leader of the pack in The Wild One replete with leather and a whole lot of ‘tude.

similar jacket | similar jacket 2 | similar jacket 3 | similar jacket 4 | similar jacket 5

beth from Style at a Certain Age wears a floral jacquard sweater, black skinny jeans, black leather moto jacket and pink suede pumps for date night

frye boots

Frye Boots was founded in 1863 when John Frye opened his doors on Elm Street in Marlboro, MA. Frye is best known for the harness boot created in the 1960s inspired by cavalry soldiers in the civil war.

rainy days and tuesdays

fridays with oscar

t-shirt

the humble t-shirt is arguably the most popular outer garment in the entire world, coming in a variety of colors and sizes. but how and where did the t-shirt rise to popularity? some claim it evolved from the one-piece red flannel underwear known in the 19th century as the union street. this garment was a favorite of miners and stevedores that worked in hot environments. but when someone figured out to cut the onesie in half, the tee was born. fast forward to the 20th century when the U.S. Navy issued crew neck short-sleeved cotton undershirts that were first worn underneath uniforms then proudly worn solo. it was the perfect piece of clothing for bachelors as there were no buttons. there was no need for a needle and thread for the scores of enlisted men in the Navy with limited sewing skills. it wasn’t long before the U.S. Army caught wind of this practical clothing item, and soon their soldiers were sporting t-shirts too. in WWI, tens of thousands of young men wore t-shirts as part of their daily uniform. after the war, the soldiers brought the t-shirts back home. it was an instant hit. by the time WWII started, the t-shirt was commonplace. but its popularity soared after Marlon Brando wore a tight-fitting white tee in Streetcar Named Desire.

beth from Style at a Certain Age wears J.Crew striped tee, chinos, Ralph Lauren navy blue knit blazer, and white sneakers

low comparable | mid comparable | high comparable

concho belt

the word conch comes from the Spanish word, which means seashell. now it refers to the oval disks of silver used to decorate saddles, bridles, clothing, jewelry, and belts. concho belts are a long time Native Indian tradition derived from the Navajo Indians. the earliest conchos were silver dollars that were hammered, stamped, edged, then slotted and strung together onto a leather belt.

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36 Comments

  1. Bev wrote:

    I love everything about this weeks blog. But it’s how you put them altogether that makes it great!

    Posted 4.21.19
    • Michelle Marie Schmitt wrote:

      Where did you find the raspberry colored sunglasses? Thanks.

      Posted 5.15.19
  2. Julie Mycock wrote:

    Hi Beth, you are so right, the American classic look is just that ‘ Classic’. I have jeans in several colours, I love T.shirts, I have a around three biker jackets in different colours too. I have some boots I bought from a store called ‘Way out West’ here in Florida and they are so comfortable. I do wear my jeans a lot back in England but I’m enjoying wearing my denim skirts that I bought with me with my T.shirts. Probably be back in jeans in England after this week. Happy Easter Sunday x

    Posted 4.21.19
  3. Ann wrote:

    I live in the SW and would like to see a picture how you style your concho belt!
    Enjoy your blogs.

    Posted 4.21.19
  4. Pamela wrote:

    I love the classics. Good post. But I don’t see a photo of you in a conchos belt. I had one and loved it in the 80s and would love to see them again. Are they back?

    Posted 4.21.19
  5. Julie Mycock wrote:

    Hi Beth, I agree the American classic look is exactly that ‘Classic ‘ I have several pairs of jeans in different colours, I love a T.Shirt too. I have a couple of Biker jackets which I love to wear. I have a few pairs of boots which I’ve purchased over time at a store called ‘Way out West ‘ here in Florida and they are so comfortable. This is our last week in Florida so I will probably be back wearing jeans again but I’m enjoying wearing my denim skirts here at the moment.. Happy Easter Sunday x

    Posted 4.21.19
  6. Julie Mycock wrote:

    Sorry I posted a second comment but my tablet threw wobbly so I didn’t think it had gone through. Apologies x

    Posted 4.21.19
  7. Gillyflower wrote:

    I love your history lesson on style! I am a medical-surgical nurse, however, I have loved the fashion world since my first job in a bridal shop that sold ready-to-wear at the age of 18. My boss could leave the store at night and sew a lined, classic boucle’ suit and be wearing it with a pair of heels the next morning at the shop. She went to FIT in the days of Calvin Klein. I love your posts.

    Posted 4.21.19
  8. Karen wrote:

    Summer of 1970 I was 14 years old, white jeans navy short sleeve tee. Mother would not allow me a black one, too old! I was so cool! Badgered my parents for the camel hair coat that autumn which I worn through college!

    Posted 4.21.19
  9. Lisa wrote:

    Loved that movie too, Beth! Love classic clothing with a few modern trends thrown in the mix. Happy Easter and many blessings to you and yours. Thanks for continuing to inspire. Was just explaining to a friend about the history of Jack Rogers sandals (the history teacher in me 😍).

    Posted 4.21.19
  10. Brenda in Virginia wrote:

    You had me right up to the end with the concho belt. I admit I have all of these items, including the belt, but, as far as I know, I’m the only one in my local peer group who has one. I, too, loved the clothes worn in Love Story. My darling husband says dressing like Jackie Kennedy Onassis or Audrey Hepburn is true classicism. He’s right as always! Those clothes never go out of style.

    Posted 4.21.19
  11. Cheryl wrote:

    What a wonderful post! This one made my heart sing. Great classics. Great memories.

    Posted 4.22.19
  12. Alex wrote:

    You look beautiful <3

    Posted 4.22.19
  13. Jane Dripin wrote:

    Hi, I am not American but I love how you’ve put them together!! You make the “torn” jean and humble t-shirt look so good to wear. I am so not a t-shirt woman but what you’ve put together here makes me want to go out and buy all the t-shirts out there that are classy and elegant and put them together like these.

    Posted 4.22.19
  14. Susan wrote:

    I love Sandra Bullock’s clothes in The Proposal. I’m on the hunt for the mustard sweater and scarf combo. I just found your site.

    Posted 4.27.19
  15. Jane wrote:

    You look wonderful, as always. This is why I have been a long time reader, but just started commenting. I have always loved the classics, with a bit of a trend thrown in for fun, whether it’s a shoe or a color. I always “did me” even when I was younger and and my peers followed trends. I’m 50 now and I’m still “doing me” and I’m puzzled by friends need for head to toe trends. No judgement, it’s just puzzling.

    Posted 4.28.19
  16. Chris wrote:

    Beth, love everything but the black fringed cardigan in the Freye boot photo really caught my eye. Would you let us in on the brand and how it’s sized. Thanks.

    Posted 4.14.20
    • that cardigan is from 2016 from a company called Maison 123.

      Posted 4.14.20
  17. Marilyn Bornstein wrote:

    Saw Love Story. ✔️
    Had white jeans.✔️
    Had tie camel coat.✔️
    Had aviator 😎✔️

    I remember going with my boyfriend down the shore. (NJ).
    We went into a fun house. One of the things was a rolling tunnel you had to try to walk through. I tried fell and rolled Couldn’t get up. It finally stopped. My white jeans were soiled!! I was heartbroken! Wanted to go home! (We didn’t!). Got over it but you can be sure I pestered Mom to do her cleaning magic to restore my jeans to pristine condition!! 😅

    Posted 4.14.20
    • white denim was a pretty big deal back then. good thing mom’s know a thing or two about laundry.

      Posted 4.14.20
  18. Paula wrote:

    Beth, this was a very interesting post. We take a lot of these things for granted and wear them often but never really thought about their origins. I especially lived what you said about Ali MacGraw in Love Story. I was a freshman at the University of Illinois when I saw that movie and also tried to copy her classic look. This is a look I still turn to today. Thanks!!

    Posted 4.14.20
    • love, love, love the preppy aesthetics that are key cornerstones to American classic style. it worked back then and it still works today.

      Posted 4.14.20
  19. Lindsey A wrote:

    Beth, just in case you’re not aware of it, there is a show on Netflix called ‘Abstract: the art of design”, and in season 2 there is an episode about Ruth Carter, who is the costume designer for a lot of Spike Lee films. It is a fascinating hour-ish, where she talks about her process and inspirations for the movies she has worked on, how she collaborates with the director etc. Given todays blog, I think you might really enjoy it. Other episodes are great too (sneaker design, architecture, typeface design etc) but that one in particular seems right up your alley.

    Posted 4.14.20
    • thanks so much for the suggestion! guess i know what i’ll be watching tonight.

      Posted 4.14.20
      • Lindsey A wrote:

        Let me know how you like/d it 🙂

        Posted 4.15.20
  20. Cyndi wrote:

    Like you, I loved every outfit Ali wore and tried to replicate it when I wasn’t into my hippie attire. It was my first year of college and t-shirts and Levi’s were a basic uniform. I got my Levi’s & pea coat at Army Navy. Tall suede boots and soft suede fringed moccasins were also favorites. Thanks for the trip down memory lane this morning. Stay safe and well, Beth.

    Posted 4.14.20
  21. Jan wrote:

    I really enjoyed today’s history lesson and I love your classic style. Thank you for the little break each day.
    Jan

    Posted 4.14.20
  22. Nancy Nekervis wrote:

    I loved what you said. That movie had an impact of style on me too. Also, anything with Candice Bergin back in the day! I’ve always loved Preppy. It is still my style today.

    Posted 4.14.20
  23. JOANN STOVER wrote:

    Inspired to pull some knit and boucle jackets from the back of my closet and take a closer look with jeans!
    Recently discovered your site – lovely! Thank You…
    JoAnn

    Posted 4.14.20
  24. Eve wrote:

    Thanks for the memories. I was a fan of Audrey hepburns clothes and Grace Kelly just had a way with a headscarf. I loved Kim Novaks clothes too. I learned how to sew so I could have a perfect white, sleeveless blouse. We wore pedal pushers more than jeans because we lived in the hot South but we did wear jeans. Penny loafers were the first shoes I fell in love with and crushed on cashmere sweaters in the winter.

    Posted 4.14.20
  25. MaryLynne wrote:

    My love of fashion goes back to the fifties. Each season my mother, who once worked with a professional seamstress, and I would ride the bus to Hudson’s in Detroit. They had a whole floor of fabric, patterns, etc. We would pick out everything needed for our wardrobe and it would arrive at our house the next day in the Hudson’s truck. My mother would then make the clothes for us. Even my doll had matching outfits. My idols were Elizabeth Taylor, who people said I looked like and Audrey Hepburn. I miss being able to design my own clothes.

    Posted 4.14.20
  26. Suzanne M Smith wrote:

    Lots of good classic looks. I’m with you on Ali McGraw’s look–she still looks unique and gorgeous today. I smiled, because I first saw Love Story in France when I was 16 years old. So it’s always been a special one for me. It was also the beginning of mixing things up–I remember wearing a pair of suede “hot pants” along with a midi-length coat. I thought I was so stylish! Hahaaaaaa. Now, we can pretty much wear anything anywhere so we helped break some rules back then. Excellent styles with chic modern touches.

    Posted 4.14.20
  27. Allison Amra wrote:

    Hi Beth
    I love your style choices which are edgy yet stylish for the older woman. I too love classics and agree that these style items never date. Thanks for your inspirational blog. Regards Allison

    Posted 4.15.20
  28. Vivienne Payne wrote:

    Hi Beth
    I really enjoyed reading about American classics. I’m from Australia and our classics are not dissimilar . Except our boots would be by RM Williams a famous Australian designer of boots and outerwear. Could you please consider doing handbags and what is essential to have as far as bags go!

    Posted 4.30.20
  29. Alecia Scally wrote:

    I’m new to this blog and am thrilled to have found it. Although “Love Story” is a true style classic, I like “Goodbye Columbus” better. I’m of an age, where Villager, Weejuns, and London Fog were must haves. I still wear Weejuns. One of my favorite designers is Bonnie Cashin. I was watching an old movie (Laura) and watched it several times just to see the clothes.

    Thank you for the blog.

    Posted 4.30.20

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