Why everyone needs a fallback outfit 

The weather's rubbish, the shops are filling up with wintry clothes and everyone's got summer-dress fatigue. What we need now is a failsafe fallback outfit, says Frankie Graddon

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By Frankie Graddon on

We are currently in the midst of what I like to call the Fashion Black Hole. The stuff in the shops is a bit "meh", the weather is even "meh-er" and, I don’t know about you, but I’m struggling to be enthusiastic about getting dressed in the mornings.

“Are you wearing that top again?” asked my boyfriend as I pulled on my Breton and tucked it into jeans. Lying on the bed was a pile of summery dresses I’d tried and discarded on account of the sudden chill. “YES!” I snapped. “Are you wearing the grey T-shirt and black jeans that you wear EVERY WEEKEND?”

To be fair, I was wearing the same red-and-white long-sleeve top I’d worn the day before. And the Tuesday before that. It was the second striped top I’d worn that week. Why? It’s my fallback outfit. When I’m running late/feeling crap/hate everything in my wardrobe/can’t work out the weather, I invariably come back to a striped top. Usually worn with a pair of jeans and a trench coat. It might not be the most exciting outfit in the world, but you know what, it gets me through a sticky patch and it makes me feel good.

A fallback outfit is less of a uniform, more a helpful template – dressing by numbers if you will

“Oh, yeah, I’ve totally got a fallback outfit,” said my fashion-editor friend when I mentioned it over a wine the other day. “Actually, I’m wearing it right now.” It turns out that hers is a silky shirt tucked into trousers with a pair of eye-catching earrings (“If in doubt, always earrings” so her motto goes).

A fallback outfit is less of a uniform, more a helpful template – dressing by numbers if you will. And the key to a successful one is twofold.

Firstly, you need the outfit to be based around something of comfort – for in times of sartorial uncertainty (aka all of August), familiarity is key. For me, this happens to be a long- or three-quarter-length-sleeve Breton in soft cotton. (In my head, I’m off to a chic, saltwater spa on the Cornish coast, or perhaps scoffing a buttery croissant somewhere French.) But for you this might be a trusty leather jacket, a throw-on-and-go midi dress or, like deputy ed Lucy Dunn, a white shirt from COS.

The second thing to consider is that it needs an element of razz – this is fallback dressing, not bore-yourself-to-tears dressing. I stop my Breton looking too snoozy by wearing it with gold hoops and layered-up necklaces (have a look at Pilgrim for these). My friend has her earrings (look at Trouva, J.Crew and Mango), while Wardrobe Stories columnist Lauren Bravo has what she refers to as a "strong shoe" – “clogs, ankle boots or a chunky trainer to stop the whole thing looking too prim”. A great bag, statement coat or even a swipe of lipstick will also do the trick.

The chances are you already have a fallback outfit lurking in your wardrobe. But just in case you don’t, here are a few suggestions.

The floral dress + biker jacket outfit

This is a favourite of the continually well-dressed Kat Farmer. Her dress-plus-leather-jacket combo “works in all weathers, even the rain” and the addition of trainers “makes most dresses far more doable day to day”.





The slouchy top + something denim outfit

“I have two slouchy, elbow-length T-shirts that work whatever the weather,” says fashion editor Hannah Rochell. She wears hers slung over a pair of jeans or under a denim pinafore with Birks. “They make me feel lovely and relaxed, and I always get complimented on them.”




The blazer + classic shirt outfit

This one I’ve nicked from Lucy Dunn, who, when in doubt, shoves on her classic white shirt and a blazer. One pair of jeans, two sandals later and, ta-dah! Fallback outfit Dunn.




The midi dress + ankle boots outfit

“During times like this, all I want to wear is a midi dress with sleeves,” says deputy fashion and beauty ed Hannah Banks-Walker. Having enough coverage for chilly days, but still with a whiff of summer about it, it ticks the ever-tricky "transeasonal" box. Throw it on with a pair of ankle boots.




The silky shirt + earrings outfit

If in doubt, put on a silky shirt and, if still in doubt, add earrings. H&M has a great selection of pyjama tops that look great with boyfriend jeans.





The jumper + midi skirt outfit

“My fallback outfit recipe is a midi skirt + a jumper + a strong shoe,” says Lauren Bravo. “The waftiness of the skirt and thickness of the jumper vary with the temperature (my favourite lightweight sweater from Hades has been the only wardrobe bright spot during these past few weeks of in-betweeny weather.”





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Frankie Graddon

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