Who picks the fashion ‘classics’? A 6ft woman with time to burn

Trenchcoats hanging in clothes rack
‘Do we want to dress like Peter Falk?’: the trenchcoat. Photograph: Getty Images

I’ve been reading fashion magazines for almost a quarter of a century, and writing for them for half that time, so I reckon I know my way around the genre. It took time, of course: when I first bought a moisturiser that cost more than £30, I was genuinely annoyed it wasn’t, as the article had promised, “life-changing”. Then there was the time I bought some Miu Miu wedges after seeing them in a fashion shoot, only to discover that not only did they fail to make my legs look like the model’s, I couldn’t walk in them. I’m looking at those shoes right now. They’re on my bookcase, the world’s most expensive bookends.

But I’ve lived and I’ve learned and I understand fashion magazines now. I know this season’s “must-have” will be next season’s “so passé”, and that when a bag is described as “essential”, this is not because it is, literally, essential, but because the label bought the crucial advertising slot on the back cover. Essential to the magazine, sure, but not to anyone else. You come to glossy magazines a wide-eyed romantic, you leave a hardened cynic. (Obviously, none of this applies to your morally impeccable Guardian Weekend, its fashion team as free from commercial interference as a Miu Miu wedge is free from practicality.)

But there is one thing I have never understood, and that is how fashion editors come up with clothes they deem to be “classics”. Fashion classics are very different from “essentials” or “must-haves” in that they are impervious to seasons and even – gasp! – advertising. Rather, magazines promote them, year in year out, as items a woman must have in order to be a stylish member of society. But must she? I don’t know when the meeting was held that decided which items made the list, or why I wasn’t invited, but I have some quibbles. Let’s investigate.

Classic no 1: the trenchcoat

I like Peter Falk. You like Peter Falk. We all like Peter Falk. But do we want to dress like Peter Falk? Every year, fashion magazines tell women to get “a classic trenchcoat”, and every year only women who are 6ft tall and have a body mass index of about 17 look good in them. Add in the fact that my good ol’ Semitic heritage means I am literally the same colour as a trenchcoat, which makes it, simultaneously, an invisibility cloak and one of the least flattering garments in the world.

Classic no 2: the wrap dress

Again, an item that requires a very specific body type, namely long bones and not much flesh. (Perhaps Amal Clooney came up with the classics list because, as far as I can tell, she’s the only woman on Earth who looks good in all of them.) Also, for all the endless talk about how the classic was invented for “busy working women”, let this busy working woman tell you that, unless you want to find your dress flapping open and your bra hanging out before you’ve even got to the bus stop, you’ll need a safety pin when wearing a wrap dress, and if there’s one thing busy working women don’t have time to look for in the morning, it’s a sodding safety pin. Handy tip there from the coalface.

Classic no 3: the crisp white shirt

This is the only acceptable description, apparently – not just white, but crisp and white. But as well as finding a safety pin, you know what else you don’t have time for in the morning? Ironing a damn shirt. Hard pass.

Classic no 4: the bra you’ve been measured for

You know how your mother occasionally gets obsessed with something you should do? “Darling, you really ought to get a bob haircut, like that nice woman who does the local news!” or, “Would it kill you to wear a dress occasionally?” Fashion magazines are like that when it comes to getting measured for a bra. Honestly, you’d think the holy flipping grail was hidden in bra measurement rooms, the way they go on. And maybe it is: I wouldn’t know, as I haven’t been measured for one since I was 21 (a present from my mother, obviously) and, two decades and two kids later, those measurements may have changed. But seriously, who has time to get their boobs measured? I barely have time to go to the dentist. So no, I do not have a bra I’ve been measured for and, well, all I’m going to say is, no one’s complained when it hangs out of my wrap dress.

Classic no 5: the Chanel handbag

I’ll hold my hands up here and admit I love the classic Chanel handbag. But I can love something and still admit its flaws, and the Chanel bag is deeply flawed. It is too tiny for both your wallet and your phone, yet costs more than a secondhand car. You will have quarrels with yourself before leaving the house about whether to bring blusher or lipstick, because you can’t fit both, and – sorry, Coco – that is not a great start to a night out. I will say this, though: these bags make fantastic bookends.