Have you heard me talk about support pieces before? There’s a chapter in Brenda Kinsel’s Fashion Makeover where I sing the praises of support pieces. Not every piece of clothing needs to be or should be a star piece–you know, the piece that gets all the compliments?
Oh, what a beautiful coat!
Wow, that dress is so pretty!
Where’d you find such an interesting blouse?
I believe that every wardrobe needs to have star pieces and support pieces.
Defining star pieces and support pieces
A star piece is like a movie star in a leading role. I’m thinking of names like Meryl Streep, Reese Witherspoon, Amy Adams, and Annette Benning. The star will get most of the attention, most of the scenes, and most of the acclaim. Like that awesome leather jacket you have or your leopard print skirt or your large scale polka dot swirl skirt. Memorable.
A support piece is like a supporting actress. In the movies, supporting roles are essential even if they’re not as noticeable. I’m thinking of names like Naomie Harris, Geraldine James, Mackenzie Davis, and Leslie Castay. I’m lying, I wasn’t thinking of those names at all. I had to look them up. Not so memorable.
That’s how it is with wardrobe support pieces too. They may not even show in an outfit or maybe they get a sliver of the attention. Maybe there’s nothing that special about them (or is there?). They’re plain or basic, but we need them. We depend on them. They are essential to getting dressed and feeling good about what we’re wearing.
The award for best support piece in my wardrobe goes to…
It’s awards season so I’m casting my vote for best support piece in my wardrobe. (I’m confident that a few of my clients would vote for this piece as well.)
The envelope please…
And the winner is the Tippi sweater from J.Crew. (Applause, applause.)
Why is the Tippi sweater a winner? I think of Tippi sweaters as the equivalent, but more refined than, the basic cotton T-shirt. They’re a Merino wool, nice and smooth, and not clingy like a cotton T-shirt can be. Nothing fancy-smancy. Simple. No bells, no whistles. Just totally dependable.
My first Tippi came into my life via a Beauty Bundle I was creating. I’ve fallen in love with the color mulberry (cranberry, or merlot, or burgundy–whatever you’d like to call it). I had purchased my AGL patent berry oxfords. I needed a handbag in that same color story. I found it at TJ Maxx. Next I found a pair of comfy skinny cotton jeans in the same shade. Wow, I was getting awfully close to a column of color and I wanted to go all the way.
I thought of the Tippi. It’s a classic sweater from J.Crew that’s been around a long time. I found it in Merlot and my cheeks flushed. I was happy.
The Tippi sweater as an sung hero layering piece
After the success of the burgundy Tippi I decided to order more of them. I picked a navy blue one, a black one, a gray one and I decided to step out and get one in a shade of robin’s egg blue. The color was bright enough to maybe even push it into a star piece in an outfit.
I wore the gray one (above) under a sweater to keep me warm. I was cozy comfortable and the two sweaters didn’t cling to each other at all.
In the example below, I wore my black Tippi under a silk blouse that had a few buttons unbuttoned. It was so much more refined than a cotton T-shirt would have been. I felt smart and sophisticated in this outfit. (Thanks, Tippi, for your support!)
Tippi sweater as almost a star piece
Actually, you know those movies that have an ensemble cast of actors in it like Robert Altman’s Nashville (1975)? There were more than 25 speaking roles in that movie.
My outfits don’t come close to having 25 components to them but there can be several. In this next example I’d say the Tippi sweater is a strong member of the ensemble cast. The color stands out. But then so does the double strand Sol Sisters necklace and the houndstooth check jacket. So I don’t think I can call it a definitive star piece. (But thank you, robin’s egg blue Tippi! You’re doing a great job!)
Clothing items that are support pieces don’t always get their due. The paparazzi isn’t following a layering piece around taking pictures of it. They want to photograph the fancy jacket, the see through blouse, the tight dress.
But anyone who dresses every day knows that those pieces that you use all the time, pieces that aren’t always seen or memorable, do really important things.
They provide comfort, coverage, some modesty perhaps. They don’t expect applause. They’re just happy to do what needs to be done.
If I was getting a best dressed award I’d walk to the podium, hold my gold statue in both hands. I wouldn’t need to look at notes to remember who to thank.
“I want to thank all my Tippis for helping me out in countless ways: for keeping me warm, making me look tall when you’re part of a column of color, for adding a spark to an outfit that would otherwise look dull. I couldn’t have gotten dressed without you!” (Applause, applause.)
What go-to items get your vote for best support piece?
PatJanuary 2, 2017 at 4:51 pm
Happy New Year, Brenda!
You look fabulously edgy in the black ensemble….chic, casual in brown. I hope your holidays were filled with much love and joy with your family. I am looking for some light weight wool sweaters for travel ….could your star, Tippi, be the one? The jCrew website makes the sweater banding look quite constricted, but, your photos indicate a loose sweep at the hem. How would you describe sizing to achieve the look you have?
Sooo happy your back…
BrendaJanuary 3, 2017 at 11:32 am
Hi Pat, I’m smiling at your happiness that I’m back. I didn’t expect to be missed! Truth be told, I got sick after Christmas! Waa waa.
Anyway, let me assure you that the Tippi doesn’t have a constricted band. If it did, I would wear it. Also, I always test sizes. I’m not afraid to wear an extra large just to get the ease I’m looking for. I settled on size Large and that’s given me the right amount of ease. I took a client to J.Crew to check them out. She bought both the Tippi and matching cardigans. I expected her to be a small but surprisingly, she really needed every inch of that medium to be right and not too tight. So you may have to do some exploring but I really do love this piece. This fall was my first time experiencing them so to get the award for best support piece so soon is a strong endorsement!
Your faithful friend,
Jill StanwickJanuary 2, 2017 at 6:44 pm
I am new to your blog but am inspired. I have been going through your archives and have only made it to mid 2011. I look forward to every new post. Thanks!
BrendaJanuary 3, 2017 at 11:33 am
Thank you, Jill! So glad you found me and this great community of people who interact here. You’ve gone through a lot! Happy reading!
Karen TannerJanuary 2, 2017 at 7:04 pm
Terrific post-and such a fun read-thanks!
BrendaJanuary 3, 2017 at 11:34 am
Thanks, Karen! It was fun to work on and I am glad it came through. Happy New Year!
Cathy D.January 2, 2017 at 9:12 pm
I agree that support pieces are incredibly important. I just looked up the Tippi sweater and it’s not available in white or ivory (colors that I really need). Perhaps it sold out after the holidays.
My most useful support pieces are the LL Bean pima cotton tees. Yes, I know tee shirts can look sloppy, but these don’t. They are made of fine, silky cotton and have a narrow banded neck. I wear one almost every day. I have then in short sleeves, long sleeves, shells, v-necks and scooped necks. I do not know what I would do without them.
That said, I would love to find a somewhat dressy, but not too dressy tank top to wear for occasions when my pima tees are slightly too casual. I’ve been looking for at least two years for a replacement for my nearly antique ivory Belford cotton cable tank. It’s been worn to the Metropolitan Opera numerous times, and to the best restaurants in Manhattan, and it’s on its last legs. I hope I can find the appropriate support piece to replace it soon.
I’m so glad you’re back and hope you’re feeling as terrific as you look.
BrendaJanuary 3, 2017 at 11:38 am
Thanks, Cathy for the welcome back! Boy, you really have described well the value of support pieces. I will definitely check out the LL Bean pima cotton tees. That is the finest cotton along with Egyptian cotton so I can nearly feel it right at this moment! Belford made such great products. This won’t be cable knit but Eileen Fisher produces a silk tank in various colors and that’s served some of my clients well. Keep checking back with J.Crew because they’re always bringing out new product. I had seen ivory in the store before but you’re right, I bet it sold out! I loved reading your comment!
Donna HJanuary 3, 2017 at 6:04 am
Just started following you and love ❤️ your ideas and suggestions!!
BrendaJanuary 3, 2017 at 11:39 am
Awesome, Donna! I’m so glad!
ChristineJanuary 3, 2017 at 7:05 am
I’m happy for you and your Tippis! Me, I’m still in search of something like this, but without the wool component. Lightweight sweaters & Ts with a nice drape and not too tight neckline. So elusive….
BrendaJanuary 3, 2017 at 11:40 am
You’re right, they are illusive. Have you tried shopping in very early spring for the silk knit sweaters that come out? As the season moves along, you’ll find silk/linen blends (like in April). If you find some, let us know!! That would be a great resource!
ChristineJanuary 3, 2017 at 7:11 am
Best supporting player for me for 2016: dark-wash skinny jeans by Calvin Klein, no “whiskering” or faded out spots, no artful tears. Simple, slimming, and a great fit — the waistline is mid-rise and does not slide down when I bend, and the knees don’t bag out. And, they were 19.99 at Costco! Fair warning to other purchasers: the light wash denim and grey versions have a different fabric content (less elastane) so the fit & wearability is slightly different.
BrendaJanuary 3, 2017 at 11:41 am
Wow, that’s great! And what a perfect example of a support piece: great fitting jeans. These can also be illusive. I bet there will be some Costco shopping in the near future for several readers here! Thanks for the tip.
jodie filogomoJanuary 3, 2017 at 3:37 pm
This post really made me think about my clothing Brenda!
I’m definitely one of those women that love my statement pieces. I think as I’ve gotten older, I like standing out instead of blending into the crowd.
But, that being said, I just told my husband, that my grey turtleneck that I bought last year, is probably my most versatile piece in my closet. Certainly not the stand out piece, but it goes with everything and has been worn a ton!
It reminds me of a poem, whose message was we need both the trees and flowers for a beautiful landscape!!
La semaine d'une gourmetteJanuary 5, 2017 at 7:33 am
Happy New Year Brenda!
My best supporting pieces, these days, are the black Uniqlo Heattech scoop-neck tops. they look lovely and silky, fit perfectly, do not wrinkle and keep me warm without adding bulk. Actually, I used to have similar tops, but in very light knit silk, in the eighties! Too bad I don’t like their other colors – all dull and faded, and I am one who wears black and brights, faded colors and pastels don’t suit me.
BrendaJanuary 5, 2017 at 10:17 am
Wow, I need to check these out! Tech fabrics have come a long way. I’m going online now!
KateJanuary 15, 2017 at 8:18 pm
You’re style is impeccable! I LOVE my Tippis too! You might just be my #1 style inspiration as the years go by (I’m 31). Thanks for an amazing post!!
BrendaJanuary 16, 2017 at 3:30 pm
Kate! How fun to have found each other! Thanks for writing. I’m not sure why this happens but a compliment from a thirty-one year old just seems especially sweet! Maybe I’m thinking of my own daughters. I always love it when they tell me they like what I’m wearing. Any hoo, thanks for sharing!
Debbie KlausingFebruary 3, 2017 at 8:21 pm
Really enjoying this blog! The Tippi sounds great, but I cannot wear wool at all. I do like to layer all winter since I get so cold. I am always on the hunt for crew neck tee shirts to wear under everything, so these ideas are helpful. Seems like so many tops end up too short and I am always tugging on them. I am only 5’4″ so you wouldn’t think this would be a problem. Thanks to all for the ideas!
BrendaFebruary 6, 2017 at 12:34 pm
Some other sources for warmth are too companies: Uniqlo and CuddlDuds. I wear CuddlDuds a lot as a layering piece. You might want to check them out!
DianeFebruary 24, 2017 at 6:34 am
Hi Brenda. I have been following you for a little while now and am always impressed by your unique style. It’s funny that you should write about support pieces right now. I used to wear turtleneck sweaters as support pieces, but as I age, I can’t tolerate turtlenecks any longer. I live in a fairly chilly climate in the winter and have been trying cashmere sweaters as support pieces for the warmth. Great term you have coined for these types of pieces! I do love them but there are two negatives about them. One, they are costly, and two some brands can pill terribly. I purchase them when on sale and buy quality cashmere to overcome the negatives. I will give the J. Crew Tippi a try. Love this well written post and you are a star!!!
GeraldineJuly 22, 2018 at 1:32 am
Hi Brenda, I really enjoy your blog and find it very helpful. I thought I would let you and your readers know that Uniqlo have very similar jumpers (sweaters to you!) and cardigans to the Tippi. They come in different threads and colours and look to be the same shape. Living in Australia I find that American clothes are too expensive with postage and the exchange rate but Uniqlo prices are very reasonable. I don’t know if Uniqlo has found it’s way to the US? It has become my favourite clothing shop.
BrendaAugust 1, 2018 at 11:16 am
Thanks so much, Geraldine. Yes, we have one in San Francisco actually. I need to get by there. It’s been a long time. I’ll look for the Tippi equivalent. Great tip!