First of all, I know this thread is several months old. I'm just adding my couple cents to the mix because I've been purchasing new pans lately.
When my wife and I split earlier this year, she got most of the cookware - with the exception of some of the Le Creuset pieces and a cast iron pan that belonged to my dad. The irony is that she rarely cooks, but that was how it worked out. So I found myself in the position of having to shop for some new cookware. I'm happy to say that I now have a small, but nice, assortment that also includes carbon steel and some traditional French copper pieces.
I've also been buying some stainless steel. Although I consider myself a better-than-average cook, I never used SS much before. This probably goes back to my bachelor days where I had a cheap SS piece that was a pain to use and clean. But after doing some research, I decided to try it again. I'm glad I did.
I was almost sold on All-Clad. It's got a great reputation and is built to last. It's become the standard bearer of sorts for quality cookware. But the one thing I HATE about All-Clad is the handle design. Really. Those handles are awful. If you're not familiar, imagine a long, slippery, stainless steel celery stalk. That's essentially what it is. I'm no weakling, but the silly handle design is uncomfortable and makes a chore out of maneuvering a heavy pan full of food. So that was why I decided against it.
I've instead been purchasing Le Creuset Tri-Ply stainless pieces. What's that, you say? LC makes SS? Yeah, that's what I said, too. I now have 9.5 and 11-inch skillets. Both have comfortable handles, as well as convenient helper handles on the front. They're well designed and solid. I absolutely LOVE these pans and use them almost daily. LC isn't normally cheap, but I picked up both pieces, as well as a lid for the smaller pan, at a nearby outlet mall for about $160 (40-50% off suggested retail). I'll probably go back and get a saute pan this weekend.
I also agree what others have said about avoiding sets. The problem with sets, in addition to ending up with pieces you don't use, is that you usually get all of the same type of pan. Some people like that. I personally would rather have some diversity in my cookware, because different materials work better for different tasks. For example, I love the copper pieces because copper has great thermal conductivity, meaning that if I turn the temp up or down, the pan responds almost instantly. You know those recipes that have instructions that say "Bring to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer?" That's the type of thing copper does well. It's great for stews. But I wouldn't use it for searing a piece of meat. That's what I use the carbon steel pan for. And while you certainly could, I don't think the carbon steel pan is the best choice for making an omelet. I like the stainless pan for that.
So my suggestion is to buy the pieces you need and buy good quality, so you don't have to buy new cookware every couple of years.