I feel strange pulling this “list” of basic wardrobe favorites together and posting it out there in the blogosphere…I have been so challenged and encouraged by some deep writings as of late, both books and blogs, that it seems trite to spend my time on something so “material” as…well…material!
Yet I know that I was greatly encouraged by a similar list in a book that I read recently. I happened to be perusing a section on building a basic wardrobe just before my semi-yearly “go out shopping for some clothes that fit”…an afternoon out all by myself (sometimes spread out over two afternoons) where I replace those pieces of my wardrobe that are worn, stained and torn with new “staple” items. The inspiration I found amongst pages on organization and simplicity helped me to focus and narrow down choices and come home with basic, sensible yet pretty clothes that work well together and can comfortably take me from my mommy moments through a rare but oh-so-needed night out with my fabulous husband.
1. Black Pants
The basic black pair of pants. Versatile, slimming…a necessary wardrobe staple whether you are a stay-at-home mom or a busy executive (or both, if you catch my drift). Pair with a sparkly top and heels for a night out, or a pair of ballet flats and a nice t-shirt for lunch with friends.Variations include black leggings (if you are willowy and have a stash of tunic-style shirts) and black denim or courderoy (if you just plain feel too dressed up in trousers!), or khaki or navy pants if black is just not your thing. Add a matching jacket and you have yourself a work-a-day suit!
2. White Button-Down shirt
I have fun with this one…my “white button-down shirts” haven’t been your typical point-collar model for some years now. I prefer gauzy, filmy short sleeve tops over white camisoles that I can wear under a cardigan in winter or pair with denim capris for summer. This time around I picked up a button-down with a cute ruffled collar and sweet little puckered short-sleeves.
3. Beyond Mr. Rogers: The Afore-mentioned Cardigan
My favorite? A 3/4 sleeve black button-down cardigan…this can look traditional or trendy, can be brightened up with a jewel-toned tee or, if you’re having an Audrey Hepburn moment, button it all the way up and pair with your #1 black pants. I also like to have a white one…currently with a tie front for a decorative touch. Wear over a dress to ward off a chill, or even wear over a long sleeve tee for a funky layered look. I like mine lightweight and thin…find your own style! Thick and warm, zippered, long, short, neutral, colorful…as long as it goes with most of the rest of your wardrobe, have some fun with it!
4. The Famous “Little Black Dress”
Even if you don’t like to wear black, consider adding a simple, flattering black dress to your wardrobe. Easy to dress up or down with accessories, it’s a never-fail go-to staple for both somber and festive occasions and can prevent that last-minute “I have nothing to wear to the party!” urge to spend money that isn’t really there.
5. Really Great Jeans
The kind of jeans you reach for on Saturday morning. The kind that go with everything in your closet, from that old t-shirt that everyone else thinks is ready for the rag bag but you still adore to the lovely cashmere sweater that you scored on clearance at an after-Christmas sale. I like to keep a dark pair of trouser-style jeans (because they flatter my exaggerated hourglass shape and are so easy to dress up with a pretty top and a pair of heels) and a lighter pair of bootcut jeans. Take an afternoon to go try on a bunch without looking at price tags. Get to know what brands and cuts feel great and are most flattering. Write down details and descriptions. Then hit your favorite thrift stores, scour the web for online coupon codes, and don’t forget to check out ebay. Your perfect pair is out there! I was fortunate to find an adorable pair of brand-name trouser jeans at Marshall’s for $20 and a super-cute Aeropostale boot cut pair at my local consignment shop for $8. Don’t forget a cropped length for summer!
6. Perfect Tees
Soft and comfortable. Cool in summer. Layer with a sweater or sweatshirt for warmth. Wear with yoga pants on a sleepy Sunday afternoon or dress it up with a scarf and black trousers for work or a night out on the town. The t-shirt has become one of our most versatile wardrobe staples, and with so many wonderful styles and choices out there, you can be sure to find favorites. Skirts, jeans, shorts, dress pants…what can’t we wear a t-shirt with?? Find a few that fit and flatter, a couple solid colors that compliment your skin tone, and maybe one or two prints or patterns.
7. Sweet Skirt
I have found that color, style, and fabric of skirts all depends on your body type. I like a mid-calf or at-the-knee length A-line skirt in a solid color, myself. Denim is a favorite…black knit has been a winner lately, too. The black knit skirt I currently wear was located on a rack of beach cover-ups! It is handy for throwing on over a suit, I admit, but I like to wear it with a t-shirt and cami and create a “fun, playful, pretty mommy” look (as to whether I am any of those things…??). I do love linen, as well, but make sure to look out for the new easy-care linen looks, or you will be wrestling with your iron for an hour before heading out the door! Have fun with color, texture and prints, because a skirt can always be complimented with a solid top. NOTE: if you are building a professional wardrobe, consider buying a matching black skirt to go with that jacket and “perfect” black trouser pants…you will have a versatile and coordinating set of garments that can be mixed and matched in minutes!
8. Layering Tanks and Camisoles
I’m not sure why the fashion epiphany of layering garments over a white undershirt didn’t hit me until a few years ago. It certainly has been a long-standing wardrobe staple. However, once I discovered the brilliance of a white camisole or tank top for adding modesty to an otherwise low-cut shirt, providing a splash of color contrast, and smoothing out…ahem…bodily imperfections…I was hooked! I wear them under sheer shirts, v-neck tees, sweaters…just about everything.
9. Sweat Suit Alternative
I am so grateful that the era of the sweat suit is, for all intents and purposes, over. I would much rather don a cute jogging suit or yoga pants and a hooded long sleeve tee. I never wore such “sporty” clothes until I started exercising more. I was so comfortable in those stretchy clothes! I started wearing a pair of cropped yoga pants with a soft t-shirt during the day as I chased my five darling children…brilliant! Why didn’t anyone ever tell me about this before? I can be as comfy as I am in my jammies and still look put together when running into the grocery store.
10. Top It All Off
Time to have some fun. Time for glitz and glamour! Once you have a basic wardrobe in place, adding one or two items of shine and sparkle or something fresh and fun can spice things up without having a closet crammed with mismatched fashion disasters. True, a shimmering satin shirt suitable for an evening event isn’t going to take you from skipping around with the kids in the park to running errands to dinner with friends, but it will be there to add some glam to those black pants (in case you were wondering how important I consider a great pair of black pants to be, scroll up and see how many times they are mentioned thus far!) or skirt or jeans. How about a vintage piece? Or a unique creation from Etsy? I love knowing that once I have my foundational pieces in place, I can snag a beautiful shirt and express myself a little with how I dress without complicating my life with loads of extra clothes.
11. A Shoe-In for Success
Far be it from me to tell a gal how many pairs of shoes she should have. Personally, I’m not the shoe type…I have a few basic pairs that I like that meet my needs. I like cute shoes…I just don’t consider shoe shopping a form of therapy, nor do I care to spend my clothing budget on footwear. So let me tell you what I keep in my closet to make my wardrobe fun and functional, and leave it at that. I found a pair of black ballet style Skechers to be the most amazingly versatile shoes when we traveled to England. Thus shod I could roam the villages of Cumbria in capris and a soft tee, pound the streets of London in black pants and a cardigan, or step out for the evening in a little black dress. I also keep a pair of comfortable black dress heels, a black heeled penny loafer, sneakers, and a high-quality pair of brown sandals that I wear for at least three years, sometimes I can get four out of them. I have some others kicking around somewhere…I just don’t wear them much. These basics see me through!
12. Accessorizing on a Dime
Your “basic” wardrobe will never seem boring and stale if you keep an eye out for bargain accessories. Tag sales, thrift stores and flea markets are such great places to come across treasures that will brighten your basics and give you a polished, coordinated look. Consider choosing a couple color themes and slowly build from there. For instance, you can collect silver jewelry and a lavander handbag and scarf…wear with gray, white, black or purple. A colorful orange/pink/white/green ensemble with a white shirt and denim crops can give a tropical splash of color for some summer fun. The photo above shows a beautiful set of accessories that would add pizazz to jeans and a long sweater or trousers and a blouse.
Going about building your ideal wardrobe isn’t all that different from planning a decorating project. A limited budget does not mean lower quality results, and a haphazard and impatient approach will most likely result in a look that you are unhappy with and end up quickly replacing. I have found that trying on things that I like (though I know I cannot buy them) gives me a good idea of style and color that works best for me…trains my eye for what to watch for…a fashion education of sorts. Then I am knowledgeable enough to spot that great deal on a clearance rack or at a yard sale, without bringing home a “treasure” that winds up in the give-away pile.
I have also found that sometimes I need to spring for one high-quality, comfortable pair of pants, jeans or shoes instead of a dozen cheap ones. It may, in the end, not make one penny of difference if I shop at high-end stores and my neighbor gets her clothes at K-Mart…if her closet is jam-packed and her clothes wear out twice as fast. I am always on the lookout for pretty clothing, whether I’m making a Wal-Mart run or I’ve taken a moment of escape by ducking into a boutique. Know what you are looking for (keep a running list if need be), know your budget, and make wise and informed decisions that start with the basics and work up from there.