Seemingly every year magazines and style blogs share a list of THE essential items every wardrobe needs. Except that most of them include things that don’t work for everyone IRL. Button down white shirts, for example. For years I didn’t wear any sort of shirt because I couldn’t find one that actually fit and flattered my figure.
Same for the essential ballet flat on all these lists. They don’t work for me. Or trench coats. Sure, I get that a khaki trench coat is a timeless (and practical) piece, but 1. I look ghastly in khaki and 2. belted coats somehow make me look like a sausage.
Here’s my list of essential pieces, with the flexibility to suit everybody.
Yes, your wardrobe needs all of these essential items, but choose the variation that fits and flatters you, AND works for your lifestyle. Except one. That one is non-negotiable.
1. Dress up/Dress down Jacket or Blazer
Every wardrobe needs at least one jacket or blazer that can make jeans look like a million dollars on a night out and is equally at home in a business meeting over a dress or trousers. Yes, it will take some time to find the right one (it needs to fit, flatter and say something about your style), and yes, you should invest a decent amount in this piece since your cost per wear will be negligible if you get it right.
Perhaps consider a color or print that will liven up the rest of your wardrobe. Or maybe an unusual cut or shape. Or maybe even a stylish leather jacket. My Argent ‘handbag-free’ blazer has people talking every time I wear it.
2. Boots Made for Walking
Or shoes. Or sandals. It doesn’t matter (and can certainly switch out seasonally), but the key here is to find the ones that you can walk a mile in comfortably and still look good.
Again, these may take some time to find, but will so be worth it. Frankly, I’m struggling a little in this department. I’ve found increasingly that the footwear that I can actually walk to the Metro in, out and about downtown and home again, is not exactly what you could call ‘cute’. I’ve realized that I’ve slid a little down this slippery slope and things which I would not have worn in an office setting in the past are now de rigeur. Mostly the result of wearing cute shoes when I was younger!
3. Solid Black Bottom
Most of those essential lists will say a pair of black pants. But I’m here to say that black pants are only one option. If you really prefer skirts, find the one that flatters you the most. If your wardrobe is really only a casual one, a good pair of black ‘jeans’ (note: probably not black denim, but more of a black twill) will work too. The key here is something that you can use as a base for your favorite tops, ideally through at least three seasons, and that work for you and your lifestyle. Oh yes, and that can be dressed up or down.
I think these are essential in any modern wardrobe for any age. Although apparently my children wouldn’t agree, even with all the amazing stretch denim fabrics available! There really is a pair to flatter everybody - I really, really dislike pants, but I love my jeans!
The key here is to get them to fit right. And apparently premium denim is really worth the money you pay for it. It’s probably also worth working with a salesperson who can truly help you find the best jeans for your body and your budget. I’ve found that Madewell has the best variety for the best prices if you really can’t face the price tag of premium.
Jennifer Mary of Apple and Pear Wardrobe has a great video on how to buy jeans. Watch it.
5. The LBD or Equivalent
So yes, the little black dress is on all the essential lists. It’s on mine too because we all need something easy in our wardrobes for more formal occasions. You never know when you’ll get last minute tickets to the ballet or be invited as someone’s guest to a more formal event. The key here is to have the outfit that works for you. If it’s an LBD, great! If it’s wide-legged trousers with a strappy evening top, that’s fine too. Whatever it is should be able to take you to just about any event you might possibly be asked to attend, throughout the year. Maybe even a super swish date night?
Note: you’ll need the shoes and accessories that make this work too. Think of it as your good china – you might not use it very often (although you probably should!), but when you need it, you just pull it out of the cupboard and you’re good to go.
6. A Well-Fitting Bra
I had this as number one on the list, but figured it might put people off if it was at the top. Make no mistake though – this IS number one!
You wouldn’t build an addition on top of a sagging foundation would you?
Your undergarments hold the key to whether you wear your clothes or they wear you. A well-fitting bra will make your inexpensive clothing look expensive, and your expensive clothing look amazing.
I can’t tell you how much it disturbs me to see women who have made an effort with their hair, makeup and possibly even their outfit, but ruin the whole effect with ill-fitting undergarments. Arg!
Please, please, please find yourself a good bra fitter (most department stores still provide this service, my personal favorite is Nordstrom) and have yourself fitted at least twice per year. Sometimes I even drive a little further to a long-established lingerie store that really knows their stuff and can find me the bra that actually fits. (This has proven to more challenging than it sounds. Suffice to say, I can’t just buy off the rack.) Your clothes will thank you.
Bonus: Denim Jacket
This is one that I feel should be in everyone’s wardrobe even though not everyone would necessarily agree. Denim jackets really are more than just casual wear now – they can take the place of a jacket in many situations, and they go with everything. And they don’t just need to be denim colored either!
All sorts of options in this post. Up to you. If they work for you, great. If they don’t, that’s ok too.
So there they are! The six essential pieces for any wardrobe. With the flexibility to suit everybody. See? It’s not that hard to build a solid wardrobe base once you know what you’re looking for, and what works for you.
You’ve probably spotted the thread running the whole way through this post – my wardrobe essentials need to fit, flatter and be functional for your lifestyle. Bonus points for anything that can be dressed up or down! And don’t forget your undergarments. You might want to schedule some time for a fitting this week.