A wardrobe essential is an indispensable staple without which your wardrobe would not function. They are versatile, current and often simple in design. They can be neutral or non-neutral. They can be dressed up or down. They are not necessarily the items that create the interesting part of the outfit, but are part of the solid foundation. They work season after season after season. 

Revisiting and evaluating your wardrobe essentials is an important part of the closet review process because they frequently transform items into outfits. Think of them as the building blocks of your wardrobe and you’ll keep wardrobe orphans to a minimum as well as have something to wear with those avant-garde pieces that also find a home in your closet.

The all important word here is personal. Wardrobe essentials have to reflect your lifestyle, climate, body type, work environments and style preferences. That’s why I don’t believe in one universal wardrobe essentials list for everyone.

I posted my personal list of wardrobe essentials in 2009, saying then that it had been the same for years, and that I didn’t see it changing unless I had a fundamental shift in my lifestyle or preferences. It turns out that I have had two fundamental shifts in my style preferences:

  • One, I am embracing the ongoing trouser season, favouring them over skirts.
  • Two, a style epiphany in 2011 was the driving force to an almost jewelry-free style. 

So here’s my updated list of wardrobe essentials:

  1. Camisoles: They keep me warm, make transparent tops wearable, and add a brightness to my cream and white shirts. I have several black, white and cream camisoles and wear one every day. 
  2. Button down shirts: My basic white and black button down shirts from Brooks Brothers work with all my bottoms, and are great layering pieces. They are my “t-shirt”. Shirts work for my style because I LOVE to scrunch sleeves and pop my collar, and I bat for Team Dressy. I feel pulled together, crisp and professional when my outfit incorporates a button down shirt, even if it’s for a casual outfit.
  3. Fitted Turtlenecks: They are my cold weather button down shirt! They work with all my cold weather bottoms and always streamline my outfit. Their simple elegance is timeless, and their high neckline is ideal for my long neck.  
  4. Jeans: I have an assortment of skinny and straight leg jeans in blue, black and white denim because tapered hems are the most versatile and practical silhouette for my lifestyle. I can wear the blue and black washes all year round in Seattle. 
  5. Black Cigarette Trousers: Over the last two years, I’ve been wearing jeans less frequently and trousers more regularly. I have two pairs of black cigarette trousers that work with most of my tops and I enjoy the non-denim option. 
  6. Black Pencil Skirt: I wear my black pencil skirt less frequently because black trousers feel more current. But every so often my black pencil feels perfectly feminine, and it’s there for those occasions. 
  7. Biker Jacket: I’ve had a biker jacket in my wardrobe since the ’80s, updating the item as the silhouettes changed over time. It’s become a timeless and iconic classic that can be worn over jeans and a cocktail dress. 
  8. Pinstripe Blazer: This blazer is part of a suit. I wear the blazer more frequently than the trousers because I like to wear the blazer over dresses, skirts and fashion forward trousers. The gangster stripe appeals to my androgynous style persona. 
  9. Denim Jacket: The perfect casual cover-up for dress and skirt ensembles
  10. Little Black Dress: I have a sleeveless black sheath dress that is still going strong, but prefer my grey metallic sleeved sheath as an update on the look. 
  11. Trench Coat: I have three that are ideal for 6 months of the year in wet Seattle. They are also great for travel to Europe. 
  12. Ballet Flats: I’m a Chanel girl who wears two toned ballet flats with frocks, skirts, tapered trousers, skinnies and clamdiggers every warm weather season. My ten hour Summer walking shoes. 
  13. Converse Sneakers: Ideal for very casual settings and dog walking. Another iconic classic that stands the test of time. 
  14. Tall Flat Boots: Equestrian in vibe and my favourite way to traipse around in ghastly wet weather and still feel chic and pulled together. 
  15. Tall Dressy Boots: They make my lightweight skirts and dresses wearable in the cooler months. 
  16. Oversized Watch: I adore my pearl necklaces, but wear them less frequently because I’m into sporting a minimal jewelry-free style. Instead, I wear a large watch daily and rotate a couple of metals throughout the week.  

To save you the effort of comparing this list to the previous one, here are the changes: I’ve taken out the denim pencil skirt and replaced it with black cigarette trousers. I’ve added in tall flat boots and tall dressy boots. I replaced the chunky pearl necklaces with an oversized watch.

If you haven’t developed your own list of wardrobe essentials, feel free to use this list as a starting point. Substitute the items so that they are in line with YOUR style needs. For example, my turtlenecks might be your scoop neck long sleeved t-shirts. My jeans might be your denim or cotton skirts. My button down shirts might be your knitted mock wrap tops. My moto jacket might be your tweed blazer. My cigarette pants might be your midi skirts. My ballet flats might be your wedge sandals. And my trench coat might be your safari jacket. 

It will take a few seasons to put together an accurate and comprehensive list of wardrobe essentials because, ideally, you need to road test the outfit combinations through an entire season to make sure that they work for you. But you have to start somewhere, and now is as good a time as any. Once you have an understanding of your wardrobe essentials, it becomes easier to create outfits because they are the building blocks of your wardrobe. The items that you turn to over and over again because they never let you down.