Wardrobe workhorses are items that you wear very frequently, and often for season after season. Absolutely any item of clothing, pair of shoes, or accessory can become a wardrobe workhorse. They are interesting animals because they take on many forms. A simple, fairly nondescript piece like a layering tee, black turtleneck, pair of straight leg jeans, nude bra, stud earrings or white button-down shirt can be a wardrobe workhorse. But a dazzling and eye-catching statement piece like a bright red coat, white leather moto jacket, pair of harem jeans, pony boots, striped full skirt, zebra belt, or neon clutch can be one too. Some workhorses stretched your budget, while others were cheap as chips. The only thing that these widely different items have in common is that you wear the heck out of them.

Items can be bought with the intention of becoming workhorses. In my case when I bought a citron clutch, white belt, and straight leg white jeans this year, I knew I would reach for these items frequently. And I’m happy to report that this is the case. 

Items can also unexpectedly become wardrobe workhorses. I did not expect my white pumps, white boyfriend jeans, fluid charcoal Theory trousers, blush moto jacket, and ankle strap Okala pumps to become wardrobe workhorses. But now I’m wearing these pieces all the time. 

Some items were bought with the intention of becoming wardrobe workhorses, but you just don’t reach for them as frequently as you thought you would. I thought my white tuxedo shirt would become a wardrobe workhorse, but I reach for my shirts with “collars that pop” much more frequently. 

Items can also be workhorses one year, and fall out of favour the next. I often feel this way about my fast fashion items that I purchase from places like Zara. I wore a bone and black scarf print blouse till the cows came home last year, but it’s not a wardrobe workhorse this year. In fact, I am thinking about passing it on. Same goes for a whole slew of scarves that I used to wear a lot. These days I wear scarves mostly for insulation and seldom for decorative purposes, so I reach for them less often.

As much as we try to predict our wardrobe workhorses to ensure that we spend our budget wisely, it’s a tricky business. I warn my clients that we can make educated guesses about potential wardrobe workhorses, but that it’s not a guarantee. A wardrobe workhorse is born when it’s already part of your wardrobe and you have put it through its paces. The best you can do is assess the items that do become workhorses and use that learning to make more informed decisions about future purchases. 

Do these wardrobe workhorse scenarios resonate with you? How often have you correctly predicted a wardrobe workhorse? How often has an item unexpectedly become a wardrobe workhorse?