Wardrobe essentials are indispensable staples without which your wardrobe would not function. They are not to be confused with wardrobe basics, which are items like underpants, bras, camisoles, shapewear, socks, sleepwear, loungewear, hosiery and thermals. Wardrobe essentials are usually very versatile, simple in design, and current. 

Wardrobe essentials are not necessarily the most interesting part of your outfit but they are a very important ingredient. They are like the foundation of an outfit, or the glue that makes the other pieces come together in a cohesive whole. If your wardrobe essentials aren’t in place you will probably end up with many more closet orphans. They make the rest of your closet a lot more wearable.

I do not believe in a universal list of wardrobe essentials because our needs are different. I prefer to suggest a personalized list that is suited to your lifestyle, climate, body type and style persona. T-shirts might be your button-down shirts. Stud earrings might be your oversized watch. V-neck sweaters might be your turtlenecks, and shorts might be your jeans. Remember that the list should be flexible, and should be open to change. 

It’s extremely important to ensure that your wardrobe essentials are current. Like other wardrobe items, they have an expiry date, and should be revisited seasonally to ensure that the pieces fit, are fashionable, suit your needs, work with the rest of your items, and are in good shape. 

My list of wardrobe essentials has changed slightly over the years as I’ve simplified my style and accommodated my evolving style preferences. A black pencil skirt, Converse sneakers, tall dressy boots, ballet flats, and a little black dress are no longer on the list. I prefer dressy black trousers to a pencil skirt, and dressy black separates to a LBD. For comfort reasons I have moved away from Converse sneakers, and switched from ballet flats to loafers. And I now prefer to wear casual, flat knee-high boots as opposed to dressy tall boots. 

In some cases the items that remain on my list have been updated to a more fashionable fit, colour or cut. That’s one of the ways I inject the Modern back into my Classics. 

  1. Button-Down Shirts: Roomy fits reign supreme and make the rest of your outfit look more fashionable. I held onto a few fitted silhouettes, but for the most part replenished my shirts with a baggier look in white, shades of blue, and plaid. Button-downs are “my T-shirts” and work well worn on their own tucked into bottoms with a belt, or layered under knitwear and jackets.  
  2. Turtlenecks: Few items make me feel as fab as a fine gauge turtleneck sweater because they work well with my very long neck. Plus they keep me warm, look polished, and layer extremely well under jackets. I held onto a few fitted styles because they work well with flared skirts, but added simple neutral turtlenecks in fluid and oversized fits to keep things current. 
  3. Jeans: I prefer wearing white jeans to blue jeans for a multitude of reasons and therefore expanded my white jeans capsule this year. Now I have more pairs of white jeans than blue jeans, which reflects my dressing habits, and prevents laundry bottlenecks. 
  4. Dressy Black Trousers: Black cigarette pants and dressy black flared trousers continue to come in handy. I’ve been wearing the same pieces for four years and they’re still going strong.
  5. Moto Jackets: I’ve had moto jackets in my wardrobe since the ’80s, and have updated their silhouettes accordingly. I wear my two black moto jackets very frequently and with just about any combination. One of them is five years old and the other eight years old, whittling down the cost per wear to nothing. Both fits are a little looser than tailored and therefore look completely current. I added a white moto jacket to my capsule this year, and hope it has as much longevity as its predecessors.  
  6. Blazers: I still wear my old grey pinstripe, two button Theory blazer that’s part of a suit. It does not look dated because it’s on the fluid side of tailored, and very simple. Last year I added an ink one button Theory blazer to my essentials capsule to achieve a more fashionable look. It has proved to be very versatile, and does not crease. I wear it for plane travel with a pair of jeans and feel polished and pulled together at the airport. 
  7. Denim Jacket: I updated this item two years ago by choosing a roomier fit with two-toned black mixed media sleeves. My tailored denim jackets are sitting in the holding zone. 
  8. Trench Coat: I have tailored citron and cream trench coats that I wear fairly frequently. Both are many years old and I love them just as much now as I did when I first got them. Neither looks dated and they are still in good condition. I passed on my black trench coat two years ago because I never wore it. I’m just not a black coat gal.  
  9. Tall Flat Riding Boots: I have a black and grey pair of casual flat riding boots. Both are several seasons old, but they still look current if I wear them with a trendy support act. 
  10. Oversized Watch: I added another oversized gold watch to my capsule last year because I fancied one with a black face. I have four that I interchange daily. 

If you haven’t already done so, consider compiling a list of wardrobe essentials. Some people can work completely from intuition, but for most the structure is a big help when it comes to building an effective wardrobe. When clients call me for an outfit creation session because they’re battling to create outfits, it’s often a case of missing or dated wardrobe essentials. They might not be the most exciting items to shop for, but they transform items into outfits. Do keep them current and don’t feel bad about spending a significant portion of your fashion budget on them.