Wardrobe essentials are indispensable staples without which your wardrobe would not function. They are not wardrobe basics, which are items like underpants, bras, camisoles, socks, sleepwear, loungewear, hosiery and thermals. 

Think of a wardrobe essential as “the glue” that makes other items in your wardrobe work together to create a cohesive look.

  • They can be clothing items, footwear or accessories. 
  • They are usually versatile, current and simple in design. 
  • They are NOT statement pieces, but often create a pulled together look by complementing a statement piece. They allow statement pieces to take centre stage.
  • They are PERSONAL. What is essential to one person is not to another. 
  • They are often wardrobe workhorses.
  • They are fabulous items to duplicate in the same or different colours. 
  • They are not usually the interesting part of the outfit, despite being an important ingredient.  
  • They make the rest of your wardrobe more wearable. 
  • They evolve over time to accommodate your changing sartorial preferences. 

I used to have a very long list of wardrobe essentials, but it’s shrunk to accommodate my evolving style. Blazers, moto jackets, black trousers, trench coats, button-down shirts and riding boots were essentials that I removed a couple of years ago – and I haven’t missed them at all. I much prefer wearing soft blouses to shirts, and wear short boots almost exclusively. I wear a large assortment of coats and jackets, but not just the classics. And my black trousers are more of a statement piece than an essential. 

One of my style goals was to formalize a list of wardrobe essentials, so I’m doing just that. My 2017 list is similar to last year, with a few important changes that I’ll highlight along the way. Here is my current list across four seasons with the exact pieces from my wardrobe represented in collections.

1. Black & Ink Blue Turtlenecks & Slash Necks

For years, few items made me feel as fab as a fine gauge black turtleneck. The silhouette is a slam dunk for my body type. They keep me warm, polished, layer well under jackets or coats, and Greg loves them too. Over the years I’ve been adding lots of ink blue to my wardrobe, so the same essential in blue makes sense. Also, because I’m back to wearing a short chunky pearl necklace most days, I’ve included simple black and ink blue slash necks into this essentials category, and  have duplicates in the same style.

2. White & Cream Knitwear

These are more of a warm weather item that I wear in a crisp cotton yarn. I also wear simple cream cashmere knitwear in the colder months because it creates a chic tonal look with white pearls. I am short of this wardrobe essential and will be replenishing the category this year. 

3. Trendy Jeans

I frequently wear blue or white jeans. Some of them are statement jeans, and others I view as essentials. The silhouette of my essential jeans changes with the trends. For this leg of my style journey, they are cropped straight and flared silhouettes in blue and white denim across various washes and hem widths. (My current styles of statement jeans are floor sweeping bell bottoms, cropped culottes, cropped high-waisted styles with exposed button flies, and embroidered jeans.)

4. Denim Jackets

I have three denim jackets across different washes and fits. Tailored, fluid, light, dark, short and long. I wear them a lot in Summer, and enjoy sporting the denim on denim trend. I’ve had one of them for nine years, and it’s still going strong. 

5. White Footwear

I love wearing footwear in shades of white because it bookends my light blonde hair. It also makes my outfits look more crisp, modern and unique. I have an assortment of white essential and statement pieces in the footwear department. My go-to footwear for most of the year are flat or low-heeled white booties, and I have duplicates of the styles. In the warmer months, I like to wear white flat loafers, oxfords and sandals.  

6. Chunky White Pearl Necklaces

I re-introduced white pearl necklaces back into my style at beginning of 2016, and haven’t looked back. I have ornate pearl necklaces that are statement pieces, but most days stick to wearing my short chunky strands. And you guessed it, I have duplicates of this essential. 

7. Gold Watches

I have multiple gold watches because it’s my preferred metal and I wear one daily. I used to only wear a chunky masculine gold watch, but these days I am preferring my new daintier version. I’ll be evolving this essentials category by adding another dainty gold watch at some point. 

Wardrobes that are ultra rich in statement pieces are wonderful to look at, but often dysfunctional unless there are wardrobe essentials in place to create wearable outfits. 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. An effective assortment of wardrobe essentials usually means fewer wardrobe orphans. 

On the other hand, a wardrobe that is full of wardrobe essentials can lack excitement, sass and verve unless there are statement pieces to add interest, drama and personality. It’s all about finding the balance that works for you. Some prefer a large assortment of essentials, whereas others prefer a large variety of statement pieces. Either way, wardrobe essentials deserve your attention because they transform items into outfits, thereby making the outfit creation process a lot easier. Do keep them current and don’t feel bad about spending a significant portion of your fashion budget on them.

Consider compiling a list of wardrobe essentials if you haven’t already done so. Some people can work completely from intuition, which is impressive. But for most, the process of identifying your essentials, noting them down, and making sure your list of essentials evolves with your style, will help you to build an effective wardrobe.