It’s time for the annual post on wardrobe essentials. To recap, 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 panties, bras, camisoles, socks, sleepwear, loungewear, hosiery, thermals and simple workout wear. 

A wardrobe essential is the “glue” that makes other items in your wardrobe work together to create complete and cohesive outfits.

  • They can be clothing items, footwear or accessories.
  • They are versatile, current and simple in design.
  • They can form part of your signature style.
  • They are SPECIFIC items within a wardrobe category, and not the entire wardrobe category. For example, in your boot capsule, the simple heeled black booties are the wardrobe essentials and not the ones that make a strong visual statement.
  • They are NOT statement pieces, but often create a pulled together look by complementing a statement piece.
  • 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 neutrals.
  • 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.

Your list of wardrobe essentials might be long or short, depending on your style. Some have styles rich in essentials, while others prefer a closet full of statement pieces. Either way, wardrobe essentials deserve your attention because they transform items into outfits, and make the outfit creation process a lot easier. Essentials are also excellent landscapes for showcasing statement jewellery, scarves, belts, footwear, rainbow hair, bags and body art.

I’ve changed my essentials list quite a bit over the years. Blazers, moto jackets, black trousers, trench coats, button-down shirts and riding boots were all essentials in the past, but none of them make my list in 2019. These days I much prefer wearing soft blouses to shirts. I wear a large assortment of coats and jackets, but not just the classics. My black riding boots and black trousers are more of a statement piece than an essential. I’m down to two moto jackets and rarely wear them. 

Here’s my current list across all four seasons with the exact pieces from my wardrobe represented in collections. All items are workhorses, so much so that I sometimes have duplicates of exactly the same colour in rotation.

1. Dark Blue & Black Knitwear

I like wearing turtlenecks because they keep me warm, and create flattering proportions by enclosing my long neck. I like wearing close-fitting crew necks because they work well with my pearl necklaces and shorten my long neck. The fine gauge classic versions with a fluid, tailored or body-con fit are my “tee.” They layer well under jackets and coats. They also look great with skirts, jeans and trousers. I feel set in this area.

2. White Knitwear & Tops

I wear cream in the Autumn and Winter, and white in Spring and Summer. The optical white crisp cotton yarn is perfect for warmer weather, especially in an open-knit weave. Again, these types of tops are my “tees,” so I wear them with all sorts of bottoms and as layers under toppers. I passed on three white wardrobe essentials last year, and will be looking to replace them.

3. Blue Striped Knitwear

Striped pullovers across a range of weights in shades of neutral blue have become year-round essentials. I have Winter and Summer versions, enjoy their graphic classic vibe and their ability to add punch to a simple outfit. I like their versatile pattern mixing ability too. I have a nice collection but am open to more because I do not tire of a classic stripe.

4. Trendy Jeans

I’m wearing blue jeans less frequently as I opt for trousers, casual pants, white jeans, dresses and skirts instead. That said, blue and white jeans continue to form a large part of my style. 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, my essential jeans are high in the waist, cropped, and straight or slightly tapered in the leg. The thigh fits are tailored or roomy. I don’t want to purchase more essential jeans this year. It’s statement jeans with bells and whistles all the way.

5. Denim Jackets

I have four denim jackets across a variety of lengths, washes, fits and silhouettes. Light, dark, fluid, tailored, short and long. I wear them a lot in Spring and Summer with dresses, casual pants, skirts, and enjoy sporting the denim-on-denim trend too. I’ve had one of them for ten years, and it’s still going strong. I feel set in this area.

6. Modern Classic Dark Blue Outerwear

I didn’t think of my dark blue coats and jackets as essentials, but they are. I reach for them often, just like you might reach for black or grey outerwear. They are versatile classics across casual and dressy silhouettes that work with most of my outfits. The long navy military coat is the second most worn coat in my large outerwear capsule, and in its ninth year. Still going strong, and Greg’s favourite coat. The short navy puffer is new and I wear it very frequently because it’s easy to pack and is warm. I feel set in this area.

7. White Footwear

I love wearing flat and very low-heeled footwear in shades of white because it bookends my light blonde hair and adds a crisp, interesting, and modern element to my outfits. When others choose black footwear, I usually choose white! I have a large assortment of white footwear, and am open to adding to my collection because it’s my thing. My go-to white footwear styles are white booties, shooties, loafers, ballet flats, slingbacks, and hi-tops, and I have duplicates of them. In the very hot months, I like to wear simple white sandals.

8. Blush Footwear

Blush pink footwear is a new essential for my style. I’ve been reaching for my blush loafers a lot over the last few Spring and Summers, and enjoy them as an alternative light neutral. They complement the pink and peach tones in my complexion, and I find them versatile. They look especially good with white jeans, which are another essential. I’d like to get blush booties or shooties that aren’t suede for the colder months.

9. Straw Hat & Cream Beanies

I wear hats a lot more frequently than I used to, so they’ve become essentials too. A classic and packable straw hat for the Summer to shade from the sun. Cream beanies and a beret for the colder months because my ears get sore when they aren’t insulated against the cold. I’m open to another straw hat if I can find one to fit my very small head.

10. White Pearl Necklace, Pearl Bracelets & Pearl Ring

I am a jewellery minimalist. I have custom-made pearl necklaces, bracelets, and a wedding ring and that is all I wear in the jewellery department. Sometimes I wear all three items at once, or I choose between the necklace and the bracelets. I always wear the ring, and am adorned with pearls daily. I also wear my layered knotted faux pearls from time to time to create the pile of pearls. But those make a statement and are not an essential.

11. Gold Watch

Yellow gold is my metal with preferably no exceptions. I am down to one gold watch and passed on the other two because they look dated for my style. I’m into daintier and not oversized watched these days. I like the way they work with my pearl bracelets and ring. I’ll be evolving this essentials category by adding another dainty gold watch at some point.

I have a large collection of handbags, dresses and scarves, but they make a statement and are not simple essentials. I’m off wearing belts now that I wear tops tucked into high-rise jeans and pants and many with exposed button flies. It’s too much together with my pearls, specs, patterns, and high-contrast outfits.

Wardrobes that are rich in statement pieces are wonderful to look at, but often dysfunctional unless there are wardrobe essentials in place to create wearable outfits. I can’t tell you how many clients battle to wear their statement pieces because they don’t have the essentials to wear with them. On the other hand, a wardrobe full of essentials can lack excitement, sass and verve unless there are statement pieces to add interest, drama and personality. Find the balance that works for you.

Consider compiling a list of wardrobe essentials if you haven’t already done so. Some people can work completely from intuition. But for most, the process of identifying your essentials, noting them down, and making sure your list evolves with your style, will help you to build an effective wardrobe. If you’re stuck, feel free to ask for guidance in the forum.