It’s time for the annual wardrobe essentials post because despite how you feel about wearing, shopping, and purchasing essentials, you can’t get dressed without them. Boring to some, but essential to your style. 

In an outfit creation session with a new client recently, we battled to pull together head-to-toe outfits with her statement-rich wardrobe. She has beautiful wardrobe items that look gorgeous, fit well, and suit her and her lifestyle to a tee. Yet things weren’t working as well as she had hoped. It quickly came down to missing wardrobe essentials. In other words, her wardrobe lacked the “glue” that makes other items in her wardrobe work together to create complete and cohesive outfits. We made a list of the missing essentials, shopped for them, and it made all the difference.

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.

Here are some characteristics of wardrobe essentials:

  • 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 might be the wardrobe essentials, rather than the bright red ones 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 that are 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 last twenty years. Blazers, moto jackets, black trousers, trench coats, button-down shirts and riding boots were slam dunk essentials in the past, but only one of these items makes my list for 2020. These days I wear as many blouses as shirts, and they tend to make a statement in a pattern or bright colour. I wear a large assortment of coats and jackets, but not just the classics. I don’t like wearing black footwear, and black trousers are more of a statement piece than an essential for my style. I’m down to one moto jacket in a statement shade of seafoam.

Here’s my current list across all four seasons with the exact pieces from my wardrobe represented in collections. There are changes to last year’s list, which is interesting and exciting to me. The changes are a result of an evolving style and lifestyle shift. My style is more colourful, bright, maximal, and pattern-rich than ever, which means that it’s heavy in statement pieces. I live in downtown Seattle and Salt Lake City which means that I commute on foot most of the time. This has made me even fussier about comfortable footwear, so I wear fashion sneakers and hi-tops very frequently. Most items are workhorses, so much so that I sometimes have duplicates of exactly the same colour in rotation.

Dark Blue and Black Knitwear and Knit Tops

I deliberately have more dark blue tops than black because I prefer them. I am done with solid black tops, but will continue to wear the few that I have. 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.

White Knitwear and Knit 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 four white wardrobe essentials last year, and will be looking to replace them. I’m always looking for simple and versatile solid white tops. I hope to throw some Summer wovens into the mix.

Blue Striped Knitwear and Knit Tops

Striped pullovers across a range of weights in shades of neutral blue and white have become year-round essentials. I have more Spring and Summer versions at the moment but that might change. I passed on four old striped pullovers last year due to bad pilling and might replace some of them. I enjoy their graphic classic vibe and their ability to add punch to a simple outfit. I like their versatile pattern mixing and layering ability under toppers too. I have a nice collection but am open to more because I do not tire of a classic stripe.

Trendy Blue and White 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 and trendy 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 wide in the hems. The thigh fits are tailored or roomy. My white essential jeans capsule needs a refresh as I move to wide leg silhouettes, and pass on some tapered styles. I don’t want to purchase more essential blue jeans this year because statement jeans with bells and whistles is my focus. I might demote my Levis Wedgie Jeans to “trail and gear” jeans because they don’t look trendy enough for my style anymore. My jeans style is happiest when I sport trendy and fashion-forward silhouettes, and I must keep on remembering that.

Denim Jackets

I have five denim jackets across a variety of lengths, washes, fits and silhouettes. Light, dark, fluid, tailored, short, long, blue and white. 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. I will add a statement denim jacket if I add another to my style this year.

Modern Classic Dark Blue Outerwear

I didn’t think of my dark blue coats and jackets across a range of thicknesses as essentials, but they are. I reach for most of them extremely 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 most worn coat in my large outerwear capsule, and in its tenth year. I hope to add another ink blue military knee-length coat to my wardrobe this year.

White and Blush Footwear

I love wearing flat and very low-heeled footwear in shades of white because it bookends my platinum blonde hair and adds a crisp, graphic, 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 fashion sneakers and hi-tops, booties, shooties, loafers, ballet flats, and I have duplicates of many of the styles. I’ve also added my blush footwear into the mix because I wear blush footwear like white footwear. I wish I had a pair of blush booties.

Light Straw Hats and Beanies

I wear hats a lot more frequently than I used to, so they’ve become essentials too. I like to keep them light and low contrast to my head and hair to keep them versatile, and a good match to my essential white footwear. A classic and packable straw hat in white and tan 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 more hats because my small head is hard to fit, so finding a great fitting hat is like finding treasure.

White Pearl Necklace, Monogram Necklace, Pearl Bracelets and Pearl Ring

I am a jewellery minimalist. I have custom-made real 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 white pearls daily. I also wear a gold monogrammed necklace that I layer with the pearls from time to time. I’ve just had a new pearl wedding ring made, and am excited to add it to the mix. I am set in this area.

White and Gold Apple Watch

Surprisingly, I started wearing a gold Apple watch with white strap at the end of last year, and love it. I managed to make the sporty look work with my white pearls and dressy style, and haven’t looked back. I love what it can do, and got used to the way it looked in five minutes. I am set in the watch department.

I have a large collection of handbags and dresses but they make a statement and are not simple essentials. My eyewear and small collection of scarves make a statement too. I’m off wearing most 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.

You can successfully build a statement-rich style as long as you have the right essentials in place to make them wearable and versatile. 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, and make sure you update and adapt your curated essentials list as your style evolves over time.

Have a go at compiling your own wardrobe essentials list, and feel free to ask for help on our forum.