Time for the annual wardrobe essentials post. Boring perhaps, but oh so essential because you can’t build a functional wardrobe without them. Some people have a style rich in essentials, while others prefer a closet full of statement pieces. Either way, if you’re battling to transform items into outfits, chances are high you’re missing a good assortment of wardrobe essentials.
To recap, wardrobe essentials are simple indispensable staples that help you create a completed outfit. They are like “the glue” that helps you piece the look together. Some call them wardrobe basics, which is NOT the same thing and it greatly confuses the issue. Wardrobe basics are items like panties, bras, camisoles, socks, sleepwear, loungewear, hosiery, thermals, and workout wear.
Here are some characteristics of wardrobe essentials
- They can be clothing items, footwear, and accessories.
- They are versatile, current and very 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 or animal print 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. For example, a black dress, pencil skirt, blazer, and pair of boots might be essential to you, but none of those items are essential to me.
- They can be 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 and lifestyle.
This time round I’m curious to hear whether your list of personal wardrobe essentials has changed due to the realities of the global pandemic, or another big lifestyle change. Maybe essentials like Athleisure bottoms and cardigans have taken the place of jeans and blazers. Or you’re purchasing fewer essential tops because you prefer making a statement with colour and pattern in digital meetings. Or it’s goodbye pumps, and hello sneakers.
I’ve changed my essentials list a lot over the last twenty years. Simple blazers, moto jackets, black trousers, trench coats, white 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 my blouses and shirts 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 I’m down to one moto jacket in a statement shade of seafoam. Most of my handbags are statement pieces too.
Here’s my current list across all FOUR seasons with the exact items from my wardrobe represented in collections. My style is more colourful, bright, maximal, and pattern-rich than ever, which means that it’s heavier in statement pieces than essentials on this leg of my style journey. I live in downtown Seattle which means that I commute on foot most of the time and in all sorts of grotty weather. 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 neutral in rotation.
Dark Blue Knitwear and Tops
It’s taken years of careful curation and editing, but the solid black tops are finally gone from my wardrobe. I am now 100% solid dark blue, but wear black in patterns. I like wearing turtlenecks because they keep me warm, and create flattering proportions by enclosing my long neck. I like wearing fluid crew necks and shirts because they work well with my pearl necklaces and shorten my long neck. 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 Tops
I wear cream in the colder months, and white in warmer months (although I’m less strict about that than I used to be). I wear these tops with all sorts of bottoms and as layers under toppers. I passed on three white warm-weather wardrobe essentials last year, and will be looking to replace them. I hope to throw some Summer wovens into the mix.
Blue Striped Knitwear and Tops
Striped pullovers across a range of weights in shades of dark blue and white have become year-round essentials. I passed on two old striped pullovers and a knitted top last year due to stretched out fits. I plan to replace 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.
Trendy Blue and White Jeans
I’m wearing jeans less frequently as I reach for dressy trousers and casual pants instead. In warm weather I frequently wear dresses and skirts. That said, blue and white jeans continue to form a large and trendy part of my style and I would miss them if I didn’t have a good assortment. 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, mostly cropped, relaxed and straight in silhouette, or wide on the hems. Some of them have broad cuffs. I have full-length wide legs and flares too. The thigh fits are tailored or roomy. I need one more pair of essential white wide crops.
I don’t wear skinnies anymore, and my straights are relaxed. I don’t want to purchase more essential blue jeans because statement jeans with bells and whistles is my focus. My jeans style is happiest when I sport trendy and fashion-forward silhouettes, and I must keep on remembering that.
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 and dressy pants, skirts, and enjoy sporting the denim-on-denim trend too. I’ve had one of them for eleven years, and it’s still going strong. I am open to adding another denim jacket if I see a different and super cute style.
Modern Classic Dark Blue Outerwear
I reach for dark blue coats and jackets across a range of thicknesses extremely often, just like you might reach for black or grey outerwear. These are versatile classics across casual and dressy silhouettes that work with most of my cold-weather outfits. The long navy military coat is one of the most worn coats in my large outerwear capsule, and is in its eleventh year. It’s showing a bit of wear and needs to be replaced at some point. But I will continue wearing it for now. The new faux fur shearling from Boden became an instant workhorse, and took the place of my long navy puffer. The Burberry navy peacoat is the least worn of the lot because I’m off the length. I’d have preferred it to be shorter or longer, but I do wear it from time to time. The new little Zara puffer made of recycled polyester is almost in the “gear” category and reserved for very casual settings. I feel set in this area.
White and Blush Sneakers and Boots
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. I throw in the blush because it’s light, unique, and pretty, and works almost as well as the white.
These days, I’m in fashion sneakers almost exclusively and it’s becoming a permanent change to my style. I wear hi-tops in colder weather and low-tops in mild, warm, and hot weather. I reach for white and blush fashion sneakers very frequently, although my statement sneakers come out to play a lot too. Essential fashion sneakers have taken the place of white and blush essential loafers and sandals. White booties on the other hand, continue to be an essential, although they haven’t seen much pandemic action. I passed on a pair last year, and replaced them. I hope to find the right blush hi-tops this year. Unless my needs change, I feel set in this area.
Light Neutral Beanies and Straw Hats
In wet, cool and windy Seattle, 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 Pearls and White Apple Watch
I am a jewellery minimalist. I have custom-made real pearl necklaces, bracelets, and wedding rings and that is all I wear in the jewellery department. I wear all three items at once, or I choose between the necklace and the bracelets. I am adorned with white pearls daily, although I’m leaving off my rings until we are post-COVID. Sometimes I wear a monogrammed “A” gold necklace with my pearls, but do not consider it an essential.
I managed to make the sporty white Apple watch work with my white pearls and dressy style, and haven’t looked back. I wear it every single day. I love what it can do, and got used to the way it looked in five minutes. I am set in the watch department.
You can successfully build a statement-rich style as long as you have the right essentials in place to make them wearable and versatile. That said, 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.