Hmm. I think my workhorses are all easy to put on, comfortable, and warm. They aren’t necessarily neutral but they’re less likely to warrant comment. Can’t say tho I’ve ever bought anything knowing I’ll wear it a lot, except long puffers and sport shoes.

Oh yes. We've asked ourselves this question numerous times over the years. And most of us end up scratching our heads in confusion every time!

I do think Carla is onto something -- at least when it comes to those of us whose core style is some version of classic.

One category of workhorses, for me, are wardrobe essentials. So, at any given time I will have a favourite (and workhorse):

  • blue jean
  • white jean
  • navy top (for different seasonal situations)
  • light grey top and/or sweater (depending on season
  • navy blazer
  • Breton striped top
If I'm missing any of these items (plus a few others) it's hard for me to create outfits and I typically wear the items in these categories so much that for some (especially denim bottoms and navy tops) it makes sense to duplicate or at least own a couple of similar items to avoid laundry bottlenecks.

But the real question when it comes to these is what makes one pair of jeans a workhorse and the other pair not? (Scratches head.)

Actually, there are some indicators. Does it fit really well/ feel comfortable and does it inject a bit of currency into my style? Then it will be a workhorse jean. The same is pretty much true for the other items as well, although tops can be more simple/classic.

Then there are the statement workhorses. Those ones are somewhat harder to predict, but not impossible, for me.

Footwear, bags, and blazers come to mind. Not every pair of shoes will become a workhorse (and no wonder, considering how many pairs I own, LOL). But if it is comfortable, weather worthy, and injects some currency or interest to my style, (there I go again...) there is an almost 100% chance that it will! Ditto for bags (substitute practical/commodious for comfortable). Blazers are almost by definition comfortable for me, assuming they fit. So in that case, I'm looking for "style added value." Usually an interesting colour, or a pattern, or a new cut. It is true that not every blazer will become a workhorse, but honestly? For me, all but a few are guaranteed to get a lot of wear. Especially in my new, more temperate climate.

I also have workhorse outerwear. Some falls into the neutral category (mostly navy, for me) and some into the statement category (red).

Third category, the holy grail of workhorses, is the wild card workhorse! I remember starting a thread about this some years ago. And several people have mentioned this in the comments already. I think the reason these are so meaningful to us all are because they are a large part of what makes fashion fun! There is nothing better than taking a risk on an item and then finding yourself wearing it all the time, seeing how it seems to inject new life into all your older items, and just generally playing around with it!

These, I cannot predict at all.

But there is a reason Angie tells us to try a wild card every once in a while. Sometimes they fall flat, but when they are good, they are very very good.

I think -- yet again! -- in my case they usually inject a bit of trendiness into my style. So... a western style belt in a year when western is big...but I continue to wear it for several years thereafter...or it might be a new to me colour (mustard, anyone?) or a new silhouette (wide legs? crops?). Or it might just be the item that lets me experiment with a new-to-me juxtaposition (graphic tee with suit, sneakers with skirt.)

Like others I get it wrong sometimes. I like to have mostly workhorses the closet with a bit of spice.

Some of my workhorses are very planned
- striped white and black tee
- black pants
- navy sweater
- white sneakers
- floral 2 piece
- camel boots

Others have been almost impulse buys at the thrift store or boutiques.
- blue floral dress
- gold bomber jacket
- wine spotted dress
- duck egg jacket

I am better at predicting footwear options than anything else. Bags and gear are also successful.

I predicted the grey jacket and cable sweater to be workhorses and they both got under 5 wears and are no longer in the closet.

Basics, hmm, yes, basics are wardrobe workhorses. My undies and bras for example. I have to agree with that and I did not even consider them since they are unseen.

Wildcard items rarely become workhorses in my wardrobe. I can think of only two and they were surprises, Of course it was a pair of jeans, from Frame with a slit up the font on the bottom, and cropped. Another wildcard was a cardigan with fringe up the front. It turns out I like fringe. LOL! Most of the time my wildcards fail.

Following on others, I'd also like to offer the category of failed workhorses. That is, those pieces we thought we'd love but that we don't. This is mostly a result of comfort (Staysfit mentioned that this can ultimately be unpredictable esp. for shoes), but also about how things wear throughout the day and come through the laundry.

I've had two big disappointments from NAS purchases: a synthetic knit cardigan that pills all over everything in the wash and the Catherine jeans that I find slightly nubbly and uncomfortable on the inside now that they've been laundered.

The most disappointing to me in failed workhorses are shoes that don’t hold up, comfort-wise. My feet never used to be particularly fussy, but something is happening with my aging feet to make the size disparity more apparent. My already narrow heels and slightly low-volume feet seem to be sliding out of more and more styles lately, resulting in blisters, sandals that fall off my feet, and socks sliding down into my shoes. That has definitely derailed a few planned workhorse shoe purchases.

Enjoying this thread. I am unpredictable. Wildcards are most likely to become workhorses, because they usually embody the fun, the unexpected and new, and support the emotional part of dressing. I reach for them more often when they represent a style shift, as someone else mentioned.

Notsaf, I have also tried to look at my failures to see if they offer any clues.....most of my failures are shoes that end up feeling either too loose in the heel or too tight in the toe. I would add knit items that snagged after only one wear, or developed pill, etc.