Recently, I published a post on building a functional wardrobe that included a guide on how to shop for quality pieces. I frequently mention the importance of starting your wardrobe from the ground up by purchasing basics, which is then used to create your signature look. My signature look happens to be jeans, a pair of comfortable flats, a good tee and a cardigan, so my wardrobe is made up mostly of these items. They are the pieces I feel the most comfortable and at my best in, and are what I reach for when I don’t know what to wear.
That is exactly why I don’t like those “items you should have in your closet” lists. Everyone is different, and the basics I need to create a functional wardrobe might be very different from yours. Sure, everyone says you need a white tee, but do you really? That answer depends entirely on you and your lifestyle.
This basics list does not cover undergarments, and is not an end-all-be-all for me. I included the most important basics I own for those of you who need a jumping off point. I recommend reading my personal list and comparing each piece to your current wardrobe and lifestyle to determine if it’s right for you.
The White T-Shirt
Okay, back to the quintessential white tee. This is a good basic that I do recommend every woman own, for the sole purpose of versatility. You can style hundreds of different outfits around a great white tee, from workwear to leisure. Pair it with a skinny jean and sneakers for a laid-back weekend look, or tuck it into a pencil skirt and top it with a blazer for a work-appropriate ensemble. The options are endless! I layer mine often underneath cardigans and blazers, and because that’s my signature look, I’ve invested in several good-quality white tees to maximize my closet, so that I’m never without a key piece.
Camis and layering tanks are also another basic for me but are included in this category as they are often worn in lieu of a white t-shirt.
The same goes for jeans: my go-to is a dark wash skinny jean, so I own several similar pairs. I also like to switch things up with the cut and color of the fabric. I own jeans in several washes since not every shade works with an outfit, and own quite a few distressed pairs. I don’t know of a single person who doesn’t own at least one pair of great jeans, but if they’re not your thing, don’t feel pressure to buy them! You may need to try several different types before you find a pair you truly love. I myself am partial to skinny jeans with a lot of spandex so that they move with me: I hate traditional, stiff denim. And don’t feel like you need to own a ton of jeans to have a versatile closet, either. felt like I had to own a great pair of white jeans in order to have a good wardrobe and guess what? I’ve never worn them! Buy what works for you, and only you.
Whenever I run out the door, I’m partial to slinging on a pair of comfortable, chic flats. Back when I worked at Tory Burch, I bought almost every shade of Minnie Travel Ballet flat that they made, and wear them almost daily. I was always taught to invest in things that separate you from the ground, including shoes. More often than not, these items require a bigger initial investment, but they’ll serve you better over time. A $200 pair of boots, for example, might last you five years with proper care, but a $15 pair might need replacing before a year is up.
From cashmere to cotton, oversized to fitted, I absolutely live in cardigans. A great cardigan is essential for me, and I own several styles and colors that I wear often, sometimes swapping them out in place of a more structured blazer.
Blazers are interchangeable with cardigans for me. They are the perfect addition over a white tee shirt with skinny jeans and flats, and I mix things up by including different patterns and colors instead of just my usual neutrals. My favorite blazer is a plaid boyfriend-style I invested in from J.Crew, and will be wearing all fall.
A Good Coat
I have a love affair with outerwear: I absolutely love a good coat, and this is an easy way to elevate a look. My outwear basics consist of structured wool coats in neutral colors: I own the same jacket in black, grey, camel, and navy so that I can mix and match them with my existing wardrobe. This is made even easier by keeping my wardrobe to the same general color palette, and accessorize with color through the use of shoes, scarves, and handbags.
I love cardigans, so it’s only natural that I live for sweaters as well. My favorites are a crewneck silk-cashmere blend that I own in multiple colors, but I also love to incorporate sweaters in pastel hues or with short-sleeves. If I’m not wearing a cardigan or a blazer, you’ll most likely catch me in a sweater.
While I love my sweaters and cozy cardigans, I like to switch things up by reaching for a silk blouse or a crisp white button-down, often pairing them with jeans and flats in a similar manner to my “uniform.” Because these items are in the same color palette as the rest of my clothes, I am quickly and easily able to swap out one item for another and still maintain a polished and cohesive look.
There you have it! The eight basics I cannot live without. That doesn’t mean this is all I have: I’m very partial to feminine dresses and sometimes opt for blouses instead of a sweater, but these specific items are essential for the functionality of my wardrobe. Without them, I would struggle with putting an outfit together, and my wardrobe would be be as cohesive. Remember, take the time to determine what you need and buy what works for you, and only you!