Wardrobe Essentials: Get Back to the Basics
Some days it seems like you can turn your whole closet upside down and still not find anything to wear. The struggle to put a look together rarely actually stems from a complete lack of options––rather, it’s a lack of the basic building blocks that make up an outfit.
The idea of a capsule wardrobe was first introduced in the 1970s. It puts an emphasis on high-quality, timeless clothing staples that won’t just gather dust. By emphasizing practicality and durability, you can save money and protect the environment. While you don’t have to stick only to essential pieces, they are a great way to start creating a wardrobe that is both simple and stylish. Check out this guide on how to sort through the mess and start with the must-haves.
The first category to tackle in a capsule wardrobe is the tops section. This area is especially subject to weather change, so you’ll want to make sure you have a variety of sleeve lengths and shapes. This category is also where layering shines the most, so be aware of keeping a good mix of neutral tones, flexible colors, oversized, and form-fitting garments.
The t-shirt is such a universal and versatile piece it hardly needs an explanation. But here’s one anyway: A t-shirt not only works on its own, it is also the ideal base for layering, which is the key to any capsule wardrobe. Although you can opt for a fitted tee if you wish, something relaxed often has more styling options. Buy one solid t-shirt in a neutral color, or buy some in bulk. You can never have enough.
Long Sleeved Turtleneck
The turtleneck is a sleek and chic piece that has been a wardrobe staple for decades now. In contrast to the relaxed t-shirt, the turtleneck is a base garment that lends itself to sculpting an hourglass figure, even when paired with jackets, jewelry, or belts. Opt for the ever-stylish black turtleneck or for a wine red that works both in fall and winter.
White Button Down
The white button down, though sometimes overlooked, might have the greatest range of any piece in your closet. It can serve on its own, as a base underneath a vest or blazer, or as a top layer for camisoles, tank tops, and more. You can switch up its appearance to suit different needs. Button it how you will, scrunch up the sleeves, tie up the hem, or tuck it in. This piece will always give you variety.
It may be easiest to simply recommend a black camisole. After all, that is a universally flattering and elegant shade. However, a camisole draws focus, due to frequently being silk or satin, and thus you may prefer one that comes in a unique shade. Orange and lavender are very on trend while pink and dark green are flattering on most skin tones. A bit of extra lace or detailing on a cami is never to be overlooked.
While a muted or neutral sweater is always handy, your wardrobe does need a bit of pop and color sprinkled in. That’s where the bold sweatshirt takes the stage. Wear it over a black dress for a cute everyday look, or keep it as your cozy lounge day essential. You can even use a sweatshirt to bring some fun into a monochrome outfit by tying it around your hips. It also fulfills the practical need for some personal climate control.
Form-Fitting Tank or Bodysuit
A tank top––whether it be of the spaghetti strap or muscle tee variety––is important to keep around not only for those humid days, but for when you need just a bit of an underlayer. While a snug tank will help you in most situations, a bodysuit is useful if you want to tuck it into bottoms while preventing awkward bunching, creasing, or rising during the day.
While silk is the default, this category really belongs to any slightly upscale top with delicate fabric that drapes just right. The silk blouse––most applicable in an off-white or pale color––is a timeless piece that can be both romantic or businesslike in the right context. To ensure a bit of flair in your closet, don’t miss this item.
Layers and Jackets
Though some of these can easily be thrown into the “tops” category, it’s important to group these separately to be fully aware of what you’re working with. The following items are pieces that cannot stand on their own yet are crucial for adding warmth, style, or shape to the rest of the outfit.
The shirt jacket––or shacket––is an excellent piece for any season, whether it be a slightly chilly June evening or a surprisingly sunny October day. The shacket comes in a variety of forms, and it’s best to pick something that matches your personal taste. Generally loose and falling just below the hips, it could be a flannel, corduroy, or denim jacket. Make sure you’ve got this layer at the ready.
Much can be said about the blazer in women’s fashion, but perhaps the most important thing to know is that it will most likely be your go-to piece for a professional environment. In some cases, the blazer could even be thrown over a graphic t-shirt to make it work appropriate. If you’d like something a bit more trendy and casual, opt for a slightly oversized blazer that allows you to scrunch or roll up the sleeves.
Light-Weight Transitional Jacket
Not to be confused with the shirt jacket, this piece is primarily meant for outdoor wear and weather protection. A comfortable quilt jacket, motorcycle jacket, or bomber are all good examples of pieces that won’t leave you sweaty but will keep some unexpected wind and rain from ruining your day.
Just like the blazer adds a bit of elegance to anything, the chunky cardigan brings a much-needed ounce of comfort. Use it to add a bit of coverage over a tight or revealing top, or simply to create that sought-after effortless effect––the chunky cardigan will cozy up any outfit. An off-white, gray, or camel-colored cardigan is the most versatile.
As with all categories in the closet, one of your layers must be designed to shine. In this case, it is the statement coat. You might gravitate toward a sophisticated rusty-orange trench coat, or maybe a hefty faux fur is more your speed. Whatever it is, use this layer to add spice to your more muted pieces.
Heavy Weather Coat
This should go without saying, but it’s not to be left out: Make sure you don’t forget practicality. Sometimes even a dozen layers are not as effective as a high-quality, heavy coat for even the most blustery of days.
This category can get away with being a bit more sparse than the others. Bottoms tend to be fairly durable, and are often simply solid pieces that allow for ample experimentation with tops and accessories. But don’t be fooled: There are certain bottoms you’re bound to be lost without. Make sure you’re prepared for all looks and seasons with these staples.
If you feel like the “blue” part of the blue jeans really has no place in your wardrobe, feel free to opt for black or gray ones, but this is a piece that never goes out of style. Jeans can be dressed up or down, and few would disagree that a nice pair of jeans is all you need to sculpt a flattering figure. Jeans that are distressed or carry extra detail are still welcome in your wardrobe eventually, but opt for a great-fitting solid pair first and foremost.
Black Leggings or Knit Pants
It’s official: Leggings have become socially acceptable to wear as bottoms in most places, and our legs couldn’t be more thankful. Not only do these provide a nice layer underneath longer tops, they also are a comfortable way to show off and sculpt your curves. If you don’t feel quite right wearing leggings as pants, go for the slightly more trouser-like but just as soft ponte-knit pants instead.
Solid Color Shorts
While there’s generally only one time of the year you’ll need these, you’ll always want a good pair of comfortable shorts in your closet. Khaki, military green, or light blue are nice colors that lend themselves to mixing and matching and can be upscaled or downscaled for different events.
Gone are the days when low-rise pants dominated the fashion world. High rise is here, and for good reason: These generally sit more comfortably on the body and smooth out the hips and waist for a flattering figure. They can also be paired with crop tops or tied-up blouses. For something universally flattering, go for brown straight- or wide-legged ones.
There’s a reason the miniskirt has not left the fashion mainstream since the 1960s. It’s a chic yet youthful garment that is the No. 1 go-to for when you’d like to show a bit of leg. Depending on what you’re more likely to wear, your miniskirt can be high-waisted, low-rise, denim, cotton, leather––it’s up to you.
For a working woman’s wardrobe, a good pair of slacks can’t be forgotten––or even more than one, if you’re frequently in an office environment. Your slacks should be tailored well and, ideally, match your blazer. With those two items, you’ll always look put together.
While you might feel that tights are something either for somebody much younger or much older than you, the fact is that they help make an outfit more weather- or event-appropriate. A pair of black and nude tights is cheap (you can generally find them at your local drugstore) and useful; add a glittery and colorful pair while you’re at it for extra accessorizing opportunities.
This category can be overlooked if you’re the more androdynous type and don’t see yourself in dresses much. Otherwise, this is a small yet vital category in your wardrobe. A dress is often the first thing you’ll want to grab for a formal event or date night. Make sure you have a range of fancy and casual options to choose from.
Little Black Dress
What can be said about the little black dress that hasn’t already been said a million times over? It’s the ultimate canvas to be dressed up or down, it’s appropriate for most any occasion, and it looks good on everyone. Whether it’s a satin slip dress or a fit-and-flare, the LBD is a must-have for any woman’s closet.
Now that you’ve got your cheeky LBD, the midi dress is a close cousin that serves a similar purpose, but shows a bit less skin. The midi is a good choice for slightly cooler climates, and the extra length also brings about a bit more maturity. You can also opt to make this a sweater dress for something more cozy and casual.
The statement dress is one you’ll want to whip out for the most special occasions. Whether it is a sultry cocktail dress or full-length gown, no wardrobe is complete without one. Choosing this piece is an opportunity to really let your personality shine, so don’t worry about making it blend in with the rest of the wardrobe––it’s built to stand out.
Finally, the category that so much depends on. The right pair of shoes can make or break an outfit. However, we are so often occupied with everything else we tend to throw on shoes at the last minute before heading out the door. That’s why it’s important to have solid options that make your choice of footwear easy and obvious––with, as always, a bit of the unexpected thrown in for good measure.
Any sturdy tennis shoes will do in this category. However, the chunky white sneaker has become such a trendy item for good reason. Not only is it comfortable footwear, it also adds a bit of height and bounce to your step. The bright white highlights the legs and goes with most outfits, which is preferable since you’ll be wearing them often.
The ankle boot is a sophisticated yet practical shoe. It offers a bit of weather protection––especially if you go for a water-resistant one––while still maintaining a lightweight and refined look. Get your ankle boots in brown or black to allow them to accent diverse outfits.
Black or Nude Heels
There’s not much that can go wrong with this item. Like most of the shoes in your capsule wardrobe, these should be neutral and able to blend in with different outfits. Once you’ve got the basics down, you can branch into different colors and statement heels. For now, make sure you’ve got this classic staple.
These are a great alternative for office wear if wearing heels all day sounds unpleasant to you. The thick sole of the chunky loafer will give you a bit of height and a solid foundation to take on the day. While black is the most on-trend (and will rarely let you down), brown is also a good pick.
Finally, for something feminine and formal that doesn’t require you to stay on your toes, make sure you’ve got a nice pair of ballerina flats that fits you well. Because they are generally dainty and fade into the background of the outfit, feel free to get some flats in a stand-out shade.
After reading this guide, you might find that you actually have more of these important pieces than you think. So start cleaning out what you don’t need and start focusing on what you do––once you do that, you’ll be surprised how versatile an essential wardrobe can really be.
How to Make a Timeless Wardrobe | OCCC Pioneer
Impacts of Fast Fashion on the Environment | EarthThe Miniskirt Myth | V&A