Wardrobe Basics or Supporting Acts


Whenever I’m going through a wardrobe and sorting it out for a client, I’m always making sure they have a few basics that will make the rest of the wardrobe work. So what is a basic and what am I looking for?
To me, a basic is something that you need to make your Heroes/heroines work.
 wardrobe basics to own to make your heroes work

My list of wardrobe basics:

1. Tank tops – must in black/brown and white/off-white (depending on your colouring). I also like to have a few in colours that you can wear to create interesting colour combinations. Tanks are essential as often necklines can be too low for everyday wear, they give you the coverage you may need (especially for work). One of the benefits of tank tops is they also create a slight smoothing effect so the next layer works better.
2. Knit tops – tops you can wear with gorgeous skirts or trousers, or that work under funky jackets. Look for colours that work back with your existing wardrobe so that you can create more outfit combinations.
3. Jacket – one that can be dressed up or down. One of my most useful garments is a jacket that I can wear with a pair of dress pants and looks smart, but also wear with jeans and isn’t too formal.
4. Cardigan in a dark neutral colour – this is so useful, very often people don’t have the layers they require and end up being too cold, a well fitting cardigan (in good condition) that is not ‘granny like’ is a really useful basic.
5. Jeans – yep – a pair of dark denim jeans (no distressing) is great for every wardrobe – dress it up with a sandal, funk it with knee high boots, dress it down with flip-flops – the choice is yours.
6. Dress pants in a dark neutral – a well-fitting pair of dress pants in a modern cut can be worn to the supermarket and to dinner, change the shoes and the top (and accessories of course) and you’re good to go.
7. Skirt – a flattering skirt in a trans-seasonal fabric in a neutral tone is a great wardrobe staple, wear it with knee-high boots, ballet flats, sandals or pumps, team it with your jacket, top or cardigan for different moods and occassions.
8. Handbag – a great handbag, good quality, good condition that isn’t too formal or too casual is an essential item. A great bag can really finish off an outfit.
9. Shoe Wardrobe – I’ve written before about my list of essential shoes – but at the most basic level I’d suggest for a wardrobe (depending of course on your climate): knee-high boots – either flat or with heel (if you’re a daily heel wearer). Ballet flats (or some other low vamp comfortable but pretty flat shoe) to wear with skirts and pants, but are easy to run around in. Skin-toned sandal (with heel of some sort) to dress up your skirts and jeans and work with all your clothes. Flat sandals for scooting around with skirts, dresses, jeans in comfort. Pumps with heel to dress up your dress pants, skirts and jeans.
So that’s my short list of absolute basics.
What basics can’t you live without?


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  • The essentials, yes. My list does not include straight pants ( they are not me) nor the nude shoes or sandals. Neither do I have a plain jacket there, only a suit dress, which can´t be separated ( has served me fine several years by now ). I´d like to add something else to the basics. Mine would be a shawl/pashmina ( sometimes taking the act of a jacket ) , a good coat or two ( necessary over here ), opaque tights and then the minimum of jewelry -studs+ wristwatch/ bracelet or studs+ 2 rings.

  • Great list, Imogen. For my style, I would subtract the skirt (not a skirt wearer) and add a black, short-sleeve knit knee-length dress. Also, black leggings–I do love them!

  • My list would pretty much match yours too Imogen, although like the PP I'd add a dress, leggings and perhaps a classic white shirt to my list too. I'm also a huge fan of the trench coat and would have a light weight and winter one too as part of my wardrobe basics. Classic jewellery too – like simple gold/silver hoops/studs and bangles/bracelet.

  • Oops, sorry. I reread your post and found out that only the studs could be put in the list of basics, the rest are heroines then. Shoes, pref. pumps and long boots are basics too. For me, a great bag is a hero.

  • This is a great list and for me- in the second-coldest country in the world, sweaters! The hard thing about "basics dressing" here is the temperature range throughout the year, from -20C (and colder) to +33C.

    So you need the lightest summer dresses and the thickest wools, all in your closet.

  • Metscan – the shape of pants is up to the wearer – do you not wear trousers at all?

    Cciele – it's great to get what you need.

    Zizzy – yes a dress can be a great addition to this list (which I could have made enormous if I'd let myself!).

    Duchesse – I can only imagine what -20C feels like! We are so lucky to live in a temperate climate (though we do get up to +40C in summer which makes dressing very difficult).

  • Nothing nude or white for me. I'm trying to find a lot of Parisian grey, which I love as a basic, but is not always on offer.

    No real dress trousers – I have cotton twill trousers and of course jeans, but they are for practical purposes in foul, cold weather. If I want to look nice I always wear a skirt or dress.

    Leggings and opaque hose. Sweaters of course and a bloody damned warm winter coat (yecch).

    Guess all my earrings are heroines as I hate studs. I'd call hoops classics though.

    I own a good leather handbag, but most often use my "Ameribag", which is a kind of nylon or other nice fabric bag worn on one shoulder or across the body and is kind to the back, as I have to carry quite a bit of stuff with me. If I have a real briefcase or computer case, when possible it is in my bicycle panniers, but the Ameribag (LL Bean and other brands also make these, and they come in leather – discovered an artisan nearby is making something very similar for about the same price so that will be a nice option) is a staple for me (I don't have to dress very formally in most cases).

    Bracelets yes, though those are more in the hero category. Rings never, I hate wearing them.

    obviously, sandals, shoes and ankle boots as well as a more dressy kind (not necessarily knee length). Gloves!

    Imogen, -20c is a really cold snap in Toronto. It is more common here in Montréal, but only farther north and on the Prairies (which have weather like the Russian steppes) do they have weather like that for weeks on end. It is horrible, but Montréal and Toronto have extensive underground/subway/métro systems. The main problem is that people become too sedentary and "encabané" (stay-at-home in our "cabins", though they haven't been cabins in a long time, except for summer holiday stays and winter sport). I'm a diehard urbanite so no contact with cabins…

  • Really helpful, thanks!

    I was feeling pretty good about my coverage of this list, although I do need some new tanks and I fear some of my cardigans have seen better days.

    Where I really fall down(!) is on shoes – I have way too many flats. This weekend has been designated for 'buy a pair of pumps or else' !

  • I see several people have already mentioned coats, and I do think having at least a great-fitting coat for your "primary" coat season is an absolute. [So for my climate, a raincoat…for others, perhaps wool.]

    In fact, I don't remember you doing a "How to choose a flattering coat" post. As as one who has both worn UNflattering coats and who sees a lot of women doing the same, perhaps you could add it as a future topic or re-run it?

    For me–because I've lacked it in the past–I would add one item that *cannot* be worn to a typical workplace, something that says evening/party/festive. That could be a top, skirt, pair of pants, or dress. [Mine is currently a matte satin ruched pencil skirt in black, which can be dressed down but can't go 9-5!]

    I guess I should feel good that my basics list is quite similar to yours…I function very well with it, just really need to continue working on the non-basics part.

  • I'm with you, and I'm good on all the basics except skirt. My black linen skirt died, and I have been thinking I needed a new basic skirt. I don't wear tanks though – never cold enough here to layer that much, and I don't care for low necklines so modesty isn't an issue. I do own an enormous number of white and black cotton t-shirts however.

  • Imogen! No, I don´t wear pants at all, only jeans. I simply don´t like pants on me. I much rather wear a skirt. Pants are too masculine for me IMO.

  • I couldn't survive without all the basics you list. I also have on my necessary list:Black merino turtlenecks. Black opaque hose. Boots. Gold hoops. And Spanx!

  • It's definitely important to remember that "basics" will differ greatly from one person to another. I think very few are truly universal.

    -I make one exception for fantastic bras! If the bra isn't right, nothing you put over it will be either. Got to get the foundation sorted first.

    -Now for me personally: A long winter coat is important too. Not TOO long since I am petite, but about knee length so it covers my skirts and dresses and keeps my legs toasty. Can be worn with jeans too.

    -As a large-busted lass I have been wearing knits exclusively until about a year ago, I managed to acquire several wovens that worked for me, and now I find them indispensable. I can't imagine how I survived without their delightful crispness.

    -Leggings and skinny jeans have become a basic for me. Otherwise I'd have nothing to wear with all my tunics.

    -One nice dress-up, dress-down dress. Doesn't have to be black. Mine is yellow!

    -Variety of necklaces to fill in the space created by my lower necklines

    Sure there's more but I'm too long-winded as it is.

  • Well there's a certain jewel toned (blue) button down, slim, mid-length cardigan I buy again and again and again 🙂 And I really can't do without skinny jeans.

  • Great post, Imogen. I love your polyvore. Those truly are basic pieces.

    Have you ever considered a post on how our locale changes what's considered necessary or basic to our wardrobes? For instance, I never relate to lists of basics that insist I have a skirt wardrobe or a heel wardrobe. I live in, basically, a cowtown! Yet I love and appreciate fashion as much as anyone, and we do have style here.

    My basics are several pairs of shoes that are chunky because that style flatters me, can be worn in inclement weather; many stylish wool sweaters, and slim jeans to go under the longish ones. Turtlenecks, and lots of distinguishing accessories. This is for winter.

  • Winter: Great coat, dark pants, dark dress, great leather bag, opaque hoses, high boots I can walk a lot with, good wool sweaters thin lambwool or cachemire, and one of thicker wool.

    Summer: Sun screen.

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