Do You Have an Essential Wardrobe Item?

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11 Wardrobe Essentials

How often do we see magazine articles on the essential wardrobe items that everyone must have?  How often do you actually agree with them?

I’m often asked what I think these essentials are, but given that people’s lifestyles, tastes and personalities differ, there are very few garments that I would class as essential for everyone.

I mean, how many of you never wear a ‘crisp white shirt’?  Lots of people don’t look good in bright white, and many people don’t feel comfortable in button down shirts, they feel too restricted.  Sure they are a great item if you’re in a corporate office environment and you love classic style clothing, but otherwise maybe they’re not for you (though you can see how I style a white shirt multiple ways here).

What is essential for someone living in Canada (snow boots and heavy overcoats) is not essential for someone living in Brisbane (swimwear and sun hats).

Sure, most of us find that a great fitting pair of jeans is a great staple of our wardrobe, but I’ve met plenty of people who have no need or love of jeans, and they don’t suit their personality or they don’t feel comfortable, so why force someone into something that isn’t them?

My personal wardrobe essentials are:

  1. Jeans
  2. Knit tops, both long and short sleeve, both cotton and woollen to layer or just wear alone
  3. Interestingly constructed skirts or straight skirts with an interesting multi-coloured pattern
  4. Dresses, from casual to formal, from maxi to just above the knee
  5. Cardigans for warmth (for me often shrug cardigans)
  6. Jackets (but not the classic kind)
  7. Lightweight coats
  8. Sandals, both flats and heels
  9. Ballet flats
  10. Knee high boots
  11. Funky jewelleryI don’t go to formal events often, so have little need for evening wear.  The weather in Melbourne is temperate, so apart from the very hot summer days, and a short, mildish winter, I don’t need lots of heavy winter clothing.

    What are your essential wardrobe items?

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23 Comments

  • I'll leave the outerwear and weather extremes aside. I usually like to feel comfortable and cozy, with occasional bursts of looking more business-y or hot … so here're my MUSTs:

    – hiking shoes / sandals (because I walk a lot)
    – Flat (or almost) mary-janes (to go with skirt and more formal settings where sporty shoes fail)
    – Loafers (currently dreaming of a dark brown pair)
    – Espadrilles (especially stripy)

    For everyday:
    – Jeans
    – Knit cotton (or similar) tops (various necklines and thicknesses and colours and sleeve lengths)
    – Wooly cardigans in various styles and colours
    – A-line skirt
    – Tank top to put under V-necks that are too deep

    For dancing:
    – Dansneakers
    – Bright top (not revealing)

    For occasional important meetings and interviews:
    – Black pants
    – Button-down shirt
    – Twin set

    Necklaces:
    – Funky chunky
    – Chain with pendant
    – Gem-stone bead lines

  • Great post, Imogen. I totally agree with you – I get irritated by the 'you MUST have a white shirt' articles that get recycled year after year. I'd agree with your essentials but I'd add some scarves. I am slowly rebuilding my wardrobe with my trusty colour swatches in hand! I do love how it immediately whittles down what you have to look at.

  • Great post- I'm not a huge fan of the white shirt either. My essentials are:

    -Black pencil skirt
    -Denim pencil Skirt
    -Well fitting dark wash jeans
    -Grey cardigan
    -Wrap Dress in Neutral Pattern
    -Opaque Tights
    -Long earrings
    -3/4 length tops

  • We actually have a lot of overlap, given that you live in the most gorgeous climate (and I live in one of the harshest). Jeans and cardis are de rigeur for most, it would seem.

  • I agree with you that the diferent lifestyles makes the needs very different. I find the classical must have are usually made for a person who works in an office in a big ocidental city. Somethimg like the uniform (suit with tie) for men. These lists had me however help to figure out that my wardrobe lacked pants and skirts… I propose that we establish the basics for each body shape. I'd love to wear a black pencil skirt but it does'nt suit me. Right now I am working color to replace black introducing neutrals and accent of my best colors. So my basics from before, ex: Black trench coat will be: Off-white trench coat. Black pants: chocolate pants…

  • I couldn't survive without my winter gear: one good, warm, reasonably pretty pair of waterproof boots; woolen socks; jeans; silk longjohns; three layers of shirts (bottom two are usually thin, long-sleeved shirts from thrift stores); and a warm, reasonably attractive coat. Summer is pretty much like winter minus the longjohns and I trade out the boots for wedge-heeled Mary Janes.

  • -black pencil skirt
    -black turtleneck
    -black pumps
    -cartier watch
    -small diamond drop earrings
    How could I live without these basic wardrobe essetials?

  • I can't tell you how many times I have seen "a black turtleneck" on these sorts of lists, as if a turtleneck flatters everyone.

    Also, a suit?! A suit is a huge investment to make, especially if you don't even anticipate wearing one! Not everyone needs or is even benefited by wearing a suit to an interview these days.

    I'd say the only universal essential is a fabulous bra wardrobe. Any woman of any size and any shape needs to get this sorted before anything else will look right.

  • One great topic again, thanks ! Actually I don´t crave much. What I like for every day wear: Appropriate clothes for stable work & riding, Lise Charmel lingerie, Wolford opaque tights, well-fitting jeans( ( slim ), cashmere v-neck knits, my black Moncler mid calf length down coat ( 4 years old ), great boots, YSL bag, studs, Cartier watch and a matching cashmere scarf with the knit.

  • As a SAHM in my 40s, definitely dark denim. My lifestyle is casual 95% of the time, but as I get older, I'm more comfortable kicking it up a notch. So I also need some kind of structured jacket on top…cropped blazer or nice cardigan. Add in comfortable flats or boots, depending on the season. It's cold here, so I also need several jackets and coats.

  • What a great take on essentials lists! Mine are:

    Black pencil skirt
    Denim mini
    Fitted white tees
    Knee-high boots
    Platform sandals

    If I had to make do with those things alone, I could. I wouldn't be HAPPY, but I could do it. 😉

  • Great blog! As a college student who doesn't like pants/jeans, I pretty much live in black or brown jersey dresses, worn with colored tights, silk scarves, vintage purses and my olive green leather jacket. I usually rotate between black flat boots, brown heeled boots or brown oxfords in winter. When I get dressed up, it's usually the same black dress with pumps, Wolford stockings (love a pair that have vines embroidered up the back), good jewelry and a gold tooled black purse. I also use my two fitted cashmere cardigans to death. Most of my clothing is very similar, all the variety comes from thrifted accessories.

  • If I have a black cashmere deep v-neck and a stack of interesting shawls/scarves, I'm set.

    Why think white blouses are button down? (I can't stand button downs myself, too masculine.)

  • I agree that these lists have to be taken with a grain of salt!

    One item not mentioned that I would never purchase is the 'little black dress'. I never go to cocktail parties! If I need to dress for some occasion I wear my black pants with a top with a bit of shine or bling to it.

    Duchesse, I've noticed that people don't stick to the original definition of 'button-down shirt' any more. Now it seems to be used to refer to any shirt with front button closing; it used to only refer to men's style shirts with buttons for the collar points.

    I recently got a white Annette Gortz shirt with pleats all across the front – wonderfully slimming! And I can wear it and not look like a waiter!!

  • Yep, no crisp white shirt or little black dress to be found in my closet.
    But it's hard to imagine life without some smart, dark jeans and a pair of 'trendy' sneakers, by which I mean not too chunky and a dark colour.

  • Jeans, running shoes, pull-over sweatshirts, turtle necks for under the sweatshirts in the winter, button shirts under the sweatshirts for summer. If a wedding or funeral comes up, I'm in trouble, I have dress pants, but no nice tops to go with. I have no dresses/skirts, as I don't have the legs for them. GAH, I need a wardrobe re-vamp!

  • I have been really enjoying your blog Imogen! My list would be quite similar to yours, but would add a denim skirt and black dress.

  • Duchesse and Northmoon – I'm glad I'm not the only one who dislikes all button front shirts being called button-down. I too learned that button-down shirts have the collar buttons, and the rest are simply button shirts, or just shirt or blouse.

  • I always prefered the "look" of the piece instead of the practicality. then I learned how it got easier to choose clothes if you knew your shape. so for me it is;
    + figure flattering, yet casual clothes as my shoulders are wide and my torso curvy.
    + tight pants, somewhat tight around the calves.
    + some cute dresses, tuniqs etc ( but tuniqs seem to be a bit 2007)
    + cardigans and knits, jackets
    + skirts that are a good combo to tops
    + tops with different styles and cuts to give variety, never bulky as it makes me look boxy, with different necklines, plus some casual basic wear
    + five different styles of shoes
    + well-picked accessories like leggings, scarfs etc.
    as i live in a cold climate you also need at least 5 different jackets, a very warm duffel-like coat, a pretty warm wool coat, a spring/autumn jacket, and a summer trench or short jacket. Id like to have a very casual wardrobe but i always go for the "cute" clothes..:)

  • my comment was a little boring so I'll give it another try; when picking out clothes, I think more of " ambience" and how I feel. Everyday wear is often well-thought out and creative, but mentally comfy. when I go out I like inspiring clothes but not too attention-seeking, more like personality flattering. when I go to meet someone I like and want to look good I go for cute, playful dresses and wear that I feel like myself in. The most imporant thing to make me feel good is to choose clothes that are charming and cute in a subtle way and most of all, in a personal way. but I want people to appreciate me for who i am and not just my clothes or body, so sometimes I just want to wear casual pants and a shirt , simple outfits or knitwear.

  • It depends I think on personality, lifestyle and location. I like slightly unusual pinstripe pants, print knit tops and a bright jacket. The casual version is dark jeans, print knit top and a bright cardigan. I also have print knit dresses worn with flat leather boots and cardigan/jacket. I like leather shoulder bags and leather jackets too. I do not own a white shirt, a pencil skirt or a cocktail dress, but I have a huge collection of chunky bead necklaces.

  • I gave up on the “white shirt” long ago. Don’t know how many I’ve bought, hated & never worn! I mostly wear skirts, and have heaps of pencil skirts in great colours & patterns. If it’s not stretchy, i don’t want to wear it. I love a good quality jersey top in a plain colour, but they can be very hard to find & are a big wardrobe gap! Love a bit of statement necklace to add a bit of colour, & I make myself earrings in all sorts of bright stones & colours. Cardigans & stretch jackets are great. I have a great collection of medium heel shoes, lots of good colours, love peep toes with detailing.

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