What Every Woman Should Have in Her Wardrobe


What Every Woman Should Have in Her Wardrobe


When I travel I take my iPad with some TV series downloaded onto it to watch, on the plane, waiting for a plane, whenever I am bored. Not having cable TV (I figure with blogging and work, if there isn’t anything I want to watch on free-to-air TV I should be doing something else with my time), so I missed out on seeing Tim Gunn’s Guide to Style and notice that he’s got a list of 10 essential items he thinks every woman should own.

Tim's List

Here is Tim Gun’s List of Wardrobe Essentials

  1. Basic Black Dress 
  2. Trench Coat 
  3. Dress Pants 
  4. Classic White Shirt
  5. Jeans 
  6. Any Occasion Top
  7. Skirt 
  8. Day Dress 
  9. Jacket 
  10. Sweatsuit Alternative 

It’s a very classic list of items, and definitely is trying to help you have a range of items so that you can create an outfit for any occasions.  In the TV show he asks his participants to show him outfits that represent their life:

  1. Going out to dinner with partner
  2. G0ing to work – dressy
  3. Going to work – casual
  4. Out with friends
  5. Comfortable around the house
  6. Special occasion

These are a fair representation of situations that many of us have in our lives, and this list certainly doesn’t cover every aspect of our lives, but it’s a reasonable list to be able to dress for appropriately.  You may also think about adding in any wardrobe requirements for special hobbies, and of course clothes for the day to day needs of the school run or shopping.

When I do a wardrobe audit I’m asking my client how they spend their time, what they do with their life, their clothing requirements and needs.  Then I’ll ask about what they most enjoy wearing.    Jeans may be a staple item in some people’s wardrobe, but never worn in others.  I don’t think that you can insist that these exact items be the ones that you really need (I can’t remember the last time I work a classic white shirt, it just doesn’t fit with my personal style or lifestyle).

These lists are useful as far as giving you an idea of where to start, but I wouldn’t be following them to the letter.

I do like his Sweatsuit Alternative idea though – particularly if it’s something that is not to do exercise in but more to run errands in.  Basically it comes down to something that you find comfortable that is easy to throw on, but still looks stylish.  For me it’s either jeans, a knit top and funky jacket, or it’s a dress in warmer months.


Imogen's Essentials

Imogen’s List of Wardrobe Essentials:

  1. Basic Dark Dress  – Basic dress that you can dress up or down,  in a dark colour that suits you – aubergine, navy, deep teal, burgundy, brown etc.
  2. Coat – A leather jacket or coat in a fairly classic cut that isn’t too heavy or light so is more tran-seasonal. A trench may work, but so may a different style.
  3. Dress Pants – I agree – a good pair in a great dark neutral can work day or night.
  4.  Shirt or Blouse – A shirt if you’re classic, a blouse in a softer fabric if you’re more feminine – and not in white, but a colour that really suits you.
  5. Jeans – Dark Wash Denim in a cut that suits you – unless you hate jeans
  6. Any Occasion Top – A Smart top in your eye enhancing colour that is something you could wear to work, or put on with a pair of jeans.
  7. Skirt – Happy to keep this one in – Find a shape that suits you.  But if you just don’t wear skirts, go for an extra pair of dress pants in a different neutral or with a pinstripe.
  8. Day Dress – Love this – a dress is so versatile.  But if you have great difficultly buying dresses  because of your shape, opt instead for a skirt and top that work together.
  9. Jacket– a Jacket that you can dress up or down in a great neutral that goes with lots in your wardrobe.  Wear it with jeans, wear it over a dress, wear it with dress pants…
  10. Sweatsuit Alternative – it may be a dress, or  jeans, it’s up to you and your lifestyle.  But make it something you’d want to be caught in by an ex-lover, get some more tips on finding your sweatsuit alternative here.
  11. Handbag – something of quality, what you carry is important as the rest of your outfit
As you can see, it’s all in the interpretation of the garments, more than the garment type themselves.
Download my Wardrobe Checklist here to give you more ideas on garments and accessories that form the basis of a well functioning wardrobe.

What’s on your essential wardrobe list?

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  • I like that – “something you’d want to be caught in by an ex-lover” :)) I read Tim Gunn’s list and majority of it does not apply to my life. I don’t think I have ever owned a white shirt or needed one. But I can’t live a week without wearing smart jeans though!

    • Lena, I see so many “just ducking to the supermarket” or I only wear it at home” outfits that are terrible that I think people need to create some standards for themselves. So the ex test is a good way of working out whether you should ever wear it!

      • I could not agree more, Imogen! 🙂 I love you for this — and I am delighted I’m not alone!

        Though seemingly heretical in Australia, I would not be caught dead in a track-suit or sneakers, *solely* unless I was actually on the track or at the gym (maybe being taken to hospital in an ambulance, but I doubt it!) … I hate the things! I’ve always believed they are NOT ‘dressing’, merely covering … and I like to Dress (and for someone of my generous proportions, I think it’s even more important).

        I totally agree about having a standard (would that there was more of it!) — too often I spend a grand total of all of ten minutes throwing-on something I’d call totally casual (for literally ducking to the supermarket) that makes others I know (who shall remain nameless!) actually ask “Awh gawd, why did you get so dressed-up just to go to the super-market?!”, as if that’s a bad thing, when I’m in *very* simple chinos, loafers and a Breton, essentially doing my Ralph Lauren’s ‘Weekend in the Hamptons’ look, which is as close to ‘trackie-dacks’ (horrors!) as I ever get. And as for actual sneakers, I don’t own any … do deck-shoes count? Yoga flats? I shudder to see what some people call ‘getting dressed’!?

        And the ‘ex test’ is a GREAT rule of thumb — I love it!

        So, do we agree ~ a world ban on all sports-wear except for use in actual sport? 😉

  • I fully agree with you Imogen! This is a well done, very useful post! Thank you for your great help and smart advices!

  • Imogen, I love your version of the Basic “Ten”. Often stylists create a Basic Ten list that is really only applicable if you work in an office and have a classic style personality — neither suits my lifestyle or personality. Your suggestion for selecting a top in an eye-enhancing colour instead of a classic white blouse is much more versatile as many women (especially those with a large bust) are not flattered by a classic white shirt. I’m still searching for my LBD (little basic dress) in my best neutral — navy or charcoal grey — instead of the often recommended black. The statement bag in a pop of colour is another great suggestion. I bought a beautiful bag in a mid-value plum that goes with everything in my wardrobe and gives my entire look more personality (I’m a summer with a creative-romantic style personality).

  • Hello
    You have covered everything I find essential but for myself would have to add tees, white and black, and I would likely substitute a cardigan for the jacket. Great post!

  • Imogen,
    I’m not sure if this is the place to ask, but I have a question. My style is and has always classic, (think Jackie or Audrey-esque) but I’m struggling with feeling like it’s boring. I am longing for a very stylish vibe while maintaining a classy and timeless style overall. I am a pastors wife and a SAH/homeschooling mom of 5. On any given day you will find me wearing a 3/4 sleeve cardigan with a skirts (no pants), or maybe a boring tee, ballet flats or low heels and basic jewelry (pearls, diamond studs, watch, rings). Do you have any suggestions? Thanks so much, I love your blog! 😉

    • Angela, from one classic dresser to another, there is NOTHING “boring” about classic/classy — it is exactly that.

      But if Jackie Kennedy & Audrey Hepburn are your inspirations, have a look at some of Audrey’s little Capri pants — that might be just the thing you need to add a bit of fresh, stylish and modern, but classic and timeless, appeal to your wardrobe. A great pair of quality wool slacks (in basic black so they’ll go with everything), pearls and a twin-set, with perfect accessories and you can’t go wrong.

      A great pair of sunglasses, a “latest fashion” scarf, great shoes and a statement bag are the best pieces to bring pizazz to a classic, timeless style wardrobe. And don’t be afraid of jeans — they can be classy if the cut and accessories are just right; and they are – I think – an essential element of classic style ~ you just have to choose them well: in nice denim, with no ‘distressing’, minimal embellishment if any, in a perfect cut and drape, and they’ll give you an up-to-the-minute, classy style ~ one that is very elegant with a Chanel tweed jacket (or this season’s Oscar de la Renta tweed).

      Try taking a leaf from Katherine Hepburn instead of Audrey — she’s lady-like, without being staid; sharp and snappy, without being faddish.

      Good luck.

  • I have a friend who is a ‘classic’ dresser but she buys some really bold jewellery- a necklace with a big flower on it, or some beads with sparkly bits in. It makes her look les boring and more eye catching.

    The jewellery doesn’t need to cost a lot.

    Personally I do it with scarves because I can’t wear big jewellery. My friend is small though.

  • Your advice has come just at the right time. I am severely “weeding” my wardrobe as I have very little space for clothes/shoes. I am really looking forward to organising a new clothing capsule for my very limited wardrobe space – dressing should be less confusing I hope in the future!

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