Building a wardrobe of classic pieces is the key to looking put together! Here are 25 wardrobe essentials every woman should invest in, whether you’re building a capsule wardrobe or just want to dress stylishly.
It’s hard to feel like the heroine of your story if you hate the way you dress. Thankfully, changing clothes has the power to change your narrative (just look at Cinderella!) and you can begin any time.
I got to the point in my story where I was tired of staring at a closet full of clothes, but having nothing to wear.
Tired of looking like I didn’t know who I wanted to be.
Tired of feeling like I was fashion handicapped.
A year or two post college, I decided to go on a quest to make over my entire wardrobe. I didn’t have a lot of money to spend, knew almost nothing about fashion, and was illiterate when it came to brands and fabrics. What I did have? Determination, patience, and a vision for what I wanted my wardrobe to be.
The first step to making over my wardrobe was doing a radical closet purge. You can read about my purge here, or get a step-by-step process for your own decluttering in my book, Your Simple Home Handbook.
After I cleared out the clutter I made a wishlist of all the new items I wanted, and now I use it as my guide every time I go clothes shopping.
Most of the items on my wardrobe wishlist are very basic, neutral staples with classic cuts. It might look like a boring list to some, but I’ve found that building a wardrobe of classics is the key to looking put together.
You know how people say to buy a house with “good bones”? The same goes for your wardrobe! If you have a solid foundation, you have what you need to craft a wardrobe you love and can wear for decades.
You will find that:
- You don’t get sidetracked on clothes that drain your wallet without adding lasting value to your wardrobe
- You always have something to wear, no matter the occasion
- You look like you have fashion sense, even if you’re not so sure
- You know your personal standards for quality and fit
- You’re able to own less clothing, and get more use out of what you do own
Whether you’re a stay-at-home mom, working woman, empty nester, or college student, you need a core wardrobe of classic staples.
I am no expert on fashion and never will be, but I would be honored to share with you what I’ve learned about wardrobe essentials over the last few years. This new wardrobe has simplified my life enormously, and I feel much more confident in putting together outfits.
A couple of things to note before you make over your wardrobe
It will probably take years to build your wardrobe essentials, so take it slow, do your research, and don’t settle for pieces that fail to meet your criteria. I am far from completing my wardrobe, but I save up and purchase a few items each year.
You should also know that you’re not going to find most of these items at stores like Target, Old Navy, or Forever 21. They will carry cheap versions of wardrobe staples that you’ll be tempted to buy, but be cautious. With a few exceptions for things like shorts or tank tops, I’ve found that it’s almost always better to invest in quality, and “fast fashion” stores just can’t deliver. Use these stores for your accent pieces–for cute tops or sweaters or tote bags–but for pieces that stand the test of time, go to higher-end stores.
As a general rule of thumb, look for clothes made with natural materials like cotton, wool, linen, and leather, and avoid synthetics like acrylic and polyester. Some synthetics are good and necessary depending on the item of clothing (you need a little Lycra or spandex to give jeans stretch, for instance), but for many pieces they decrease the quality and longevity. I might do another post on fabrics and materials, because there’s really too much information to delve into here!
The Wardrobe Essentials List
Blazer – Wear over any outfit as a jacket; it looks especially good with jeans! Cuff the sleeves for a more casual look. For fabrics, wool is the most versatile. Linen or cotton are good options if you live in a very warm climate, but they usually don’t look as polished as wool. I finally found my perfect wool blazer from J. Crew, purchased for over 60% off at ThredUp!
Leather jacket or denim jacket– Wear over a dress, skirt, jeans, etc. Leather and denim both look fabulous with pearls.
Trench coat or pea coat – A lot of wardrobe essentials lists will suggest both, but I think they’re pretty interchangeable. Both are good all-purpose outerwear.
Windbreaker – This is one item where synthetic materials are fine! Make sure the stitching is secure and the zippers move easily along their tracks. L. L. Bean and The North Face are known for quality weather gear, but you can also probably find a good jacket in a department store.
Neutral-colored cardigan – Wear with jeans, a skirt, over a dress, with shorts and a t-shirt, etc.
Fitted, belted bathrobe – You’ll feel stylish even if you’re just in your PJs! I have one similar to this.
Black tank top – Get one with a long torso so you can use it to extend the hemline of shirts that are too short.
White tank top – Use as layering piece for warmth, or under a white button-down or a thin blouse.
Neutral-colored fitted t-shirt – Wear with jeans, shorts, or a patterned skirt. You will likely want a few of these in different colors–navy, grey, black, etc. Pima cotton is the best quality, and won’t pill or wear thin.
Striped long-sleeved t-shirt – Any color combo will do, but black-and-white is classic. L L. Bean makes great striped shirts.
White button-down shirt – Wear tucked in to a skirt, under a sweater, or with jeans and your blazer or leather jacket.
Black turtleneck – Go for a medium weight, so you can wear it fall through spring. Get one that’s form-fitting rather than loose, so it will look more polished.
Chambray shirt – Wear this with jeans (especially skinnies), or roll up the sleeves and wear with shorts, a patterned skirt (especially polka dots!)m or over a dress as a jacket.
Pencil skirt – Even if you don’t work in an office, you’ll find a lot of uses for a pencil skirt. Pair it with a patterned silk top for a wedding, or wear it with a white tee and a colorful scarf for a girls’ get-together.
Black dress – For maximum versatility, get one in a matte fabric with a knee-length hemline. Choose accessories, shoes, and hairstyle to set the tone for any occasion, whether it’s a party, Sunday morning, or just sightseeing in a new city.
Black skirt – Try a knee-length skirt with a slight flare. I would also recommend an elastic waistband so it’s super comfortable. Wear it with fitted t-shirts in the summer, long-sleeved shirts in cooler months, and with a sweater and tights in the winter. It will likely become one of the most-used pieces in your wardrobe!
Black pants – Whether you prefer a straight-leg ankle cut or long skinnies, black pants are a must if you need to break out of a jeans rut (I did!). Wear them with your striped long-sleeved shirt when you want to look like Audrey Hepburn, or wear with a t-shirt and blazer, your chambray, or a fitted turtleneck.
Skinny jeans – I hated them until I tried them, but I get the craze now. Skinnies have found their way to the Classics list. They look great with a simple t-shirt and your favorite jewelry, and are a must for wearing under tall boots! If you’re worried about how they make your middle look, wear them with something loose on top, like an oversized sweater or your chambray shirt, or pair with a long t-shirt or tunic.
Straight-leg, dark-wash jeans – These look good on any body type, so find a pair you love, wear them out, and repeat. I’m told that the stylists at Stitch Fix are really good at matching you with your dream jeans!
Comfortable flats – There are many cute flats with zero support and cushioning. Please don’t get these! Get the most comfortable you can find, and you’ll be able to wear them everywhere.
Leather boots – Booties, over-the-knee, or knee-length, whatever butters your bread! Personally, I love knee-length riding-style boots with a low heel. I think they’re the most versatile! You can wear them to church or just around town, over jeans or under a skirt. I opted for these Frye boots, and then took them to a cobbler to get them fitted to my unusually skinny calves.
Sneakers – Get a comfortable, casual walking shoe that you can wear around town.
Sandals – You can go heel or no-heel, just get something comfortable that’s doesn’t glitter so you can wear them for everyday as well as special occasions. Born makes beautiful, comfy shoes. I ended up going with this pair of sandals.
Depending on the climate you live in, you’ll probably want to add other staples to your list, like a down coat, rain boots, snow gear, etc. Let your personality populate the rest of your closet with the patterns, colors, and accessories you love, and you’ll have endless combinations to play with. Building a wardrobe around key pieces doesn’t stifle your creativity, it helps it to flourish!
You’ll be dressed your best for wherever your story takes you next.
What to read next:
Follow my Fashion and Beauty board on Pinterest for more wardrobe inspiration.
To make your wardrobe last, it’s essential that you take good care of your clothes! Here’s a helpful infographic for decoding clothing care tags.
P.S. If you need a classy, modest bathing suit for your summer wardrobe, you might just fall in love with Rey Swimwear like I did! Their swimsuits are excellent quality with a vintage, Audrey Hepburn-inspired flare! More expensive than what you’ll find at Target, but totally worth it.