There’s all sorts of lists floating around the internet about the essential basics for every wardrobe. While I do believe everyone should have a set of workhorse pieces in their closet, I don’t think there’s a prescription that fits everyone’s life and style. For instance, most basics lists include a white button up shirt, black and khaki pants, and a pant suit. I never ever wear any of those things. I prefer dresses to pants and I don’t work in an environment that requires much dressing up. So much for the prescribed essentials.
Before wasting money on “vital” pieces you might not really need, take a minute to assess your needs.
- Recognize that basics don’t mean boring: Depending on your personal preferences and lifestyle, your basic pieces could be classic and conservative (jeans, blazer, cardigan) or wild and fun (mini skirt, high heels, sparkly throw). A basic piece is whatever you reach for time and time again when putting outfits together. My basics include skinny jeans, striped boatneck shirt, white maxi skirt, neutral cardigans, colorful dresses and skirts, and fun earrings. Forget what the magazines tell you and go with what works.
- Look at the dress codes in your life: If you work in a corporate office, it’s important for you to be professional and conservative (depending on the company). If you’re a stay-at-home mom, comfort and washable fabrics are your priority. List all the different dressing situations in your life (work, weekend, date night, client meetings, etc.) Figure out what functions your clothes must serve to fit all aspects of your lifestyle. What qualities are most important in each situation? Do you need to have very separate and distinct wardrobes for work and play? Or do most of your situations mesh well together? Depending on how many unique dressing situations you have, you might find some basics that overlap in many areas of your life.
- Check for gaps in your wardrobe: Do you frequently feel like you’re missing the right piece for an outfit? You might have a wardrobe gap. Often finding a good workhorse basic can fix the problem. I love mixing prints and bold colors, but was unable to create the kind of looks I wanted to because I lacked essential pieces. After buying a black and white striped shirt, I was suddenly able to make all the quirky outfits I wanted. I could combine it with bright colored and floral skirts, scarves, as well as neutral bottoms and jeans. Keep a notepad in your closet to track any time you feel like you’re missing a piece. Look for trends and brainstorm what pieces might fill multiple gaps and work in lots of outfits.
- Get inspired: Take cues from people with similar style or who are dressing for similar contexts. Look at coworkers, friends, style bloggers, people on the street, etc. By watching what other people are wearing, you might realize that a specific piece would work really well in your closet.