Everyone knows that a smart wardrobe consists of a few classic pieces that can carry you through seasons—even years. But some of those basics are a bit boring, so we’ve come up with the essential wardrobe and a few substitutes that will be equally as timeless.
These pieces are still so versatile that you can throw in a flashy accent here or there if you simply can’t resist a trend. Trust me, you will spend less time staring into the abyss of your closet if you have dependable staples to build on.
Good news: Building a stylish wardrobe is easier than you think and it doesn’t always mean you have to empty your wallet. Yes, you can still shop at Zara or Uniqlo or even H&M—the key is to stop thinking of your clothes as trendy or disposable and think of them as investments. And for all the criticism J.Crew has received for stocking too many wild items, they are still a go-to for some basics.
Whether your investment is $20 or $2000, you can build a stunning wardrobe by making smart purchases and limiting the silly ones.
The original classics above (clockwise from top left): Black Donny coat (Steven Alan on sale $298); pencil skirt (H&M $13), white shirt (Uniqlo $30); black pants (Theory $275), suede pumps (J.Crew $240); wrap dress (Diane Von Furstenburg $368); blazer (J.Crew $198); jeans (Rag and Bone $147); T-shirt (Zara $20); ballet flat (J.Crew $135).
Black Coat: A well-made black coat, preferably mid-length, is always a smart investment. You can layer under it for freezing temperatures (wear Uniqlo ultra-light down for added warmth) or wear it alone for moderate weather. For an updated look you might want to try a shorter bracelet sleeve or rather than black, try tweed or herringbone.
Blazer: A versatile blazer is crucial for a timeless wardrobe. But you can also dress up or down and get plenty of wear out of a great denim jacket. Above from left: Blazer $198; denim jacket $128 (both J.Crew)
The Perfect Jeans: OK, there isn’t a replacement for the perfect jeans since you’re always going to need a great pair. Just a reminder: You don’t have to buy outrageously expensive jeans for a well-rounded stylish wardrobe. Levi’s, GAP, and even H&M have great-fitting denim for under $100 and oftentimes under $50. The key is FIT. If you look good it doesn’t matter where you bought them or how little you spent! All our bodies are different so there isn’t one particular style of jean for everyone, but it is safer to avoid styles like the dramatic flare, super skinny, ultra-wide legs, or anything appliqué/jeweled because those tend to look too trendy.
The Little Black Dress: Of course a basic black jersey dress is a great investment because it can look completely different each time you wear it by adding accessories, a simple jacket, shoes. If you want to update this piece why not try a jumpsuit? It is more fun and the jumpsuit has practically moved into the basics category now so it isn’t a trendy look.
Crisp White Shirt: You need a classic white button-down. You can wear it with a ball gown (remember Sharon Stone at the Academy Awards circa 1998?) or a pair of ripped jeans and it still looks great! OK sometimes it can look a little stiff…so what about switching your white shirt for a chambray or denim shirt? Denim is a great update and works with anything from a dress to pencil skirts to even denim for a denim-on-denim look! Above from left: Denim pop-over shirt (J.Crew $78); white shirt (Uniqlo $30).
Pencil Skirt: A fitted pencil skirt has been a wardrobe necessity for as long as anyone can remember. And there’s a reason for that. It works for every body type. You can absolutely dress-up, dress-down and experiment with fun new ways to wear a pencil skirt. What about trying an extended length? You can hike it up for a high-waist look or wear it like a long tube skirt. The possibilities are endless. Above from left: Pencil skirt (Zara $50); grey pencil skirt (J.Crew $138); plain pencil skirt (H&M $13); elastic waist pencil skirt (COS $115).
Black Trousers: Straight slim trousers that fit well are also required for a well-balanced closet. If black pants sound like a snooze-inducing item maybe try wearing ankle-length, as this can make a boring trouser feel fresh but not trendy. Above: Zara $30)
Fitted Tee: Sure you need a basic tee, but what about a slouchy stripe tee? You can layer this or wear it alone. Plus, stripes are always in.
Flats: We see ballet flats both pointy and round toe traipsing all over and they’re great, but a little uninspired at times. What about investing in a pair of black loafers? These are essential to a timeless and stylish wardrobe—and they are durable so they’ll last longer than delicate ballet flats. My favorite is the classic Bass & Co. Penny Loafer.
Pumps: Simple, bedazzle-free pumps are essential. Maybe give your feet a break and try a round toe with a stacked heel instead of the pointy spike heel? Above: Patent leather pump (Kate Spade $298); suede pump (J.Crew Factory $77).
Updated classics above (clockwise from top left): Denim shirt (J.Crew $78); cropped trousers (Uniqlo $40); striped tee (T by Alexander Wang $140); pencil skirt (Zara $50); round toe pump (J.Crew $77); denim jacket (Proenza Schouler $495); jumpsuit (Zero + Maria Cornejo $995); loafers (G.H. Bass & Co. $98); jeans (Levi’s 501 CT $55); wrap coat (Totême’s $760).
However you decide to update your classics it is important to remember that having the right foundational pieces is crucial to building a stylish wardrobe. You will always look well put together and chic if you buy the basics.