Wardrobe essentials: what are they really?

I’ve been giving this a lot of thought lately because the typical list of essential wardrobe items almost invariably includes things like white shirt, little black dress, and beige trench coat. Those are some very specific colors and styles that won’t work for me and probably many other women.

So I decided to make my own list of 10 wardrobe essentials. Or perhaps more accurately, a breakdown of the typical Western woman’s wardrobe into easily understood categories rather than a prescriptive list that works for the very few. It’s helping me identify wardrobe gaps, allocate money appropriately, and organize my sewing and knitting priorities.

  • well-fitting undergarments – this one is kind of obvious, or should be at any rate. If the undergarments don’t fit well, you spend all day feeling uncomfortable and adjusting this and that. This category also includes hosiery, shapewear, and undershirts where applicable.
  • first layer tops – these go next to the skin or over the undershirt. These may be knit tops, woven shells, button-front shirts, etc. Ideally in a range of flattering colors. My current preference is for knit tops. I need to make more of them.
  • bottoms – pants and/or skirts. Shorts, bermudas, capris all count under this heading, as do jeans. Ideally in your best neutrals, plus some fun colors. (Maybe. Fun colors on the bottom are probably for those more adventurous than I am). I prefer the look and feel of a pencil skirt, but long pants often win in the warmth department. Jeans never really seem like my best choice.
  • second layer tops – these are all the cardigans, sweaters, and suit jackets that go over the first layer tops. Best neutrals and colors. Cardigans and cardigan jackets are my favorites here but I would also like to make more pullover style sweaters.
    In some climates, a third layer may be required for warmth. I hope we never have to live in a place like that.
  • indoor accessories – jewelry, watches, scarves, belts, etc. Basically, things you keep on even after the coat comes off. I like a small well-edited collection although I’ve been adding that lime green like it’s nobody’s business. Some of you may prefer a larger selection.
  • shoes – comfortable and good-looking (in the eye of the beholder who is wearing them; other people can worry about their own shoes).
  • outerwear – coats and jackets. Depending on the climate, these may range from a very thin and light to very thick and superwarm. If you live in one of those places where outerwear is nonessential, good for you. I envy you a bit.
  • outdoor accessories – these include gloves, hats, winter scarves, sunglasses, handbags. Probably umbrellas also fall under this heading for those who want to be all color-coordinated.
  • dresses – perhaps not completely essential, but very useful, they are the ultimate whole-outfit-in-one-piece, minimal thinking required.  I love them.
  • leisure wear – this includes everything from sleepwear to sports gear; anything that is not appropriate for office work/ running errands/ public appearance. So gardening and painting clothes fall under this heading as well.

I’m not going to make things in every category, obviously. I’m perfectly happy buying shoes, undergarments, and accessories. For the rest, my goal is to have a few TNT patterns in each category so that I can fill wardrobe gaps quickly as they arise. I’ll take a closer look at each of these categories in a future post. Stay tuned!

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5 responses to “Wardrobe essentials: what are they really?

  1. The button down white shirt thing never worked for me and if you ever see me in a beige trench coat, be gentle. I’m obviously losing it. Love the way you’ve broken these down. Will you analyze it further?

    One aspect I’m finding interesting is how aging is affecting what I want to wear. An easy example is accessories. I love necklaces and they never used to bother me but now I often notice they’re too heavy or I’m tired of something on my neck. It’s made me look at accessories differently. I’m getting really picky about elastic as well… especially on undergarments.

    • Myrna, yes, I will go more in depth on those categories, to refine my understanding of my current preferences and how/whether they represent my intended direction.

      Interesting comment about the necklaces and elastic. Our preferences change, but based on what, exactly? I used to like wearing woven cotton shirts. Now I leave them in the closet and reach for a knit instead. Is it age? Just a different part of some preference cycle? Sudden awareness of something that used to fade into the background before?

  2. I’m probably giving age too much credit but I’ve met so many women older than me who have made the same discoveries that I can only conclude age, maturity, the desire for comfort, increased self confidence, changes in skin tone, all of the above have something to do with it. So it seems.

  3. This list of essentials is really very clever — and much more useful than a prescriptive list of must-haves. While I haven’t thought about my daily wardrobe along these lines, I have used my own version of layers for packing when I travel. Thanks so much for enlightening me!

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