Picking what to wear and looking your best is sooooo much easier when your closet has the key pieces for a great wardrobe. I came across a wonderful article in Who What Wear in which Michael Kors said that the reason most women don’t have anything to wear is because their wardrobe is out of balance. I’ll allow him to explain:
“70 percent of the clothes you own should be meat and potatoes. 30 percent should be icing and fluff — that’s color, pattern, shine, and accessories. Too many women get the proportions the other way round, then can’t figure out why they can’t get dressed.”
I was going to say the exact same thing. Only, you know, differently.
And that’s why I feel so strongly about my Capsule Wardrobe, the 11 items that I believe every well-dressed woman should own. Regardless of lifestyle. (Simply make the pieces more or less dressy, depending on your needs.) But I will warn you: Essentials are boring. Recently, a gorgeous client of mine took one look at a board of well-edited essentials and said just that. These aren’t the pieces we get excited about, and that’s why, for years, I never bought them. Why would I spend my money on a boring black tank when there was a hot pink sequined one right next to it? I always went for the glam, the glitter, the girly. And in spite of being a frequent shopper at stores that specialized in those three G’s, I never had anything to wear. Because it turns out you need something to wear with pink sequins besides, well, more pink sequins. The eye needs a place to rest. Even for me.
Is your wardrobe out of balance, and crammed with so many of-the-moment bargain buys and memorable statement pieces that there is no room for anything of substance?
All wow pieces and very few workhorses?
All razzle dazzle and no real?
All… you get the idea. A common problem, and an easy one to fix. The key is to invite a few good quality essentials to the party. They mix and mingle really well with funky tops, sparkly cocktail dresses, patterned skirts and the like. They play well with others, and they don’t always feel the need to draw attention to themselves. Unlike some clothes we know. Allow me to introduce them to you, in no particular order.
And since flattery is everything, I’ve given hints on finding the right style for your Body Type, below. And if you still don’t know your body type, click
J. Tomson boyfriend blazer, $51.99, Amazon, would be ideal for Style Dial® 1
The vertical collar and hip-defining pockets on this BCBGeneration shawl collar blazer, $118, Amazon, make it a good choice for a Style Dial® 3
The higher neckline on this jacket creates a more horizontal line, which makes it a good choice for a Style Dial® 2. Kasper stretch flyaway jacket, starting at $40, Amazon
2. The Tank (in black and white)
Sleek and simple, this is an essential layering piece. I prefer ribbed styles because they are slim and don’t create extra lumps when layering, but if you prefer a smooth finish, or even a silky tank, go for it. You need one in black and one in white. Get more tips on tanks by reading this.
With its vertical neckline, this tank is perfect for a Style Dial® 1 or 3 body type. Michael Stars Supima V-neck tank, $38.50, Amazon
The wide horizontal neckline on this tank is very flattering for a Style Dial® 2. Joie “Miadora” ribbed tank, $58, Amazon
The vertical neckline and ruching on this tank help define the waist of a Style Dial® 3. PattyBoutiq ruched tank, $29.99, Amazon
3. The Tee (in black and white)
A simple tee is just the top to wear when nothing else will do. It works with flouncy skirts and boyfriend jeans and makes everything look a little less contrived. Which is a good thing. Try to strike the balance between oversized and skintight. It should fit slim, but not tight, like the ones below. Find more tee tips right here.
This ruched tee is very flattering for a Style Dial® 3. Alloy Apparel tee, $19.90, AlloyApparel.com
Three Dots tee, $26, Amazon, is a nice staple piece for a Style Dial® 1.
Theory “Juin” tee, $56, Amazon, is a great choice for a Style Dial® 2.
4. The Button-Down
You may think you don’t need this, and of all the items on this list, it’s one of the most controversial, but there is no denying the versatility of a button down. A classic white button-down with a classic fit is so elegant, but also high maintenance, so consider black or even chambray as an alternative. (If you are busty, unfortunately, tailoring is almost always required. Buy a shirt the next size up and have it taken in, or try one of those new button-downs with knit panels on the side, from brands like James Perse. ) It shouldn’t be boring or masculine, but it should be simple enough to be versatile. Read more about this essential right here.
Michael Stars Luxe Slub Raw Edge fitted shirt, $98, Amazon
Jones New York long sleeve V-neck button up, $42, Amazon
5. The Black Pants
Again, the key here is to look for something stylish and feminine, yet still simple enough to dress up or down. A straight or slim leg looks the most contemporary without being too trendy, and is flattering on most body types. For business casual, a tailored style, in either a woven or a heavier ponte knit, works well, but a more casual style in a ponte knit is great for a stay-at-home mom or mom on the go. For more on finding the perfect pair of black pants for your capsule wardrobe, click here.
Vince Camuto side zip ankle pant, $79, Amazon, is a flattering choice for a Style Dial® 1.
Jones New York straight leg pant, $59, Amazon, is a great classic style for a Style Dial® 2.
A relaxed fit with some volume around the hips helps to create shape in a Style Dial® 3 body. Elizabeth and James “Darcy” pants, $111, Amazon
6. The Black Shorts
A well-made pair of shorts in a neutral like black can be one of the most versatile things in your wardrobe. The most universally flattering pair is sleek and simple, with minimal detail and hardware, in a nice sturdy woven material. For more information on finding a flattering pair of shorts (admittedly, not always an easy feat!), check out my post on How to Wear Shorts.
BCBGeneration tailored short, $78, Amazon, has a bit more fullness and shape, making it ideal for a Style Dial® 3.
Lauren Ralph Lauren cotton casual shorts, $28, Amazon, are simple and streamlined for a Style Dial® 1.
Theory “Yanera” flat front stretch walking shorts, $59, Amazon, are a classic choice for a Style Dial® 2.
7. The Black Dress
A black dress is a wardrobe staple, of course, but the key here is to find one that is truly versatile — comfortable enough to take you through a long day, but elegant enough to dress up with heels. Look for a quality fabric and a simple design for maximum versatility. A thick knit, jersey, or a woven with stretch offer the best combination of comfort and style. Click here for more pointers on finding the perfect black dress for your capsule wardrobe.
Karen Kane 3/4 sleeve A-line dress, $89, Amazon, is a great Style Dial® 2 choice.
Norma Kamali side draped dress, $96, Amazon, is ideal for a Style Dial® 3.
Collective Concepts solid wrap dress, about $25, Amazon, is flattering for a Style Dial® 1 or 3.
8. The Black Skirt
A simple black skirt in a timeless silhouette is a wardrobe staple. It dresses up a tank or tee, and with the right accessory, turns any top into an outfit.
Calvin Klein Lux solid pencil skirt, $69, Amazon, is a great silhouette for a Style Dial® 1.
Three Dots knee-length seamed A-line skirt, $59.66, Amazon, has movement at the hem, making it a flattering choice for a Style Dial® 2.
Vince Camuto fit and flare skirt, about $60, Amazon, has extra detail at the waist and hip to define the shape of a Style Dial® 3.
9. Dark Jeans
What was once considered trendy is now a wardrobe classic and still the most versatile pair you can buy. Before investing in a trendy boyfriend or flare style, make sure you have a solid pair of dark skinny jeans in your closet. Dress them up with heels and a blouse, or slip on a sweater and ballet flats for a comfy chic everyday look. Look for a dark even wash with a leg that is slim but not skintight, and minimal detail. A skinny jean works for all body types, and when worn with a flattering top (if you’re hip-conscious, make sure the hem doesn’t hit at the widest part of the hip), is a great choice for everyone, but if skinnies scare you, a straight-leg style will also work.
Levi’s mid rise skinny jean in Soulful Dark, $40, Amazon
Lucky Brand “Brooke” skinny jean in Resin, $49.50, Amazon
Joe’s Jeans midrise skinny in Gigi, $169, Amazon
And there’s your list! Taken individually, these pieces aren’t particularly exciting, but when combined with the statement pieces we will cover tomorrow, they form the backbone for a chic, versatile wardrobe that will forever end the “nothing to wear” dilemma. And don’t worry, I won’t leave you hanging. Now that you’ve assembled some great basics, follow these links to:
BeautyMommy Nada Manley is a Stylist to the Moms. Nada is a wife, a mom of two daughters (Lola and Eva), a stylist with The Stylist Online, a style journalist and fashion columnist (GateHouse Media, My Coast Magazine, NailPro), a published author (Secrets of the Beauty Insiders), a Christian, a closet consultant, a professional shopper and an obsessive tea drinker. BeautyMommy offers style solutions, beauty tips and shopping advice for busy moms, all delivered with a sense of humor.