This is the post in which I want to praise basics.
They are boring. Wiring and sewage system are also boring. But I don’t think that any of you would like to live in a house without them. And when they are not in a good shape, then house becomes uncomfortable no matter how much you paid for decoration. The same applies to wardrobes: without good basics they are driving their owners nuts. Basic clothes often look the same for people who don’t pay great attention to details (- stop sending identical cardigans to our what to buy and where chat! – but they are absolutely different!).
Details are very important when it’s a basic cardi (or jeans, or shirt or whatever), because when something is off with the basic item it’s like electric socket in the wrong place: it constantly gets on your nerves until you fix that.
I have some cool stuff in my wardrobe (bright colors, complex, asymmetric cuts, daring details), but that’s not what I wear most and it’s not what makes my wardrobe integral. All those wonderful things allow me to add drama or simply visual interest, but if my whole wardrobe was built on such clothes I would look like a total freak (not that it’s a bad thing, but I’m not a freak by nature). So clothes I love and I wear most are boring: dark blue skinny jeans, white shirts, black and silver grey sweaters and cardigans, black and dark blue jackets, black oxford shoes, flat sandals without embellishments. There are also not so boring clothes which serve as basics for me: leather leggings (I wear them a lot with tunics and sweater dresses in winter), black leather midi skirt (again ultimate winter item, which allows to hide thick ugly and super warm polar fleece leggings), high winter boots (like knee high, and they were intended to go a little bit above the knee if I understand correctly) with bright zipper in the back). I call such things “basics with a quirk”. When you add to otherwise very basic item some touch of your personal style it still can be basic: but only for you (or your style twin).
There are many lists of ‘must haves’ a.k.a. basic wardrobe lists floating around the internet and almost every book about style has such list.
Usually they look like this:
But problem with all those lists is that they are useless for most of women. Useful list should correspond to climate, lifestyle, body shape, coloring and personal preferences. Not the case if it’s not personified.
Black pencil skirt? For a mom sitting at home with her toddler? Really? )))
Trench coat? In Thailand? Funny.
LBD? For woman with very soft and warm coloring? It will make her look like an ER patient.
I could go on and on and on… Possibilities why any item from those lists could be irrelevant are endless.
I think that if you want a list of basics more effective approach is to identify where and how you spend your time, situations which regularly occur in your life, identify functional and social requirements to your clothes and then choose your basics in accordance with your coloring and body shape. Yes, they should be more classic cut, they should be neutral and have minimum amount of embellishments, but it’s still a lot of possibilities.
As you may know from other sources, there are three main pairs of characteristics that define coloring:
There are several color analyses systems: 4-seasonal, BFAS, directional, 12-seasonal, 16-seasonal, but they all built on top of these three pairs. And if you have time and spare money you can go through draping with a consultant and get your color palette, but if you don’t then you can just follow your natural colors and buy clothes with approximately the same color temperature, saturation and level of contrast. The little trick I learnt over years is to look at my face without looking at the garment I’m trying: if I start to look tired, or there are odd shadows or lips look pale or jaw line looks less defined or anything else is off then it’s definitely a wrong shade for me.
For body shape recommendations I like ones from Trinny and Susanna (they are detailed and cover not only basic types like hourglass or apple, but a lot of specifics). Of cause they doesn’t cover every possibility, but they are a good start.
Basic wardrobe should be re-evaluated after any significant life change: e. g. when I changed my job (in the office, struggling to balance software development with managerial tasks) to my current job (remote worker, working from home and people I’m managing and my manager are in the different countries), there was a big change: I wear jumpers now! and I don’t need elements of power dressing. While the second is obvious, first needs to be explained (I think that is a good example how local specific plays important role in what to wear). Actually it’s simple: in Ukraine offices in winter usually either too cold, or too warm (because as a rule in my country many buildings share the same heating system it’s almost impossible to fine tune the temperature and even when a building has it’s own heating system, owners always try to increase the temperature, so they can charge renters more for heating). So in my old office it was like 25-26C (77-79F) in winter and I was wearing lightweight blouses and tops (so for colder days I needed warm cardigans or jackets under winter coats). Now I don’t have this problem and I wear jumpers again, because smaller number of layers is more comfortable, I like when it’s two layers, but three or four are too much, I feel dressed in a cabbage costume.
Sometimes changes are much more dramatic (consider having a child and becoming full time mom after an office with a very strict dress code or moving from Anchorage to Miami).
So how it looks on practice.
I spent almost all my time at home sitting behind my desk. I don’t need to be active at home (I outsource cleaning). So what I need from my clothes: they should be comfortable, but I don’t need active wear, they should be grey or greyish (my cat is grey and she is always happy to share some of her fur) and just a little bit dressier than PJs (I don’t know why, but it’s very hard for me to work, when I’m wearing PJs). I can wear both pants and skirts, but in winter I feel more comfortable wearing wide leg pants and in summer I prefer A-line skirts. I also need some tops: long sleeve for winter and short sleeve and more lightweight for summer. I can wear dresses in summer at home. Sometimes it could be colder than I like (the curse of central heating) and for this cases I need couple of really warm cardigans. My coloring dictates that of all shades of grey I should choose silver and charcoal, I should also avoid uneven grey which is very usual for jersey. If I don’t want to look (and feel!) frumpy I should add some waist definition, so my tops and dresses should be fitted in the waist.
I need to go shopping and run errands at least once a week. Requirements: urban casual and comfortable. I should cover temperatures as high as +40C (104F) and as low as -30C (-22F), but I don’t need to be outside for very long if it’s uncomfortable and maximum level of activity is walking + pushing a supermarket cart.
We have very heavy rains in summer sometimes, so I need jellies in addition to leather sandals. In highest summer temperatures I doesn’t feel comfortable in cotton, so it should be silk, but as simple cut as possible, matte and no embellishments. Skirts are more comfortable than pants for me (better ventilation, I guess, it’s almost like wearing nothing). I can wear any dark and cool/neutral or light and cool/neutral clear color I want, but my choice for summer basics is light grey and ivory (there are a lot of brights which look really good on me, but brights don’t make good basics, alas! darks are more flattering on me, but I don’t feel comfortable wearing them a lot in summer, alas (number two)!).
In colder months we often have dirty pavements and roads, cars also become dirty pretty quickly, so wide leg pants and long skirts are no good for such conditions. In winter it’s either around 0C (freezing point) often accompanied by slush or very cold and sometimes snow (which they usually try to tame with salt and some reagents creating unbelievably filthy dirt). For colder months I chose black, silver grey and dark purple. Plus dark blue jeans. I also have one navy jacket, but I wouldn’t buy it again. I also like white shirts, but they are the only item I like white.
I’m Vase (slim hourglass with longer waist) in Trinny and Susanna typology. My legs are slim enough, so I wear skinny jeans and leggings, but I feel more comfortable when I pair them with tunics which cover crotch, but are not too loose to hide the fact that I have slim waist. Long cardigans with a belt are also a very good choice for me. So those are my basics for autumn and spring. It could be trench or lightweight parka, but I chose leather jacket for months when it’s cold, but not freezing (this is just a personal preference, I like leather). I could also wear skirt when I feel like it, A-line skirts are comfortable and when they kept simple they are casual enough, at least for Ukraine. I don’t like sneakers, they are too sporty for my taste, so I use black oxfords and riding boots as casual footwear. In winter it’s mostly midi skirts and sweaters, worn with something heavy duty (when it’s colder than -5C (23F) then it’s sheep skin coat). I could wear my leather leggings with a tunic, but only when it’s not polar fleece needed cold (polar fleece is a divine gift for a girl like me, seriously, I hate when my knees are freezing).
I go out something like twice a week, but nothing super fancy. So I need some more dressy stuff, but not over the top. This is the place when nude leather sandals with high heels (but not stilettos!) appear. So it’s not a lot of basics for summer, because summer is about dresses for me and basic dress? it’s so lame :-D. For colder months there is a place for jackets (they really flatter me), A-line and pencil skirts, which I wear with shirts and scoop neck sweaters and necklaces.
So my basics are:
- silk light grey skirt or summer;
- warm silver grey and black cardigans;
- black jacket;
- couple of jumpers;
- dark blue skinny jeans;
- black slim pants or leggings (now this position covered by leather leggings);
- black A-line midi skirt (because it’s universal);
- white shirt;
- nude flat leather sandals;
- nude high-heel sandals;
- black oxford shoes;
- black riding boots (actually two pairs: winter edition and autumn/spring edition);
- black leather jacket;
- polar fleece leggings;
- neutral color warm waterproof coat;
- sheep skin coat.
I haven’t included home clothes in my list, because there are no true basics except of a silver grey cardigan there, it’s a whole wardrobe, just created from unified items. There are also no summer tops (I prefer to have fun with them, so no basics here).
As you can see it’s not a typical basic wardrobe list. These are my personal basics, items which worth my special attention and little investment.. I’m sure that if you do the same exercise you will come with your own personified basic wardrobe list different from mine. Sometimes it could be very useful to go into more details about positions of the list, to write down what is important for the item of clothes and why*, it helps not to get lost when you are buying stuff.
I think that personalized list is a good step toward the wardrobe with which you will never cry out “Oh, my god! My closet is full of clothes, but I have nothing to wear!”.
* E. g. my jellies should be suitable for driving and my sheep skin coat shouldn’t be too heavy, because it’s bad for my back, so it shouldn’t be long, that’s why I need warm leggings.