Closet Essentials for the Rest of Us

June 5, 2014 Updated: June 5, 2014

We’ve all seen those “10 Items Every Woman Must Have” lists—crisp white shirt, tailored jacket, trench coat, dark jeans… But what if your lifestyle or aesthetic just doesn’t jive with those recommendations?

Rather than just naming a few pieces and sending you out shopping, we think it’s best to spend some time thinking about and planning the foundation pieces for your wardrobe, which should include tops and bottoms for casual and more dressy occasions, layering pieces, outerwear, and shoes.

Here are a few guidelines for how to develop a list that fits your specific needs, followed by some examples to illustrate those principles.

Function First

First, consider your daily activities and what they require of your clothes. What do you spend most of your time doing? If you spend all day chasing a toddler around, consider stain-resistant items that you can move in. (Ballet flats are an elegant alternative to mom-sneakers and small patterned prints hide stains surprisingly well.)

Do you work from home?

Epoch Times Photo

Jeggings: ASOS, kimono: ASOS

Live in a five-story walk-up? Long skirts hostile to climbing stairs should not be counted among your basics. Maybe you sit at your desk for most of the week. Choose fabrics that have stretch and don’t wrinkle easily.

Make a list of daily activities, noting how much walking and standing you do. Your list of basics should be tailored to what you spend the bulk of your hours doing.

Are you editor, PR person or marketing director?

You need to look put-together while being comfortable sitting at a desk blasted with air conditioning.

Epoch Times Photo

Dress, cardigan: Ruche

Dissecting Your Signals

Secondly, what message about yourself do you want your clothes to send?

Say you work in a creative field. Think of what you wear to the office as an extension of your portfolio. If you are a graphic designer who prides herself on producing clean designs, make sure your clothes are cut nicely and reflect your eye for detail.

If you want your clients to know that you’re reliable and focused, eschew frou-frou embellishments for classic tailoring. Conversely, if you’re an adventurer, why not wear inject a little international flair into your basics?

It may help to dissect the style of someone whose qualities you admire. What message does she send with her way of dressing, and how does she do it? Or solicit the opinion of a trusted friend. Maybe you’ve been sending the wrong signal and didn’t know it.

Are you a graphic designer or other creative?

Take a cue from your stylish office full of beautiful inspirational boards; translate your aesthetics into your clothes. If you’re minimalist, so should be your white shirt. If you feel like your clothes should be a colorful garden, go with a flowery blazer.

 Epoch Times Photo

 Blazer: Anthropologie, Skinny jeans: Madewell

Versatility Makes an Essential

Finally, when you have list in hand and are ready to shop, judge each piece by the following criteria:

  • Is it truly a basic?—Will it stand the test of time both physically and aesthetically, or is it a poorly constructed trend item?

  • Can you run/stretch/sit/stoop and do your everyday activities in it? If it is not comfortable, it’s guaranteed you will not reach for it on a regular basis.

  • Will it be relatively easy to clean and maintain?

  • Can you pair this item with other basics and your statement pieces?

  • And can you wear it for casual as well as dressier occasions? 

If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” that item is not an ideal wardrobe staple.

It is essential to take detailed stock of the pieces you already have, and maybe even keep a list with you. In the pressurized environment of a dressing room, it’s easy to cave and buy something that won’t play nicely with the other clothes in your collection.

Click Next Page to find what essentials may suit your profession best!