As a reformed shopaholic and recent Marie Kondo convert, I’ll all too aware of the perils of shopping with no purpose. On any given day, the old me would stride into my favourite shops – any shops, really – grabbing anything that caught my eye. My inner dialogue was basically, “Want it. Now.” Rather than, “Hmm… this is nice, but what else would it go with? Where would I wear it and how often? How would I style it? Does it suit my lifestyle and the climate?” Oops.
The result of 10 years of this “bull in a china shop” style shopping?
Tens of thousands of wasted dollars, 50+ garbage bags of donated clothing (heaps with tags on), and most days spent feeling like I have nothing to wear. In other words, I had a wardrobe (okay, wardrobes) full of clothes, and zero ability to create any complete outfits.
The main issue? (Aside from the self-control problem… I’m working on that.) I kept spending on “wow” pieces and stuff for nights out, leaving me with no basics or any pieces for “real” life. Coffee dates. Errands. Casual meetings. Movie dates. Etc.
Word on the street is that I’m not the only one with this problem, however! So while we’ve got a lot of work ahead of us to un-do bad habits, create new ones, and generally get ourselves whipped into stylish shape — a great place to start is to assess whether your wardrobe is housing enough basics. So without any further ado…
Here’s a list of my 10 favourite classic pieces that have nothing to do with trends and everything to do with creating your own timeless style.
1. Simple tees
No, I’m not talking about active wear or those $7 “bargain” finds at Kmart that lose their shape and colour after one wash. I’m talking about high quality, soft cotton-y goodness. You’ll pay more for these, so make sure the cut is perfect on you, and resist the temptation to buy one in every colour until it’s been road tested. White is your saviour when it comes to trying to find friends for statement skirts or ways to tone down tailored pants, but you might find grey or black more useful to begin with.
2. Dark denim jeans
These babies are forever. I love my skinnies with heels and boots, but also have a pair of 70s style flares that look great with sneakers and are super flattering. If you’ve never been happy with how your jeans fit, I suggest going to Levi’s or a department store and trying on at least 10 different pairs to get figure out the best cut for your shape and what feels comfortable, suits your lifestyle etc.
3. Denim jacket
A classic that’s totally underrated and often written off as something for “young people”. These are an ideal transitional piece that work well in every season due to their ability to be layered. Not all denim jackets are alike, however. If you choose one in a “trendy” cut or denim wash, it’ll become a statement piece rather than a neutral, and won’t be of much use. Keep the jacket itself simple, but be brave when wearing it. Try it over all sorts of outfits you wouldn’t normally think would “work” and you may surprise yourself!
Here’s mine below. It has some stud detailing which is fun, but thanks to the classic blue denim and nice cut, it’s versatile enough to be a “basic”.
4. Converse sneakers
Okay, so sneakers are massive right now, meaning they may seem a little “trendy”, but the ones that are popular are featuring lots of metallics, a chunkier shape, and often don’t even have laces. They’ll go out of style and you’ll likely grow sick of them, so if you’re on a budget, avoid them. Instead, go for a sneaker that will stand the test of time – versatile enough to suit jeans, skirts, shorts, and dresses. Converse do just that. Sure, they come in all sorts of colours and cuts which are fun, but if you truly want to invest it a pair that will open up your wardrobe, stick with some white leather low tops. Not only are they neutral, but they’re easy to clean meaning they’ll last longer!
5. White button up shirt
The majority of us discount the poor old button-up as a corporate piece or something too conservative for day-to-day life… when in fact, it can be one of the sexiest pieces in your wardrobe. The key to making it work is finding contrasting pieces to play off it, so things like denim and leather look great, whereas an old pair of tailored pants risk saying, “Hi, I work in an office.” Tucked-in, dishevelled, layered or worn as a dress… this is one of the most versatile pieces you could own. But buy carefully. The quality of fabric, craftsmanship and cut are everything. Stay away from all of the Kmarts and Targets of the world and instead check out Witchery, Cue, Veronika Maine, Country Road, or my new personal favourite, Everlane (US based, but they ship to Australia).
6. Cashmere sweater
This is an item I wish I was able to wear more, but unfortunately is better suited to locations that have actual seasons — not the “very warm to nightmarishly hot” temperatures we get in Queensland! However, it’s still one of my favourites as it adds a light layer and a level of pulled-together…ness? to any outfit. Wear it over your button-up shirt for a preppy twist or under a blazer with dark skinnies and heels if you want to feel all kinds of chic. But whatever you do, choose a colour that suits your wardrobe as a whole and take damn good care of it if you want it to last! The good ones aren’t cheap, but they’re worth every penny.
7. Pencil skirt
The pencil skirt is a magical item that can instantly make you feel taller, slimmer, sexier and more confident. Unlike most of the items in this list, basic isn’t always best. To work well with the items already listed above, you’ll want to choose an interesting colour or texture. For instance if you want black, consider leather, or if you’d prefer a more traditional fabric, find a navy, forest green or burgundy. Pencil skirts work beautifully if they’re the one pop of colour in your outfit. They feel bold and daring, but because the cut is so flattering, you can get away with it. Do try a few different proportions on before purchasing, however, because they can start above the knee right down to lower calf (the “midi”, my personal favourite) and not every length will suit every body type.
8. Tailored blazer
Ever wonder how those “off-duty models” and Hollywood stars manage to look so effortlessly pulled together in candid photos? One of their biggest (not-so-secret) secrets is the tailored blazer. Where jeans and a tank would normally lack some wow factor, simply add a blazer and a pair of heels (or not — Converse work too!) and you’ve got yourself a snappy little outfit. Add a bright lip or funky scarf and you’re worthy of being papped for Who Magazine. Like anything, quality will make the difference between try-hard and #wokeuplike this… so hold off buying one of these ’til you can afford a good-un. Check Witchery, Cue & Veronika Maine for some great mid-range buys. It’s also worth trying the designer outlets (I found mine at Tommy Hilfiger) as long as you find a classic cut that fits like a glove.
Don’t assume that blazers need to be black! White can look equally amazing, especially during warmer months, and is perfect to throw over a printed dress.
9. Wrap dresses
I’m going to make a big call and say these are fashion’s greatest gift to women of all sizes. One simple item that can skim over the bits you don’t like, enhance the bits you do, and requires minimal styling, making it easy and low-maintenance. Disclaimer: a lot of brands have taken the wrap thing too far recently, churning out thousands of cheaply made, strangely cut ones, better suited for size 6 teenagers. But these aren’t the ones I’m talking about. I’m talking about Diane Von Furstenburg, Leona Edmiston… brands that design with real figures in mind, using quality fabrics (that usually don’t require ironing – score!) and simple cuts. Whether you add ballet flats, espadrille wedges or strappy sandals, you’re guaranteed to feel pulled together when you throw one of these on.
10. Classic trench coat
Still as popular as they were on the silver screen, the classic cut trench coat is the epitome of timeless style. Flattering on just about any figure, you can throw one of these on and turn any simple outfit into something head-turning. I made the mistake of buying my first one in black which, when worn on top of all of my other black pieces, was fairly lacklustre. If you’re going to invest in a beautiful coat, don’t shy away from the classic beige which will literally go with everything and is something you will keep in your wardrobe until it falls apart (so forever… ’cause you’re going to save up for a nice one, right?)
And that’s it! (Well, sort of)
Let me just clarify that this list doesn’t need to be taken as gospel. We’re all different and you may hate some of the items I mentioned, or even have other classic go-to items I didn’t list. Awesome. Opinions are good! It means you’re a step closer to having your own personal style.
I wrote this because I know how hard it can be to view your wardrobe objectively when you’re drowning in clothes (and regrets). All I hope is that you start to identify the pieces in your wardrobe that are truly versatile and can be used to create real outfits… BEFORE you decide you have nothing to wear and need to go shopping. 😉
Experiment, have some fun, let me know what you think via the comments below, and let’s press on towards a healthier future for our wardrobes… and our bank balances. x