I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve done more Q&As or what, but over the last six months I’ve received dozens of questions about my favorite wardrobe basics, the absolute essentials I think everyone should have, and requests to share a capsule collection or post on the pieces I think are critical to crafting a well-rounded, timeless and versatile wardrobe. While I decided not to do a capsule collection, today I am going to share a very thorough rundown on the pieces I can’t live without and think every woman should have in her arsenal! Whether you’re doing a major closet clean-out, helping a friend refresh her wardrobe, or just want to get back to the basics, these pieces will help you simplify, polish and elevate your look.
The best part about these is that if you buy them in neutrals and solids, you can mix and match with nearly everything else in your closet! I get the most use out classic silhouettes and neutral hues like black, beige, white and grey, so you’re going to find a lot of that in this post. Once you have a good selection of high-quality basics, that’s when you can start throwing colors and prints into the mix. I love wearing color and fabulous prints at the beach and for special occasions, but generally try to avoid them in my everyday wardrobe. This makes getting dressed every day SO easy, and prevents my wardrobe from looking dated – prints can do that quickly!
So with that said, I hope you all enjoy this monster of a blog post! Below each section I rounded up my favorite pieces in that particular category for you to shop – be sure to click the arrows on either side of the widgets to reveal more products, and click on each product image to shop it!
TEES, TOPS AND BLOUSES
- Tees – Get a variety of styles and colors! Try v-neck, crewneck and boatneck, in long and short sleeve styles in black, white and grey. If you love stripes, get a couple of simple striped styles too!
- Camis and Tanks – to be honest, I wear these more than tees! I love styling them under blazers, trenches, cardigans, jean jackets, moto jackets, etc – they’re so useful, and with many camis featuring pretty details like lace, ruffles etc, it’s a little more elevated than a casual t-shirt would be. I’d recommend getting a simple cami (but I suggest something with a lace trim!) in black and white/ivory, and a couple of more casual tanks (jersey or cotton) in black, white and grey.
- Button-downs – I’d recommend getting a couple of white button-downs in linen, cotton or silk. I have several styles that I wear repeatedly – they look great styled with jeans, shorts, skirts, under dresses and more throughout the year.
- Blouses – This is where I’d recommend getting more creative with silhouettes. Try a tie-neck blouse in black for work and winter wear, a peasant-style white blouse for summer, an off-shoulder blouse in white for summer, a wrap-style blouse for work (navy or black?), a black one-shoulder top for summer and nights out, and a couple of different blouses with lace or ruffle details for date nights and parties. Again, the pieces that have withheld their appeal over the years are solid and neutral.
- Crewnecks, V-Necks and Mocknecks/Turtlenecks – for a simple everyday style, I suggest finding sweaters with a crewneck, v-neck or mockneck/turtleneck neckline in ivory, beige, grey and black. Those are the colors I wear the most! You can play around with fabric and texture here – my favorites have been chunky woven styles like this and super soft cashmere like this. PS: if you love a mockneck style, don’t miss this thong bodysuit… I’ve worn it SO much since I bought it and it’s only $74!!
- Cardigans – I mostly wear my cardigans when working from home for an extra layer while sitting at my desk! I also wear my cardigans over camis with jeans for movies, brunch etc if the weather is chilly, and they also make a great travel layer. I love styles that extend below my butt (I personally like to keep that area concealed), and don’t feature a belt. Simple styles in neutrals again!
- Capes/Ponchos – While these might not be a closet essential for everyone, I find them a super useful and chic topper when it’s cool enough for sweaters but not cold enough for a coat. I’ve worn mine over sweaters/blouses/camis (like this!) and jeans on dates, to football games, to brunch, on Thanksgiving Day, and so many other occasions. They’re cute, comfortable, and the best part is they cover your behind. The ones I have are multi-colored in neutrals like black, white or grey, but if you get a solid black or other neutral color that would be super versatile too! This one is the best I’ve seen all season… so chic!
JEANS & PANTS
- Jeans – I recommend getting a solid pair of classic skinny jeans in black, white and blue. Those are the colors I wear the most and can be worn with flats, heels, boots and sneakers. If you want to add a couple of other styles to the mix, I recommend a good flared jean (perhaps in dark blue) and a pair of distressed skinnies or mom jeans (in a more bleached out or faded blue). That way you have a pair in nearly every typical shade!
- Leggings & Leather – In addition to my workout leggings, I have a few great pairs of black leggings (suede, thicker jersey, etc) I rely on for more casual styling with sweaters and boots. I also own a few pairs of leather and faux leather pants/leggings that are a more elevated option for dinner than jeans would be. My suggestion would be to invest in one pair of each (in black)!
- Trousers – To be honest, I don’t really own any regular pairs of trousers since I don’t have to work in a corporate office setting. With that said, if you do you likely need to invest in a few styles you can mix and match with various tops and jackets! I’d recommend a simple skinny style, a cropped style, and a wide-leg style in black, navy, grey and/or white. I love this pair, this pair and this pair.
SKIRTS & SHORTS
- Mini Skirts – the mini skirts I wear the most are always leather or faux leather (like this!), so I’d recommend snagging one. They look great with or without tights, and are also a nice transitional basic to work with spring and fall! For summer, snag a denim mini – I prefer ones that are just a touch distressed.
- Knee Length or Midi Skirts – skirts of this length are great for the office, and are versatile for all kinds of occasions! I’d suggest finding a solid pencil or A-line skirt in black for everyday wear (depending on your silhouette one may be more flattering than the other!), and a pleated skirt (in black or a metallic like this). If you’re looking for even more variety, I’d suggest a leather pencil or midi skirt!
- Shorts – I don’t wear a ton of shorts either, but I do recommend having a good pair of denim shorts and a couple pairs of cotton shorts in black, navy or white for summer wear!
JACKETS & OUTERWEAR
JACKETS & VESTS
- Denim – For more casual wear, I highly recommend a jean jacket. Whether you prefer an oversized look (my fave!) or a more tailored, preppy style, they are the most versatile and a great piece to take with you wherever you travel to! See here, here and here for how I’ve styled mine in the last year.
- Leather & Faux Leather – If you’re more into edgy looks, a moto jacket in classic black or beige is a great extra layer you can wear with any casual outfit on weekends and when traveling! If you like a more feminine approach, try a drape-neck style or a collarless style like this. I wear my leather jackets with dresses and jeans alike!
- Blazer – A tailored blazer is a work essential, but that doesn’t mean it has to be boring. Blazers are the epitome of chic, especially when paired with cool t-shirts and distressed denim! Instead of going for your standard fare from Ann Taylor or Banana Republic, I’d suggest investing in a style with an elegant button detail like this or this. If you think you’ll wear blazers a lot, you might want to get a few different styles: single button, double-breasted, boyfriend/oversized… I’d suggest getting blazers in black, navy, beige or white/ivory! If you already have those and want to mix it up, try a tuxedo style for dressier events, a plaid style or something in tweed!
- Trench – neutral trench coats are one of my absolute must-have wardrobe essentials! I have too many to count at this point, and they all get a good amount of use. As much as I travel, they’ve been such a sophisticated topper to some of my more casual jeans looks, instantly adding polish and completing the look. I’ve also worn them a bunch with dresses for meetings and dinners! My favorite style is a drape-neck look like this, but I’m also a big a fan of the classic double-breasted trench. You really can’t go wrong! It’s a work, weekend, and pretty much whenever/wherever staple!
- Wool/Cashmere – My go-to styles are a more tailored blazer coat like this, a wrap style like this, and a double-breasted style like this. I also love a good military-style coat! Get one of each style in black, camel, white/ivory and grey for the most versatile color palette.
- Puffer/Raincoat – I wear my black puffer all the time in winter! On outdoor walks, running errands, going to and from workout classes, etc. Practical, useful and handy in super cold weather! If it rains a lot where you live, you might also want to pick up a classic black raincoat (assuming your trench isn’t water-resistant).
CASUAL/DAY-TO-NIGHT/WEEKEND – I’m a big fan of day-to-night styles… ones you can style with sneakers during the day and dress up with heeled sandals for dinner! Below are some of my favorites in each category.
- Fall/Winter – While I do wear dresses in the colder months of the year, I often rely much more on jeans, sweaters and boots for daytime and nighttime wear. If you live somewhere super cold or just love to wear dresses, I recommend purchasing a flattering black sweater dress you can wear to work or on the weekend (aka just above the knee or midi).
- Spring/Summer – I liiiiiive in sundresses during the spring/summer months! I’m not sure if it’s the trend or the fact that I don’t love wearing super short dresses much these days, but I lean more towards midi and just-above-the-knee style dresses these days. I have a variety of these styles in white and black that work day or night and are super easy to style. See here, here and here for examples. I also have quite a few colorful options and cute prints like this, this and this for travel and summer wear. I always wear more color, embroidery and prints in the summer! As long as it’s a flattering cut and color on me, I know I’ll wear it again the next year. I also own a couple of more casual t-shirt/sweatshirt dresses in black and grey that I wear exclusively for travel and really nothing else – I usually wear them on the plane with a jean jacket and sneakers!
- Shifts and Sheaths – Whenever there’s a bridal or baby shower, or some other kind of luncheon, I typically reach for a sophisticated sheath or shift dress like this or this. It’s a timeless silhouette that’s both flattering and appropriate for pretty much any occasion and audience! While I’m a neutrals girl, most of my dresses in this shape are actually pretty colorful since I’m buying mine for fun events as opposed to everyday wear. If you’re buying for work-related events however, you may want to stick to a neutral color scheme – I’d suggest getting one sleeveless style and one with either 3/4 sleeves or cap sleeves for more formal work events.
- Shirtdresses – A clean white shirtdress like this can be super useful for both work/church things, but also for vacay. Style them with espadrilles and a straw bag for lunch and exploring, or dress them up with pumps and a leather tote for the office! I also have a shirtdress in dark green for winter wear!
- Cocktail & Party Dresses – Whether you’re a color lover or not, I recommend having at least two variations of the little black dress in your closet. One that’s strictly fall/winter (perhaps a long-sleeved velvet number?) and another that’s for warmer weather like this. I find that when I feel like I have nothing to wear, a chic black dress is always on point and is easy to style a new way every single time. Once you’ve gotten those basics, you can get more adventurous with color! Side note: I never wear black (OR ANYTHING CLOSE TO WHITE) to weddings. Always have at least one church-appropriate cocktail dress in a color you can wear to a wedding in your closet. By church-appropriate, I mean your shoulders should be covered – if not, make sure you bring a pashmina with you into the church! I tend to re-wear my cocktail dresses for years (I even wore a red dress from college to a ball last weekend!), so I find that investing in quality, timeless styles is totally worth it.
- Floor-Length/Gowns – It’s been awhile since I’ve needed a floor-length dress, but if you get invited to a lot of weddings, galas or fancy fundraisers you may want to have one or two in your arsenal. If you don’t want to spend a bunch of money on a dress that will mostly just hang in your closet, just rent one on Rent The Runway when the time comes for you to wear one!
PUMPS – the style I get the most use out of is a pointy-toed stiletto in patent leather! The color I wear most often is nude, but I also highly recommend getting a classic black pair. I wear my pumps with everything from leather pants for a night out, to modest skirts for church and distressed denim on the weekends. So useful, versatile and timeless!
- Heeled – For eveningwear and weddings, I highly recommend a pretty gold heeled sandal like this or this. Gold is a total neutral in my book! The other heeled sandals I wear most are also nude. They go with everything! My favorites have been this simple Stuart Weitzman style and this block-heeled Givenchy pair I’ve had for years. I have about five different styles of nude heeled sandals, all of which have been very useful and worth the investment! I wear mine spring, summer and fall with all kinds of outfits.
- Flat – I like to mix my footwear around quite a bit, so I like having a ton of silhouettes at my fingertips. I’d suggest getting a pair of simple slides for casual wear like these or these, a pretty embellished pair like this or this (still simple, but elevated and appropriate for an outdoor/beach wedding or dinner), a sturdy day-to-night pair like this, and then a pair like this you could wear down to the beach and by the pool without fear of damaging them.
- Ballet Flats – I highly recommend getting a couple pairs of ballet flats – they’re a sophisticated shape for work, but stylish enough for weekends, comfortable for travel, and generally just a wear-for-anything shoe. The color I wear most is gold (versatile neutral, I’m telling ya!), but if you work in an office or wear a lot of black, that would be a great basic color to have on hand. I also have a couple pairs of pointy-toe flats I really enjoy wearing – they look super sleek! Try a slingback style like this or a d’Orsay look like this for an extra chic take.
- Mules – I have a pair or two of mules, but I have to admit I don’t wear them very much… I do know so many people who wear them all the time though! If you’re one of those people, I’ve heard this pair is the best investment – they’re comfortable, cool and classic. If you like more of a ladylike look, try these!
- Espadrilles – this shoe style is a must for spring/summer! I style mine with dresses, jeans and everything in between for lunch, errands, etc. So cute and comfortable! You can go big (with Chanel!) or stay budget-friendly with pretty pair like this.
- Sneakers – in addition to my workout sneakers, I’ve found myself gravitating towards chic sneaks for everyday looks, errands and travel more and more lately. I have a wide variety of colors, but my favorites have been the stark white ones. A Magic Eraser is the key to keeping the white leather as clean as possible!
- Ankle – Heeled ankle boots are a chic way to style dresses and skirts for dinner and nights out, and a lot of the time you can also style them with jeans. I try to only buy ankle boots where the shaft is high enough to tuck in a pair of leggings or skinny jeans so I can get the most use out of them! Lately my favorite pairs have been a little more on the wild side: my white ankle boots have been shockingly useful, and I also have an animal print pointed-toe pair I love that adds texture and edge to my outfits. If you’re looking for classic staples though, I’d recommend a simple black pair in leather like this.
- Mid-Calf or Knee High – I love a heeled knee-high boot for elevating daytime looks and wearing out at night! My go-to pairs have been simple leather styles like this and this in beige and cognac. I wear them constantly with skinny jeans, but they’re also just as chic with midi or above-the-knee dresses! I honestly can’t praise these enough. If you have more of a preppy or Ralph Lauren look, you might also enjoy a flat riding boot for casual wear.
- Over-The-Knee – I generally don’t love a heeled over-the-knee boot (I bought a pair a couple years ago that I liked, but just didn’t end up wearing them a ton) for wearing out at night, mostly because I feel it verges on tacky territory… but what I DO love is a flat over-the-knee for daytime wear. The two pairs I wear the most are this black leather pair by Stuart Weitzman and an old cognac suede pair that’s great for really casual outfits. Both colors have been super wearable in my wardrobe and have been comfortable all-day options for travel! I mostly wear mine with skinny jeans and leggings, but have been known to sport them with dresses too!
- Totes – I find a good tote to be both an everyday essential and a travel must-have. Invest in a classic leather tote in black and one in beige – I tend to wear more black in the winter and more beige in the summer, which is why I recommend one of each! If you travel a bunch, buy a style that packs flat – if you’re not as concerned about that, a structured style is definitely more sleek and sophisticated. I highly recommend only buying totes you can wear over your shoulder as well is on your arm. Totes without an additional long strap or with short handles only are extremely annoying to me!! I just sold a bag I had for only six months because of that – I never wore it… it was such a pain!
- Shoulder Bags & Crossbody Bags – While I wear and travel with totes a lot, there’s nothing more convenient than a handbag you can wear hands-free. Whether you sling the strap over your shoulder or across your body, bags like this are super useful for travel and general everyday wear. If you’re looking for a style you can wear day-to-night, I’d opt for a shoulder bag with an adjustable strap (like this) over a crossbody (like this). I feel like crossbody bags are generally more casual looking (which makes them ideal for exploring when traveling!).
- Clutches – I’m actually really bad at buying clutches, mostly because I HATE THEM. I much prefer a bag with a strap (or a ring like this) so I can wear it on my arm or over my shoulder… you know, as opposed to stuffing it in my armpit when I’m holding a drink. With that said, I do believe it is important to have a couple of nice clutches for weddings and evening events. Because I wear my gold heeled sandals a lot for these things, I invested in a cool gold clutch to match! I also have a black + gold clutch and a mother-of-pearl clutch that work with all kinds of dresses.
- Summer/Vacation – In addition to the bags listed above, one of my favorite things during the summer is pulling out my straw and wicker bags! I have a couple of really cute and basic wicker clutches for dinner and nights out, as well as some darling straw bucket bags and totes for daytime wear. I wear mine all season long!
- Scarves – I don’t wear scarves daily, but when it’s really cold out I always, always, always reach for my black cashmere scarf by Heidi Wynne. It’s simple, super soft and warm, and looks great with everything! Another high-quality brand to check out for solid cashmere scarves in White & Warren! So many gorgeous colors.
- Belts – My Gucci belt was an instant hit in my wardrobe and I’m sort of at a loss for what I ever did without it before! It adds polish to any jeans outfit, cinches in the waists on my favorite black dresses and looks really cool when styled over a blazer. I rounded up a bunch of great belts here (designer) and here (budget-friendly) recently if Gucci is not your game!
- Simple, Everyday Jewelry – I’m a minimal jewelry kind of gal. While I love to wear statement earrings and cocktail rings on occasion (vacation, special events, weddings, etc), I’m usually more of a stud earring and simple rings girl. I’ve linked some of my favorite simple studs and rings below that are great for wearing at the office, while traveling or just around the house!
- Sunglasses – I LOVE sunglasses. In addition to classic styles, I also love to get creative with frames, colors, mirrored lenses, etc. But as far as sunglasses I think everyone should have? A gold rimmed pair of Ray-Bans (like this or this), thicker black frames (perhaps Celine like this or the Le Specs style Meghan Markle wore this week?), and a cute pair of tortoise sunglasses like these. That way you have three great neutrals to work with in very different shapes. Once you have those, buy a fun new pair each season in a different color/shape – I have quite the collection now from doing that every year! Below are some of my favorites!
I love those infinity sandals! They look so much more expensive than they are! Which is basically the highest shoe compliment!
I’m loving the flats you have suggested!
Thank you so much for this!! What a resource!
Love this entire post, thank for the time you spent on this. I just pulled the trigger on those Infinity Sandals.
Wow! Just wow! This is amazing, thank you so much!!
Wonderful checklist for the essentials of a wardrobe to look stylish and chic. Many thanks.
Great post, thank you! Would love to see a post that included sunglasses, too! You have such a fabulous collection :)
I’ll add those – I can’t believe I forgot to include!!
This is one amazing post, Merrit! Thank you for the time you spent putting this together! You touched on everything that women from every age group should have in their closets to pull from. Fabulous job!!!
This is by far the best blog post I’ve ever see. I’ve referenced it numerous times. Thank you
Are the Infinity sandals comfortable? Great price but didn’t see any online reviews. Thank you!
Yes, I’ve loved mine!! Wore mine a bunch walking all day in Provence. Never had to wear them in either. I did have to size up to a 10 – I normally wear a 9 1/2 and the 9 was too small. The 10 was a perfect fit! Hope this helps!
This is seriously my favorite blog post of all time (of anyone). I have referenced it at least 10 times in planning my seasonal wardrobe purchases. Thank you for such a comprehensive, helpful post!