The secret to looking flawless every single day? outfits derived from timeless basic essentials. (I know… I’ve said it a million times… but it’s only because it’s true!)
While there is always some space in my closet for a couple of trendy pieces each season, the basic essential items rule my wardrobe.
Basic essentials are the only true investment when it comes to clothes – no matter the occasion – they will always make you look like you have it together.
With much consideration, it took me a long time to decide whether I should write this article or not. You see, I believe in the importance of staying true to your personal style and finding your own winning wardrobe that matches your life.
However, I’m willing to go out on a limb and say investing in each one of these basic essentials below will build a timeless minimalist wardrobe, forever in fashion, adaptable to your needs and the ‘look’ you’re going for.
I put together a checklist that includes 21 of my favorite basic essentials, picked-up during my 15 years in the retail and fashion business, which were regular fixtures, collection after collection.
What I love about each of them, is not just the fact that they are extremely interchangeable but that they can be dressed up or down according to the occasion at the simple change of one detail.
What are the basic essentials?
Fashion insiders call them ‘carry-overs’ – style essentials that keep returning every season. Why? Because they work!
A timeless wardrobe with a reliable selection of basic essentials will make day-to-day dressing infinitely easier. Little guesswork is required if everything you have in your wardrobe has been carefully selected and always on fashion.
So are you ready to get back to basics? I thought so. 😉
If you don’t know where to begin when it comes to building your basic essentials collection for your wardrobe, the pieces below should serve as an excellent starting point.
Once you have built a collection of wardrobe staples it will be incredibly easy to build seasonal capsule wardrobes. Check here my latest Fall Capsule Wardrobe 2020.
Black is the new black (and always will be darling)
When you are time-challenged and have no brain space for thinking about what really works, outfit-wise, do the smart thing: choose black and move on with your day.
Versatile as well as practical, easy to accessorize, and hard to stain, black works for all seasons and practically everyone!
This is why following basic essentials which form the starter pieces of your collection should always be black.
1. The Black Suit
Talking about basic essentials, everyone needs a great black suit. I don’t mean the nine-to-five kind. Ask any Italian woman, the black suit is the answer when denim is not enough but the dress is too much.
It’ll save you from committing that fashion faux-pas of overdressing; especially if you pair it with a simple white t-shirt and heels – the perfect style balance.
Having said that, finding the perfect suit can be a struggle in terms of fit, fabric, and price. In fact, for the suit, my favorite adage ‘buy less but buy better’ most definitely applies.
- two separate items. You need to like them both, so you can wear them with confidence, separately. This way you actually get two essential items! A black blazer works for dressing smart or even matched with denim; with heels or with trainers: with a white, buttoned shirt or with a simple plain tee-shirt.
The pants are versatile too and can help you to create many outfits. It’s your bread and butter staple.
- it’s all in the details. Buttons, for instance, are very important. One-buttoned jackets look better on slimmer silhouettes; while a blazer with three buttons, that wraps around the chest is more flattering for larger shapes and taller women.
- tailor-made. Most women happily take home their standard-sized suits. This is a big mistake! Hem the sleeves and taper the trousers if you need, take in the waist, and make sure the shoulder fits. Alterations are a great way to tailor your suit because a well-fitted suit will certainly be worth it.
2. Black (Faux) Leather Jacket
It’s always leather weather! Layer it with other pieces and it will always work. Throw it over a dress to add some grit or pair it with denim – you simply can’t go wrong. A leather jacket instantly adds the ‘cool’ factor.
Among all the essential items this is probably my favorite one:)
Consider going one size up if you want to wear it over knitwear on chilly days but make sure the shoulders sit properly and are not too wide or narrow.
Check also the color of details such as zips and buttons… as it has to work with the rest of your accessories, jewelry included. Make sure it is lined with attractive, good quality material.
3. Black Skinny Jeans
The black skinny is what you wear when you don’t know what to wear. Practically, the wild card in your minimalist wardrobe. The shoes that you pair it with will shift your look from relaxed to smart casual.
Avoid overly treated ones as they will easily fade in the wash. Go for mid to high rise. Low rise doesn’t help anyone. Skinny looks best when they fit tightly around the waist. The ideal length is above the ankle, so show some skin as they really shouldn’t touch your shoes.
4. Black Pencil Skirt
It was in 1954 that Monsieur Christian Dior introduced his ‘H-line’ collection to the world and that’s when the pencil skirt became an instant hit. It was Sofia Loren sexy and Audrey Hepburn chic – the pencil skirt has it all, a Win-Win!
Make sure it fits your body. The perfect pencil skirt follows your curves but allows you to walk comfortably. Make sure it is not too tight as it might ride up as you move and bending to pull down your skirt every minute won’t be sexy 🙂
Length-wise it should be down to the knee or just above. Check also the slit at the back (you might need to unpick it, after your purchase as often it is sewed).
5. Little Black Dress
There is no explanation needed as to why you need one. Every woman knows about the power of the LBD. The question is WHICH ONE? But the ultra-flattering one of course!
When it comes to the LBD, plenty of options are available, and to make sure you choose the right silhouette, you need to know your body shape. Don’t rush this one, so try on dozens before you pick yours.
Having said that, there is one style that looks good on literary everyone and suitable for any occasion. Yes, really! It’s the A-line dress.
It’s one thing is to come up with a masterpiece, but it takes some kind of genius to do it twice in a row. Just a year after launching the pencil skirt, Christian Dior introduced his ‘A-line’ collection and ‘the fit and flare’ made its debut. BOOM! The rest is history…
when buying your LBD avoid any cuts that might be too trendy. Choose a modest over the knee length to make sure your perfect dress may keep you company for many years to come!
6. Black Heels
There’s nothing as daring as the ‘click-clack’ of a woman walking in high heels. A pair of heeled black shoes will sort out any evening outfit. No respectable wardrobe should be called so without a pair of black heels!
Pointed-toe styles will make your legs look longer and leaner.
If you’re going to splurge on this one make sure it’s a basic model that way, they won’t look dated by next season.
7. The Black Leather Bag
The perfect finish touch to every outfit!
Needless to say, there are plenty of high-quality labels out there that won’t cost you a kidney when it comes to buying a bag. But if you ever dreamed of owning that once in a lifetime, designer piece – this is THE ONE!
A couple of months ago I went to a friend’s house to help her pack and I was amazed by the quantity of bags she was either donating or tossing away. She probably got rid of around 20 bags and kept 15 to herself. All bought in the last five years. While doing so, she kept saying how desperately she wanted a designer purse but she couldn’t afford one. Well, a quick calculation and it turned out that she spent an average of $39.99 per bag. That makes a total of about $1399. A great amount for such bag or indeed the ‘rainy day’ pot! So make sure you do your math when it comes to bags.
If you wish to buy a designer bag make sure you do your homework. Certain labels and models are even an investment believe it or not. In fact, there’s a big market behind pre-owned designer bags, with good chances of a substantial ROI (Return on Investment); classic, iconic pieces having a strong resalable value.
In 2005, a Chanel bag like the famous 2.55, was on the shelves with a price tag of $1650. In 2010 the price rises to $2850, by 2012 – $4440 and as of October 2019, it’s $5200. Its value is expected to continue going up.
Such a well-kept bag can be expected to be sold up to 80% of the current value. So a bag bought in 2010 and kept in exceptional condition could be sold now for more than its original purchase price.
If you decide to buy a second-hand designer bag make sure:
- you do so from a reputable seller like Rebag or the Handbagclinic. You want to be 100% sure you’re giving your money to a legitimate source that authenticates bags and has an authenticity guarantee.
- you are aware of the seller’s return policy.
- you choose pieces in basic colors. They are most profitable as they are the ones most unlikely to go out of style.
Personally, I tend to fall for pieces that have a story behind them; who doesn’t love a good fashion tale? For me, the greatest value that the Chanel 2.55 has, is that it’s the first shoulder bag in history, which means in 1955 when the bag came out, women had their hands free for the very first time!
The fashion democracy
Giorgio Armani once said, ‘Jeans represent democracy in fashion’. It means that denim established itself in so many wardrobes – regardless of age, race, size, gender, and social status. Here below you will find other ‘democratic’ essential items that became badges of effortless style and comfort.
8. Flattering Denim Jeans
At first, they were considered working clothes, jeans then became fashion essential items. A high-quality pair of jeans can last many years and their appeal grows as they age.
Slim or straight-leg, the most important factor here is the fit. Find a pair that is both comfortable and flattering and you will be able to dress them up or down for every season and every occasion. The most essential among all the essential items.
It’s worth paying extra for jeans that fit better and therefore, flatter. Go for pure denim brands rather than general shop labels.
LA-based brands are considered the most advanced in the denim industry. If you go for a skinny cut, make sure there it’s no more than 2% lycra so it will retain its shape allowing the fabric to shape around your body.
9. The Perfect White Tee
Something magical happens every time you open a drawer and find a freshly-laundered white t-shirt. As cool as Kate Moss in the 90’s, Calvin Klein advert, the staple white t-shirt will always be in fashion. Put your white t-shirt to work and use it as the foundation of many outfits.
it’s all about the neckline! Crew-neck and V-neck work well but your best bet here is the Scoop-neck! Pay attention to the sleeves, short and fitted, with a 45-degree cut is seriously stylish. Seek a fabric made of natural fibers such as Tencel or organic cotton.
10. A Simple White Shirt
Who could ever forget Sharon Stone wearing a classic ‘husband’, white shirt with a Vera Wang satin skirt on The Academy Award red carpet? Add that touch of timeless sophistication and you’ll create a spectacular yet comfy look! This works equally well in your weekend bag, teamed with shorts, denim or a pair of beige, chino pants.
Roll up your sleeves, tie the front in a knot or French-tuck it in into your bottoms. What can I say… It’s always white shirt o’clock!
Crisp, white shirts are available everywhere but finding the one that fits perfectly is a different story. When it comes to shirts nothing matters more than the fabric. Avoid mixed blends and go for 100% composition, whether that’s cotton, Tencel or linen.
Choose a shirt that has buttons, lining-up with your bust-line. Most shirts have one button below and one button above your bust, however, this just bulges around the breast. If you want a fitted look go for the bodysuit version, it will also stay in place as you move around.
11. Smart, White Trainers
Living in a big city, where my shoes are my main form of transportation, I can never have enough sneakers! Plain or detailed, the choice is yours, smart, white sneakers will go with everything from dresses to denim to wide-leg trousers.
Trainers are the most comfortable shoe option you’ll have, however they no longer hold the casual feel that they used to. They’ve quickly made their way from street-style to smart-casual and are becoming more acceptable in many social/formal occasions, securing their well-deserved spot into the essential items league. Despite the trainer’s acceptance these days, do give them a break in situations where strictly formalwear is required.
The more minimal the design, the easier it’ll be to transition from casual-wear to stylish-wear.
Love those contrasts! Pair it with a trench coat, a plain blazer or tailored trousers to get that cool easygoing feeling. Dedicate some time to keep your white trainers in good condition and invest in a stain protector to save them from the elements.
Store them with paper stuffed in each sneaker to avoid creases. Wash the laces from time to time, and scrub the sole from mud and dirt.
12. The Art of Stripes
Whether it’s the sophisticated, nautical style or relaxed boyfriend look – stripes are still going strong and they clearly qualify as a favorite staple in the perfect closet. The key is in the match! Pair a Breton top with cigarette trousers or Capri pants and you’ll get that instant Paris-vibe. Then match it with white denim for a cool, sea-side breeze.
Clash a pinstriped shirt on your light-cream chino if you fancy some preppy polish.
As a general rule, horizontal stripes create width so better for women with a petite torso, while, vertical stripes create length and will make your figure leaner and taller.
13. Jean Jacket
This is basically my spring uniform. Go for a classic, medium wash in your closet and you’ll have it all figured out!
Often underestimated but if you know how to wear it – it’s literally the most versatile piece you’ll have and can be worn many days in a row always combined differently.
Layer it over a pullover for a chilly, early Spring day or wear it over a maxi dress for a breezy, Summer stroll. Forget color matching rules and pair it over your black, skinny jeans for that chic, lazy look or keep it simple with a plain white t-shirt.
Denim jackets come in hundreds of different wash shades. So when buying yours, pay attention not just to the intensity of color but also how worn you want it to look. Don’t forget the color of the stitches (gold or white?)
Not all shades suit every skin tone. This is something to take into consideration, especially for Jean jackets or Jean shirts, so close to the face.
We all need those bunch of essential items that are versatile enough to allow us to switch from the office day to getting together with friends and going out. Casual chic is the answer when you want to look good without spending too much time and effort.
14. Wool coat
You know what the perfect one looks like; warm and comfortable but still classy and stylish. For a feminine look try the belted variety; while a Pea coat makes a polished addition to any outfit. If you are looking for a relaxed yet chic tone the Chesterfield coat is what you are after. The military-style, with its structured silhouette, is really flattering while at the moment the Cocoon coat is the trendiest.
Remember that the coat will have to go with the majority of your outfits during winter so it’s best to choose a basic color like black, grey or camel. The warmest option would be 100% wool but some nylon in the blend will help the coat to stay newer for longer. Avoid any fabrics that have more than two fibers blended together as it is most likely to start pilling.
Cardigans are the hardworking, everyday pieces of your essential items wardrobe.
Cashmere, wool, cotton, jersey or even the lightest, silk-blend can complement any outfit. Perfect for making any look more interesting and in the warmest season you can add a jacket for a layered effect.
Round or v-neck, buttoned or wrap-around, with or without pockets there are plenty of options to choose from.
the good news is that cardigans really do look good on every body type. What’s worth considering, is the fabric; the thicker it is the more casual it will look. Chunky knits are very easy to take care of as they generally do not need any ironing while a silk blend will require some more maintenance.
16. Knit Sweaters
The perfect sweater works with anything from a pair of old jeans to a pleated, long satin skirt. Plain, cable knit or turtleneck, don’t be afraid of stocking-up on this one. I wear all my sweaters countless times during fall and winter. After all, what’s more elegant than a grey cashmere sweater?
when it comes to staying warm, wool is your best option. Merino wool is a bit pricey but great quality.
Cashmere is the most luxurious version and feels wonderful due to its softness. Cashmere sweaters aren’t the easiest to look after but they do look the smartest.
Alpaca is less common but beautiful and definitely worth your attention.
Cotton is easy to take care of and suitable for Spring and Summer evenings. I wouldn’t suggest polyester because it hardly retains the garment’s shape during wash cycles.
17. Satin or Silk Top
Achieving perfect low-key chic isn’t always easy. But with a satin or silk top, you can win this style game and master the balance between smart and casual.
Wear it to dress up your skinny jeans for a cool evening out or team it with your leather jacket for an effortlessly stylish look. There’s nothing like the satin or silk top that allows such contrast-playing.
The difference between silk and satin is that the first one is a natural fiber while the other is a weave formed from filament fibers such as silk, nylon, and polyester.
While silk has a more shimmery look, satin is glossy. Whatever you decide to go for, I’m afraid they both require a delicate hand wash or dry cleaning only. But don’t let this put you off as the effort is well repaid in having such a chameleonic piece in your wardrobe.
18. Tailored Pants
High-waisted or pencil straight, a pair of stunning trousers is another staple that will stay in your closet for years to come.
there are three things that you need to take into consideration when buying smart trousers:
- Silhouette: regardless of the currents trends, pick the style that most flatters your body shape.
- Quality: Don’t be afraid to invest in quality.
- Comfort: The right pant can be worn all day.
19. A Classic Trench Coat
There are few garments that have the character of the trench coat (see also Jackie Kennedy). Whether you wear it for work or for a shopping day in town, the trench coat can change its attitude, just like that. Initially made by Thomas Burberry for soldiers during WWI, it later became an iconic item for the brand who made it a statement… without saying a word;) Everyone looks cool in a trench coat – fact.
You’ll want to stay classic with this one. The ultimate trench coat comes with lapels, buttons, a belt and a shield storm at the back. The length has to suit your figure so choose a short to mid-length one if you are petite and a
mid-long length if you are taller. But traditionally it should fall just above your knee. Color-wise, let’s stick to the classic color palette: beige, Khaki, black or navy.
Wear it with everything but keep it minimalist. If you wear it over a dress or skirt my tip is that you should be able to see the hem of the dress or skirt, under the trench coat.
20. Ankle boots
A solid pair of ankle boots can be worn from fall to spring and can be your saviour on those rainy, gray days if you don’t want to throw style out the window. Perfect for wearing with blazer, jeans or long skirts.
There are plenty of styles around, from the classic Chelsea to the Cow-boy – it’s easy to find a pair that will give a different vibe to every outfit.
with ankle boots, all that matters is proportion. If you wear them with wide-leg trousers the hem should go over the boot, slim pants should skim the top of the boot, while skinny denim and leggings should be tucked in. If you wear ankle boots with a skirt try to choose a skirt with minimal details.
21. Simple Flat shoes
Flatties come to rescue on those days when you just can face heels. Let’s face it they do have an unfair reputation, as the poor sister in the fashion family but Kate Moss and Alexa Chung proved that when worn correctly they can be a real game-changer.
A pair of ankle-length, cigarette trousers and an oversized, chunky knit jumper and you have it, the ‘je ne sais quoi’!
Ballet pumps and loafers are great for travel, driving and walking around. When you purchase a pair make sure you choose leather or another material that is soft enough but still gives you support. Go for a cap-toe for that modern classic touch.
Ensuring these ‘must-have’ basic essentials in your closet means that those ‘nothing to wear’ days are a thing of the past.
However, don’t rush. Do take your time to carefully select them. It took me years to identify my style and put together my wardrobe. Many of my basic essentials are now older than my 8-year-old (and that was after a couple of ‘style white whales’!).
It is safe to say that once you’ve edited the collection of your basic essentials you’ll be in a good position to add pretty much anything to your wardrobe but make sure you don’t clutter it with items bought on an impulse.
Do remember, to not be scared investing in key pieces as most likely you’ll stick to them for years and you find an item that you really love and you constantly come back to it make sure you stock up on it.
The ultimate goal is to be at that point where, every time you open your wardrobe, you’re reminded why you fell in love with each item all those years ago!
A minimalist wardrobe is a great base to work also your capsule wardrobe! Click here to know how:)