10 things you REALLY need in your wardrobe!

If you’ve ever read womens’ magazines – and I have – you’ll have read about the “must-have” classic items that every wardrobe simply cannot do without.

Again and again you’ll see listed: a crisp white shirt, a little black dress (“LBD”), a plain white tee, ballet flats, classic black pants…the list continues.

It’s all rubbish.

When I was a teen, just setting out and figuring out what to buy that would give me some value and distance, I went straight to these lists. You know what I learned? There is no ONE item that suits everybody. There is no perfect list for everyone.

I don’t suit white. It kills me. I have warm colouring, thanks to my Scottish ancestors. If you want to see someone look ghoulish, stick me in a white shirt. It’s nasty!

How to make me, and more than half the population look pasty and sick? Put us in a pure white shirt. Pure white only suits roughly 1/4 of the population.

How to make me, and more than half the population look pasty and sick? Put us in a pure white shirt. Pure white only suits roughly 1/4 of the population.

Interestingly, neither does most of the population. A majority of Western people don’t suit pure white, jet black, or navy – yet again and again we see these colours come up in “must have” lists. People with Asian heritage often look great in these colours though, as do people with darker, richer skin tones generally (African-Americans, Indians and people from the south of Europe).

Go right up north to Scandinavia, or Scotland and northern Ireland, and you’ll find a much smaller percentage of people who suit pure white. A huge proportion of people there have the warm colouring that typically looks great in browns and tans. Stark colours are death on them.

In other words, what you look great in isn’t a matter of choice. It’s a matter of genetics. So yes, you can buy pure white and pure black. But unless you have the right ancestors, you won’t look good in them. And what’s the point in that?

So what about the “classics”?

Forget the “classics” lists. There’s rarely any such thing as a classic in womens’ fashion – cuts and styles change so much from year to year that spending huge amounts of money on an item expecting it to last years simply isn’t sensible.

Consider Levi 501s. They were a staple jean through the late 80s – everyone HAD to have them! – then they disappeared completely, only to start returning now.

A classic? Maybe. But if you’d bought a pair in the late 90s they’d have been sitting in your wardrobe well over a decade before they were “acceptably wearable” again.

A pair of vintage 501s for sale on Etsy. According to some, they're a "classic". Would you wear them?

A pair of vintage 501s for sale on Etsy. According to some, they’re a “classic”. Would you wear them?

Mens fashion, by comparison, is slower to change. Mens t-shirts haven’t changed as much as womens, and their jeans cuts have stayed pretty standard, with only a few fluctuations along the way. Men definitely have it easier in the fashion world.

10 things you REALLY need in your wardrobe.

So here’s what you really need in your wardrobe:

1. Clothing that you love! Don’t wear clothing to suit other peoples’ tastes. Wear what you love, and what makes you happy. Forget the “heavy women shouldn’t wear horizontal stripes” rule and the “tall women shouldn’t wear flare jeans” rule, and go with what you enjoy. Life is too short. Enjoy your clothes!

2. Jeans? Maybe. Not everyone can / should wear jeans. I love them, but if you don’t like them, don’t wear them.

3. Colours that suit you. Not everyone can wear black. Or white. Or any other colour. And if you’re a bride, you don’t have to wear white. There are so many other options! Check out Pretty Your World to start figuring out what colours suit you. But even if a colour suits you, if you don’t like it, don’t wear it.

4. Clothing that fits you! Everything needs to fit you, and feel comfortable. If it isn’t comfortable, you probably won’t wear it.

I can’t emphasize fit enough. Check length and width. Don’t wear it if it’s too tight or too short / long. You simply won’t look your best. If you want to look tailored, you must have a good fit. This is the key to looking great.

5. Forget the little black dress…unless you look great in black. For me, my LBD is a little patterned dress. Choose what looks great. Something basic that can be dressed up or down. And it doesn’t have to be black.

6. Clothing that is cut to suit you, not someone else. Learn what suits you. The best way to do this is simply spend time trying things on. If you, like me, don’t like shopping, you’ll probably hate this part of things but it will save you time and money in the long run.

7. Clothing that suits your needs and is fit for the purpose. If you’re a busy parent, you need clothes that are easy to care for, and probably don’t need ironing or dry-cleaning. If you have babies, dark-coloured tops are a win (to hide stains from messy fingers etc.).

By comparison, if you’re an executive, you’ll need suits that can be mixed and matched, and an assortment of good quality shirts or blouses. I stand strongly in favour of pants and against skirts for women, simply because the cost of stockings really adds up.

8. Quality leather shoes and bags. You’ll also need good quality leather shoes – nothing else cuts it, and “faux” leather always looks cheap. Choose comfortable shoes that you can walk in, and consider their purpose – if you walk or drive a lot, but need heels for the office, buy a pair of good sneakers or slip-ons and change when you get to work.

9. Clothing in good condition. No matter if it’s your favourite jacket, if it’s tatty or frayed, toss it. Don’t keep clothes past their used-by date. And don’t buy secondhand woollens (jumpers etc.) – they always look tatty.

10. Up-to-date clothing. Fashion changes. While it’s a waste of money to be up to date with the latest fashion, you don’t want to look outdated and frumpy. Wear older items with newer. If you choose to wear a vintage item, wear just one item from that period as a focus, or you risk looking carbon-dated, rather than unique.

6 thoughts on “10 things you REALLY need in your wardrobe!

  1. While I agree that one’s list of basics can have many definitions (I don’t wear white button up shirts as I’ve yet to find one that doesn’t require tailoring), I’ll have to disagree on several of your assertions:

    1) Levis 501 jeans. Probably the worst fitting jeans for my curvy figure. 512’s on the other hand accommodate the curves while being crazy comfortable AND flattering – they made me fall in love with jeans again after thinking that era was over for me, plus on Zappo’s they’re only $37. I have two pairs and wear them and they are insanely comfy and rarely need washing.

    2) Leather shoes & bags. A whole lot of vegans will disagree with you, and even though I’m an omnivore, I have converted to mostly vegan shoes because frankly, if I don’t want to eat beef, why would I wear leather shoes when it takes well over 4,000 gallons of water to make *one* hamburger? Also, I totally disagree on quality. Yes there are crappy faux leather items but that’s coming from crappy manufacturers, and these days there are a TON of great vegan options – almost 1,000 varieties of vegan shoes on Zappo’s alone! Even Dr Marten’s makes a vegan boot. And a leather bag? Why? I’ve had an amazing messenger bag woven from recycled plastic bags that is both functional and gorgeous – and fits my laptop for client meetings.

    3) Colors that “suit” you. Wear whatever color you like – and don’t refer to a guide to dictate what colors you should wear!

    4) “Outdated” clothing. Again, wear whatever you like. Who care’s if you’re trendy? Who cares if you’re what you consider “frumpy”? These terms are so subjective – and judge-y.

    5) Frayed and second hand clothing. I’m kind of stunned once again at this statement. If someone’s favorite denim jacket is a little frayed, what do you care? And second hand clothing isn’t always “tatty” – there are a ton of resale shops that sell great quality wool items and others. it’s the most sustainable form of shopping and many folks can only afford to shop secondhand.

    6) Wearing skirts to work with stockings is a personal choice. And if one wants to wear tights or stockings, who cares? Again, whatever a woman is most comfortable in. I love skirts and don’t own stockings – a pair of tights in the winter for warmth, but never have I had a need for pantyhose at any workplace or outside of work since, well, the early 1990’s.

    7) Wearing dark colors because you’re a parent. Again – guess where I’m going – who cares, wear what you want. By the way – are we telling dads they can only wear dark colors as well?

    This post seemed to start as a very “come as you are” piece, respecting others’ right to do what’s best for their own situations, but then I found it to be sprinkled with very judgmental statements about what “looks” nice and is not what others consider “frumpy”… instead of encouraging women to just be themselves and leave it at that. Some women are obsessed with appearance, some are not, some are in the middle. To each their own!

    The main thing is to not give a damn what anyone else tells you to wear. I encourage shoppers to make sure they are taking care of their needs rather than dressing for what friends, family, and media tell one to wear, and to also be conscious about how their buying decisions affect the planet and those in the factories making your clothes. Cotton is a fabric that is known to use incredible amounts of water and pesticides, and animal products for clothing are even worse. We are fortunate that there are a zillion options to be comfortable, trendy, sexy, simple, sustainable, practical, etc.

    And hey, if “life is too short” like you say, we don’t need any rules.

    Liked by 1 person

    • @The EcoFeminist – You make so many good points!

      1. Re jeans. Maybe I wasn’t clear with my writing – what I was saying is, wear them if they suit you. Not all ‘classics” suit everyone. Which seems to be what you’re saying too.

      2. I was actually vegan for many years (from 1996 through to 2008), so this was an interesting one, and you raised an interesting point. Yes, I know that Doc Martens make vegan shoes, because I had some! But, TBH, they didn’t wear anywhere near as well as the leather version, weren’t as comfortable as the pair I now possess (same style, just leather), and weren’t as good all round. That said, there are some GREAT manufacturers of vegan shoes – I still have a couple of pairs of shoes from VeganWares that are well over ten years old and going strong. So sometimes you get what you pay for.

      BUT – and this is a big BUT – these days price is often not a measure of quality. So much is coming out of the same factories overseas that you simply can’t be certain that paying more will get you a better, more long-lasting item. That’s why I’m arguing against paying more in most cases. There are just no guarantees, whereas thirty years ago, when you bought what was claimed to be a quality item, it generally was, and you had recourse if it wasn’t.

      3. Colours that suit you. I couldn’t agree more, and say as much above, suggesting “if you don’t like it, don’t wear it” and wear “clothing that you love” as the first principle!

      4. Being outdated – or not – is a tricky one. While I’d *love* to say that how people perceive us doesn’t matter, the truth is, it does. It really does. The first time I really grokked this was when I walked through the perfume department in an upmarket store in my work suit, and got accosted by salespeople all offering me samples. The next day I walked through the same department in my workout gear, went up to a counter to grab some of the perfume I’d tried and liked the day before, and literally had to FIGHT for attention.

      People judge us on what we wear. I’ve even noticed I get profiled for explosives swabbing at airports when I fly and am dressed less formally and in outdated clothes (or a mix) far more than when I’m dressed for business. And I’m never upgraded to business class when I’m in my casual clothes, yet it happens often when I’m formally dressed.

      So yes, it’s all very subjective and judgemental, as you say – and you’re right. But that leaves us with a choice: we can either work with the unwritten “rules” of the world and use them to our advantage, and then work to change the way the work works, or we can accept our lot as outsiders, without power, being judged poorly before we even get a chance to show our merit. It’s a really interesting subject, and one we could debate for hours, and even now I’m not sure I’m on the right side of it, ethically speaking, but I can say that what we wear does impact our lives in a wide variety of ways, some of which we may not even be aware.

      5. Here I’m talking about keeping items in good repair. If things are frayed, fix or alter them. It can be done. But sometimes replacing things is the way to go. That said, once again, I’ll refer to my first point: “wear what you love”! 🙂

      6. Maybe this one is a cultural thing, but over here things are quite conservative and stockings would definitely be expected for a woman over 20 or so who is wearing a skirt. I’m 44. If I turned up to work or any sort of social event – and it wasn’t really high summer – and I didn’t wear stockings with my skirt, I’d probably get frowned upon. I’m also mainly talking about work situations here. But once again, wear what you love.

      7. Dark colours for parents. And dads – absolutely. It’s a practical recommendation, borne of wearing baby food stains that wouldn’t come out and sticky finger marks that cost me a lot of time in washing and cleaning. Dark colours are just easier to maintain if you have very young kids. I lost track of the amount of times I had food (and worse!) dumped on me by my kids. The same recommendation goes for people of any gender who have to deal with young kids on a daily basis.

      Your summary that “the main thing is to not give a damn about what anyone else tells you what to wear” really hits the nail on the head. In the end, I wrote this post hoping to offer some sensible advice for people, while dumping what I see as silly advice (“you MUST have a white shirt!” “you MUSY have a leopard print scarf!”) on its head.

      As you say, clothing is, and should be, a person choice. Yet it often doesn’t feel that way. Thanks for your comments and thoughtfulness. Cheers 🙂

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      • Who cares that people judge us though? Spend your money with companies who value you you no matter what you are wearing. Tell the store manager if you’re being discriminated against based on your clothing. And again *who cares* if you are “frowned upon”? We need women to care less about that in the first place. And no, parents don’t need to wear dark colors because someone might judge them for having spit-up on their shirt. If the parent isn’t bothered by it, again, who cares? I’m 41 and have worked in both conservative and casual environments and have never felt the need to wear pantyhose in the past 20 years. I think a lot of women are bound by their internal rules and not what they really can and can’t wear (often influenced by the media) at work, and that’s why I’m protesting.

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