There are so many articles out there, each claiming that you need “these 10 wardrobe essentials” in your closet to make you a stylish and well put together lady, but that usually doesn’t work out the way they claim. While I do think there are a lot of pieces out there that will add value to your closet, the details might look different for each person both in terms of personal style, and body type and what suits one woman, may not the next. That being said, I think there are a lot of pieces that in general can be useful for everyone, and when thinking about capsule wardrobes and my post about 10 pieces I still love after 10 years etc. I started compiling this list of 10 chic wardrobe essentials I think every one could use in their closet, curated and personalized to each individual of course. If you are looking to level up your personal style in 2023, then I hope this list can help! I made it a bit more open ended in order to help inspire your wardrobe, rather than stifling it.
A skirt in your “Neutral” colour
“Neutral” can mean different things for different wardrobes. For many women, black is their neutral simply because that is what is the most readily available. For me, I have chosen tan and brown as my neutral base to build my wardrobe off of, but I know of ladies who have chosen what would usually be considered an accent colour as their neutral. Whatever you have chosen as a “neutral” in your wardrobe, whether that’s navy, black, brown or even olive or blush, you should have at least one skirt in that colour. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a solid, but if it contains an element of this neutral tone, it will coordinate with a lot of other pieces in your wardrobe and give you a base to wear your statement tops and jewelry. A skirt in a neutral tone will easily mix and match with many other pieces in your closet, extending the variety in your wardrobe. And, of course, if you’re not a skirt person, then pants work just as well!
Black tights in both sheer and opaque
I used to wear a lot of coloured tights in the Winter, but in recent years I have gravitated towards black ones for a few reasons. First, they are classic and they will never go out of style. Secondly, they pair with so many things, unless as discussed above, you don’t have black in your closet. Black is not my neutral, brown is, and yet I find that black tights still pair well with so many of the pieces I wear, and they ground an outfit in a way that a coloured tight doesn’t. I switch between opaque and sheer finishes, depending on the outfit. Sometimes sheer black tights can look too dressy, and sometimes opaque can look too heavy, so it’s nice to have both options. Opaque tights pair nicely with black shoes, as they will give you a really nice long uninterrupted line. And, as with any colour of tights, you can wear them with a shorter skirt to either make it a bit more modest, or cold weather appropriate. I also often find that you can wear lighter summer weight pieces, paired with dark tights and they suddenly look more cold weather appropriate, so they can help to extend your wardrobe in that way too.
A wool coat in a classic cut
Whether you choose a swing coat, a peacoat or an A-Line style, a wool coat in a classic silhouette won’t go out of style. Take this popular A-Line style of jacket-it’s been around since the 1900’s, changing pretty much only in length as the years go by. Of course some of the details and styling differ throughout the decades, some years it’s tighter, others looser, some years knee length, then hip length, then calf length, but even if you are wearing a different length than the current “look”, it still manages to look current. Look at the coats from 1940, 1970 and 2005; they are almost identical! The key to a good coat, is choosing a good quality wool. If you buy a coat with too high of a synthetic fibre content, not only will it not keep you very warm, but it won’t last. There’s just something about synthetic blends that tend to degrade and pill and look cheap over time in a way that wool doesn’t. (You can still get a wool blend, but try to get one where the natural fibres make up the majority of the fibre content, with only a small amount of synthetic.) If you invest in a good wool coat in a classic cut, it will last you forever. And by “invest” that doesn’t necessarily mean hundreds of dollars. (Although if you divide $400 over 10 years that cost breakdown is pretty good!) My wool coat is from the 1980’s, and it’s not even in a very classic cut (it’s a raglan sleeve) but I’ve had it for 10 winters now and it’s still in great condition. I bought it from a thrift store, which is getting harder to do these days, I realize, so if you can’t find a good one at the thrift shops, you may be able to find one at a consignment store or outlet store. My biggest takeaway is just to look at the fibre content.
A coordinating set of leather shoes, bag and belt
While in recent years many people have eschewed matching accessories, having a set of matching shoes and bags is actually a great idea, and adding in a belt makes it even better. (Ladies from the past knew what they were doing!) If you create “sets” of coordinating pieces, you will always be able to finish off your outfit nicely, even if you don’t always wear each the pieces together.
While many women do own matching shoes and purses, adding a belt will make this combination even more versatile. Colours look better when they comes in threes, so this is a really easy way to do that. (The other option would be a hat in the same colour) When creating a set of accessories, you can choose whether you want to create a neutral combination or go for something bold with a pop of colour. I have a set of cognac brown accessories (they aren’t perfect match, but I don’t mind that bit of colour variation) and I wear those pieces all the time because they coordinate really well with the other pieces in my wardrobe. It’s a lot harder for me to wear some of my statement purses like my olive green or navy blue ones, because I have to be conscious of what shoes and garments to pair them with. When you have matching shoes, purse and bag, it makes it so much easier to create your base, and then you can add in statement pieces as a fun detail afterwards.
A closed-toe pump or Mary Jane
A classic style pump or Mary Jane heel will serve you well since a closed toe style can easily be worn in warm or cold weather. While we often gravitate to sandals or peep toe styles in the summer, a closed toe pump can often be worn without being too warm. And then, if you take that same shoe and add hosiery, they will work well for cold weather too. (well, not too cold of weather). I personally love the Mary Jane style of shoe, but a pump will give you the same amount of versatility.
A “Background” dress.
A “Background’ dress is a dress that is a one stop outfit. I saw this term used in the Sears catalogue from 1939, which reads, “What every woman wants! A really good dress with exquisite line and perfect fit. Smart enough to be lovely just as it is…or adaptable to accessory changes.” The junior version on the same page reads, “Superbly simple background dress that’s perfect when worn unadorned…and takes accessories with the greatest of ease! Wins you fame as the Girl who has Lots of Clothes without costing you lots of money!”
You don’t have to add anything to a background dress in order to make a complete outfit, but a background dress can be mixed and matched with plenty of accessories to create a whole new look. For example, my new navy dress can be worn all on it’s own for an entire outfit, but because of it’s simple design and colour palette, I can easily match it with other pieces from my wardrobe. I could add a belt and a cardigan for a new look, or instead wear some tights and a scarf and it’s an entirely different one. The key with a background dress is that it coordinates well with the items in your closet to give you maximum versatility. While I love skirts and tops, dresses are definitely one of the easiest things to wear as they are an outfit-in-one.
A silk scarf is another one of my favourite “investment’ pieces. You don’t actually have to spend a lot on them, since you can often find them in thrift stores, and they are another versatile piece to add to your wardrobe. There are so many options to utilize silk scarves: as turbans and headbands, as a bow detail on a handbag, and of course as a scarf around your neck! There are tons of ways to tie scarves; I have a vintage book with all sorts of ways to tie scarves (I plan to share some of those here in the future). Not only can scarves add a certain pop to your outfit, but they will help to protect the collars of your coats from getting dirty so quickly, reducing the need to clean your coats as often. Of course, while silk is lovely, vintage nylon scarves are also great. I have a few vintage ones from the seventies in fun colours and patterns.
On the other end of the spectrum from a silk scarf is a blanket scarf! Large blanket scarves came into popularity a few years ago and I think they are such a great piece to have if you live in a cold climate. They can add so much impact to your outfit, especially when paired with simpler outerwear. And not only do they add colour and drama to your outfit, they can double as a shawl/blanket if you don’t have a sweater. Of course, shawls have been around forever, so this is definitely one piece that will never go out of style! Blanket scarves come in a range of fabrics and styles, including knitted/crocheted or woven. I most commonly see wool and rayon fabrics in a wide range of colours and patterns. I personally have two extra large scarves; this ivory wool knitted one, and a black and tan geometric rayon one, and I am also on the lookout for a woven one in plaid that coordinates with the other colours in my wardrobe, while also adding some pattern and texture.
Your sunglasses don’t necessarily have to be “statement” ones, but in my opinion as far as sunglasses go, you really can’t go too crazy. Whereas everyday, prescription glasses are usually a bit more neutral because you’re wearing them all the time, sunglasses are only worn out of doors (or whenever you want to be left alone!) so you can go big with them. I have these crazy cream and tortoise striped sunglasses and I LOVE them. When I got them, I wasn’t sure if they were “too much”, but they are so fun and I get a lot of compliments on them. If stripes or patterns aren’t your thing, you can of course go for a more traditional style such as aviators or cat eye but make sure that whatever you choose looks glam!
An adjustable skirt or dress
We all have those days when we feel bloated or sick, or the weather is +40 and a tight fitting garment just isn’t going to cut it. While loungewear is great for when you’re at home, when you need to leave the house, a wrap skirt or dress is a great option. I used to make all of my clothes with fixed waistbands, before realizing that sometimes you want to be comfortable, yet still stylish (aka. not wearing an elastic waistband). I made a few wrap skirts a couple of years ago, and I love them! You can easily tie them to the size needed, you’ll look great and you’ll feel great too. I don’t have any wrap dresses yet, but that’s on the list of things to sew…someday.
A statement clutch
And I added a bonus one to the list just for fun! They’re not really wardrobe essentials, but I do love a good statement clutch. We all have events to go to, whether it’s a wedding, or an evening party, and a statement clutch or bag can add so much interest and personality to your outfit. While there may be a dress code for an event that limits your choice of attire, a clutch is available in so many options! Having several clutches also means that you can recycle the same outfit to multiple events without feeling like you’re wearing exactly the same outfit over and over again. And while clutches aren’t necessarily the best for everyday use, you can always add them to a daytime outfit for a vintage look if you don’t have to carry too many items with you.
Well, there is my list of the 10, or rather 11, chic wardrobe essentials that I think every woman can add into her closet to make it a bit more stylish and put together.
What do you think? Do you have any of these pieces in your closet?What are some of your favourite wardrobe essentials that you’d include in this list?