16 Essentials for Your Wardrobe
Ever since I completed the Six Items Challenge and waxed poetic about a forever wardrobe, I've been thinking about fashion trends and history. Styles come and go and return again. That's how it works. Sometimes, styles are tweaked to make them more modern, but there are some that hold steady over time. I'd like to get some data on colors, styles, shapes, etc, but I was also eager to get a designer's perspective. I've asked Christina DeSmet, fashion designer, friend, and fellow blogger, to guide us through some essentials for a more trend-proof wardrobe. —Elizabeth
Hello! My name is Christina DeSmet and I am the voice behind DeSmitten Design Blog. This year, I tried to reduce my purchases by limiting myself to a 5 Piece French Wardrobe each season (read more about it here). I did pretty well the first half of the year, but the second half was a little more challenging. I'm still committed to building a wardrobe of essentials that will withstand the test of trend and season. Like any good collection, wardrobe essentials are acquired over time and are almost impossible to find all at once.
I'm here to show you sixteen essentials that make up a trend-proof wardrobe and what to look for when you're shopping for each style. I looked through fashion history to see what styles reoccur and never look dated. Next, I considered what works for everyday life and pulled pieces from the current ready-to-wear market. Then, Elizabeth matched each style with vintage or ethically sustainable counterparts. Because of the classic nature of these styles, you can often look to vintage for quality made pieces (usually at a fraction of the cost). If this is a route you'd like to explore, be sure to read my previous guest post, How To Buy Vintage.
Most importantly, before buying anything, you must absolutely love the style. This is a non-negotiable. The sixteen essentials outlined below are suggestions, but each piece must work for your lifestyle, so feel free to adjust accordingly. Finding the right pieces for your wardrobe is kind of like the old fairy tale: you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince. In this case, you just have to try on a lot of clothes, and that's not so bad.
It's very important to be selective when adding pieces to your wardrobe. The below guidelines will help you better assess a possible purchase.
- FIT: The fit must be perfect, or close to perfect. Minor alterations like hemming pants, sleeves, or skirts is an easy fix. Don't buy pants that whisker around the crotch, or dresses that are too tight at the waist. If the alteration is something you know your dry cleaner can fix, then it's okay to buy. If you have to find a skilled tailor to do your alteration, it's better to keep shopping for something that fits better
- COMFORT: Make sure you can move comfortably in each item you buy. There is no room in your closet for a dress you can't sit down in.
- VERSATILITY: Can you think of three or more ways to wear it with other items you already own? Don't buy something that you know needs an extra piece to complete the look.
- QUALITY: It's important to invest in quality made pieces that will wear well with age.
- FABRIC CONTENT: When you can, buy natural fibers. Natural fibers include silk, cotton, linen, wool, alpaca, cashmere, leather. They tend to be more comfortable, easier to launder, and don't hold odors the way manmade fabrics like polyester tend to do. Just because it is a natural fiber, doesn't mean it is good quality. Make sure it is still comfortable to wear (not too itchy or irritating). Natural fibers like cotton, linen, and leather tend to get softer with age, so this is another big plus!
Now that you know the basic rules, let's talk about the actual styles that make up a trend-proof wardrobe.
/1/ The Collared Shirt
Historically speaking, this is one of the most versatile pieces to have in your wardrobe. Whether in white or classic oxford blue, you will continue to reach for this style over and over. It should be long, almost covering your butt with a shirt tail shaped hem. The silhouette should be slightly oversized, but the sleeves should be slim and long. Go for a small collar, as it is guaranteed to withstand the test of time. You will wear this shirt under blazers and sweaters, paired with shorts in the summer with the sleeves rolled up, and even as a beach coverup. If you're like me, and don't have patience or ability to keep your whites white, then I recommend spending around $50 for this style. You can replace it in a few years once the white has yellowed or after you spill a glass of red wine all over it. This style from H&M has never let me down, season after season.
THE NOTE PASSER'S PICK: This collared shirt from Organic by John Patrick fits the guidelines, but is also made from organic cotton and was produced in NYC. For a cheaper option, try BeGood Clothing's Greenwich Shirt.
FABRIC NOTE: 100% cotton, no stretch necessary. A crisp poplin quality will be more versatile than voile. When you press the poplin shirt, it will remain crisp and serve as a dressier piece, but when you let poplin get wrinkled and crumpled it looks great for casual wear.
STYLE NOTE: Once you find your perfect fit, be sure to pick one up in white, oxford blue, and a vertical stripe!
/2/ The Silk Blouse
FABRIC NOTE: While this style doesn't necessarily have to be silk, lighter weight, sheer fabrics are best because they add another layer of interest to your wardrobe.
/3/ The T-shirt
When looking for the perfect t-shirt, you must ask yourself if it will look good worn simply with jeans + under a blazer + tucked into a high-waisted skirt. A u-neck t-shirt, with a slightly boxy fit and shorter sleeve fits the bill. My go-to tee is from Helmut Lang and is made of modal jersey. The best part of this t-shirt, in my opinion, is that it is shorter in the back so it doesn't hug your butt, but the front shirt tail hem makes it perfect for layering under sweaters.
THE NOTE PASSER'S PICK: This 100% organic, GOTS certified tee from Loomstate has a great shape and versatility.
FABRIC NOTE: Slub jersey tends to be more casual, while flat cotton jersey is more versatile. Flat jersey made in viscose or modal is more drapey and is viewed as slightly dressier.
STYLE NOTE: Once you find your perfect fit tee, buy it in black, white, heather grey and vertical stripe (black and white, or navy and white).
/4/ The Black Dress
A black dress must function for all occasions. From weddings to funerals and every last minute cocktail party in between. How do you find such a versatile dress? Let me count the ways: 1. Go for short sleeve or sleeveless, which is perfect for cocktail parties and weddings. 2. To keep it classy for funerals, don't go any shorter than four fingers above the knee, but feel free to go as long as mid-calf. As a general rule, if the length is longer, the sleeve should be shorter. For example, mid-calf length and sleeveless, or four fingers above the knee and short sleeve. You get the idea. I love this dress from Proenza Schouler because the double layered skirt leads to multiple hook and eye fastenings which really ups the versatility ante.
THE NOTE PASSER'S PICK: This beautifully detailed dress from Zero + Maria Cornejo is 100% silk and made in New York.
/5/ The Blazer
The one blazer everyone should have is a tuxedo blazer. I know it sounds crazy, but it can be worn with jeans, or with your skinny black pant for a makeshift "suit" or "tux" which will work in lieu of a cocktail dress for formal occasions. It's all about versatility. I love this Stella McCartney jacket because of the triple lapel, long silhouette, and super slim sleeves.
/6/ The Sweater
Whether you choose cashmere, alpaca, or wool, a classic crew neck sweater in a neutral heather grey is forever versatile. A silhouette that has room for layering pieces underneath is key. I suggest a slightly shorter length that overlaps the waistband of your jeans. Look for interesting knit stitches in your sweaters; its a great way to add texture and dimension to your look.
THE NOTE PASSER'S PICK: My alpaca pick is this one from Industry of All Nations. For wool, I like Zady's new .09 Chunky Knit Sweater, which is a bit less expensive. Both are made of natural, biodegradable fibers and will last a long time.
/7/ The Leather jacket
A leather jacket instantly adds an edge to any outfit and helps bring a new texture into your wardrobe. A classic motorcycle jacket will never go out of style and is the ultimate jacket to wear during the transitional seasons. This is another good place to invest your money.
THE NOTE PASSER'S PICK: I'm recommending either a vintage or reclaimed leather option. Modern looking vintage leather jackets are elusive, so I would get this one from Olga Road. They upcycle leather into jackets in a variety of styles and colors, so each one is unique. Vegans can find cool ones here and here.
/8/ The Trench Coat
Traditional trench coats are abundant, so in this case, I prefer a non-traditional but still classic style. The most important aspect of a trench coat is function. Is it made of water-resistant fabric? Is it long enough to protect the rest of your ensemble from the elements? I find a classic camel colored trench a great way to punctuate a primarily dark wardrobe. My favorite is made of 100% cotton Japanese moleskin from La Garçonne Moderne. It has an exaggerated traditional tab detail to make the sleeves fitted at the wrist, but the silhouette is more voluminous, which makes it a perfect topper.
THE NOTE PASSER'S PICK: This Ilana Kohn trench is slim at the shoulders, but drapes loosely elsewhere. It's made of 100% modal and is manufactured at a sustainable, fair trade factory in India. Find it on Shop Ethica and Kaight.
FABRIC NOTE: This is where you can't skimp on fabric content. Wool, cashmere or alpaca (or a blend of these) will keep you warm all winter long.
STYLE NOTE: When buying outerwear, try to choose a different color for each piece so you don't end up with three black coats.
/10/ The Sharp Black Pant
I say "sharp" black pants because they should be a proper tailored trouser that is always worn pressed. A slim or even fitted leg, in a slightly cropped length is most flattering. When worn with flats, flashing a little ankle bone helps focus attention on the smallest part of your leg. In order to get the most out of your black pants, you want to choose a flat front style (no bulky buttons or tabs on the waistband). This and the slim fit will allow you to layer long tops or dresses over your pants without added bulk.
THE NOTE PASSER'S PICK: The ubiquitous black pant is a surprising challenge. I found these from Maiyet, which is considered an ethical brand, but they are made from manmade fibers whilst being shockingly expensive. That makes them vegan, but personally, I prefer to buy well-sourced natural fibers (see: this post). I did find these from Master & Muse x SVILU that better fit my ethics, but still contain some manmade fibers, aren't in my size, and are also quite expensive. I would most like to find an all-season wool option, so I think I would buy second hand here as well.
FABRIC NOTE: Choosing a synthetic fabric for your straight pant is acceptable because it won't wrinkle when you sit down, as most natural fibers do. It will also help keep them looking "sharp".
/11/ The Raw Denim Jeans
A slim, straight-leg jean in raw denim, with a dark wash is the perfect foundation to any outfit. A.P.C.'s Petit New Standard unisex jean is made of Japanese raw denim. Unlike distressed washes, raw denim looks polished, making it easy to wear dressed up or down.
FABRIC NOTE: Raw denim is very stiff when you first wear it, but the more you wear, the better they feel. They will end up being your most comfortable pair of jeans, I promise.
/12/ The Straight Skirt
The most classic skirt silhouette is a pencil skirt, but unless you are in an office setting on the regular, you rarely go for this silhouette in any other occasion. That's why a straighter silhouette is more versatile. Protagonist designed the perfect straight skirt, that sits lower on the waist. This relaxed fit and the pocket detail give off a casual vibe, while the invisible zippers at center front and back allow you to create a sexy slit for an evening out. The heavy stretch infused crepe gives this style weight and structure.
THE NOTE PASSER'S PICK: I had some trouble finding an ethical version that fit both my and Christina's criteria, so I went for a second hand option and found one with interesting details composed of 95% wool. Find one that works for you in your size and style on ebay or other online resale sites.
/13/ The Little Flats
MATERIAL NOTE: Flat leather shoes with a pointed toe need a tap put on the sole of the toe to protect the leather from wearing away. It is often difficult to repair the point, so this will prevent holes from forming. Most designer shoes come with toe taps, but your local shoe repair shop can do this as well. The sole should be leather or a hard material, not rubber, to be able to hold a tap.
/14/ The Black Pump
A mid-heel black pump is so versatile. Look for no more than a 3.5" heel height, in black leather, with a slightly elongated toe to lengthen your leg (and to make up for the shorter heel). It's also important to find a heel shape that comes straight down from the back of the leg. This heel shape won't feel dated in a few years, whereas other heel placements and shapes might.
THE NOTE PASSER'S PICK: As Christina said in the introduction, these are suggestions and what you ultimately choose must be loved and fit your lifestyle. I do not love high heels. My height, clumsiness, and tender footedness make them at best a poor choice, and at worst a trip to the emergency room. I avoid them always. Have have been known to wear a kitten heel, but walking in NYC makes even those uncomfortable. I either choose flats (covered above) or a lace-up dress shoe. In addition, I don't buy new leather, which makes buying shoes even more challenging. I found the ones below on a second hand shopping site. You can do the same on ebay and other resale sites, or find a very similar vegan version on Beyond Skin.
FABRIC NOTE: Steer clear of suede, the upkeep is tiresome and they won't last as long as a good pair of leather heels. Black leather is more seasonless than black suede.
/15/ The Boot
A low block-heeled ankle boot is best for everyday because it's more comfortable than a flat boot and slightly more formal. The embossed leather adds another texture to your wardrobe, so feel free to branch out from flat, matte leather in this category. Go for an elongated toe shape (it doesn't have to be super pointy); the longer toe will add length to your legs and make up for the shorter heel. For more inspiration head over here.
THE NOTE PASSER'S PICK: Again, I don't buy new leather, so I found these look alikes on the resale site, Tradesy. For even more second hand designer items, try TheRealReal. I haven't found a similar vegan option yet (help me out in the comments if you know of any), but I will tell you that these from Bhava are gorgeous, if a bit high for me.
/16/ The Handbag
A handbag with minimal hardware and structural integrity is important for your everyday bag. This style from The Row is made from supple leather and offers multiple ways to wear it, making it versatile for every casual occasion. Function is also super important when choosing an everyday bag, so focus on a medium size with multiple compartments.
THE NOTE PASSER'S PICK: Matt & Nat's Wellington bag hits all the marks while being a beautiful vegan option. The lining is made from 100% recycled nylon.
MATERIAL NOTE: Find a lightweight but durable material that will keep the structure of the bag through the years. Soft leathers tend to scratch and stretch out easily.
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