A Classic Wardrobe

When you have a good wardrobe, you have something to wear every time you open your closet. A closet can have ten items or one hundred items, but if you don’t have the basics, you’ll find getting dressed everyday to be a frustrating ordeal. Your personal style will vary based on what colors flatter you, what look you prefer, and your body shape, but the basic items that make up the foundation of a functional wardrobe never change.

The very basics that every woman should have:

1. Pencil Skirt- Almost universally flattering, and appropriate for pretty much all occasions including work, church, and date night. The waist (high or low) may vary, as well as the length (above or below the knee), but this classic is a must have, preferably in black for the most versatility.

tight pencil skirt

A well-fitting, A-line pencil skirt

2. A great pair of dress pants, in a color, style and fabric that flatters you. It can be difficult to find a pair of pants that suit you, and it is worth investing in a good tailor to have your pair look terrific on you, because a classic pair of flattering pants is great for many occasions.

ufo pants

Tailored dress pants

3. Colorful knit tops. Pick colors that you look great in, colors that make your skin glow and give you a look of health and radiance. You’ll notice people compliment you whenever you wear certain colors- buy tops in those color. A top that is fitted but not tight is usually most flattering.

pure cashmere

Colorful long-sleeved knit top

Tops and sweaters should be in fabrics you feel comfortable in- cotton, cashmere, wool, etc. The neckline should be one that compliments your neck and shoulder area (v-neck, boat neck, scoop neck, turtleneck, etc), and the sleeve length should make your arms look great (to the elbow, 3/4-length, or wrist-length if your arms a not an asset, and short or cap sleeves if they are).

pure cashmere

Cashmere short-sleeved v-neck top

Do not ever wear a top in a color that doens’t flatter you. If you have unflattering clothes, donate them. If you find them on sale, pass them by. If someone says “Are you feeling ok?” whenever you wear a certain top, that color is wrong for you- stop buying it. Variety in tops should be in colors only (you will find a range of colors that suit you to pick from). Do not sacrifice beauty for the sake of variety…in other words, don’t buy a style that looks bad on you for the sake of something different. People are more likely to notice if you look bad then that your tops are similar in style.

4. A matching blazer (should match your pencil skirt or pants to create a suit). A suit is an asset if you go on interviews, for work or business meetings, if you need to look appropriately respectful for a wake, etc. I often read that a blazer on its own is a wardrobe necessity, but a blazer that does not coordinate with your skirt or pants wastes closet space and money, and the blazer/jeans/white shirt combo is a rather preppy, 80’s look that does not appeal to many women today.

gmc blazer

Blazer with matching pants

5. A cocktail dress. Black is very versatile, but if you do not like black, get a neutral color so you can wear it to a variety of events without giving the appearance of always wearing the same thing. A simple style is better, for the same reason.

cocktail parties

Strapless cocktail dress

You can have some fun here, because there are many beautiful dresses to choose from that can really highlight your beauty at the same time as highlighting your own personal taste- anything from feminine to sexy. A cocktail dress can also be worn to more formal events if it’s elegant enough.

cocktail parties

Elegant cocktail dress

6. An everyday dress. You can’t wear a cocktail dress to a casual dinner, and you won’t feel as pretty in a pair of tailored slacks, so it’s always good to have a go-to, pretty dress available to grab in your closet. A sheath dress or a wrap dress are good choices if you prefer simple, but pick the one that makes you feel best.

spring summer dress

Pretty summer dress

You can definitely have fun here. Don’t pick a neutral color, pick a color you really love. After you have your basic items and expand on your wardrobe, this is also a great category to add to- a few lovely dresses in different colors and styles.

spring summer dress

Summer dresses

7. A beautiful handbag- another fun area you can get creative with. Like pink? Leopard? As long as it’s beautiful and of good quality, the most unique handbag can fit into any wardrobe that is built on a neutral color foundation (such as black, navy, or brown). Pick a really fun handbag to go with your neutral pants, pencil skirt, and blazer, one that suits your personality and personal style.

marc by marc jacobs handbag

Colorful handbag

8. High-heeled pumps. Even if you don’t feel comfortable in them, there are times when not wearing heels just makes you look frumpy. Every woman should own a lovely pair of pretty high-heeled shoes in good condition, in a neutral color. I personally love high-heeled mary janes, but a classic pump without straps is more versatile.

Mary Jane shoe

Mary Jane patent leather pumps

9. A very flattering pair of jeans, in a darker wash. The most universally flattering style in jeans tends to be straight leg or boot cut, and a material with a bit of stretch (not more than 2%) will be comfortable for most women. This is an area women tend to go overboard in, having 5-15 pairs in their closet, and as a result living in jeans as their daily uniform, which is a mistake (and boring). Owning just a pair or two that fits great will keep your from going overboard.

Dark, bootcut jeans

10. A high-quality coat. You should pick a simple style that will be fashionable for years, because coats are expensive and trends change rapidly- the simpler the better, and that goes for the color too. Black, brown, gray, white, red- the color you like the best, that flatters you, and that will go with most of the rest of your wardrobe. A trench coat or a pea coat are safe choices.

trench life

Red trench coat

From here, you can build on your basic wardrobe with trendier items and fun accessories. Make sure your top ten are always in top shape- have them repaired when needed, or replaced when they get old.

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  • Kelli @ writingthewaves

    I am LOVING those dresses….and the trench…and the sweaters…I SO need a new wardrobe.ReplyCancel

  • Marianna @ Green Mama's Pad

    Great post! I so badly need to get some of the basics into my wardrobe.ReplyCancel

  • lisa

    I hate shopping for bottoms!!! I have found great shape wear helps a ton. But I just got a pair of pants that I loved but then when I wore them with boots and saw photos, realized they were actually too short with boots. they are perfect without shoes. I HATE SHOPPINGReplyCancel

  • Those are definitely all elements of a great wardrobe. I think I’m solid with everything, but I definitely overdo it with the jeans!ReplyCancel

  • fajas colombianas

    I have the exact same bag as the one posted here and It’s a good bag because of its firm weaving.ReplyCancel

  • Kelly

    I love all of your choices – will you be my personal shopper?!ReplyCancel

  • Your list is fabulous Penelope! Merci!ReplyCancel

  • I need to work on this! I have 2 pencil skirts that I love, and dress pants galore. I’m a boring girl wearing tanks all the time.ReplyCancel

  • Annie @ Mama Dweeb

    Great tips!! I agree – if you have unflattering clothes, donate them ASAP. Wearing clothes that fit your coloring and body shape do so much to improve your attitude and overall moral. If you feel fat and frumpy you will act fact and frumpy.

    I wish I had reason to wear pretty cocktail dresses. I haven’t been to a function that required one since prom in high school. But I love that black one you found :)ReplyCancel

  • HilLesha

    Great post!ReplyCancel

  • Melinda

    I have all of these, except for the dresses, dresses just don’t do me well. and another key point is make sure everything FITS well :)ReplyCancel

  • eve

    awesome list! Now I need to go shopping! LOLReplyCancel

  • Connie

    Gorgeous dresses! Love the styleReplyCancel

  • Tammy

    I’ve learned over the years that spending the money on high quality basic essentials in your closet is a must – the sweaters and tops those can be the ‘sale’ items that you turn over each season but the other ones, buy to last. You’ll be glad you did. GREAT post Penelope :)ReplyCancel

  • A perfect list, exactly what I’d put on my list too.ReplyCancel

  • Dee@Cocktails with Mom

    You put together such a great list. This just reminds me that I am so in need of a new wardrobe.ReplyCancel

  • Sam

    I really need to do some shopping, lol. I love the dresses!ReplyCancel

  • monique

    Thanks for sharing. I like the purse!ReplyCancel

  • Monique

    Thanks so much for your comment and for reading! I love beauty blogs as well, and loved this post. I’m trying to build a new wardrobe, so this information is very much appreciated. I hope to write a beauty blog eventually, once I’ve got my first one going. And I just wanted to say your so lovely!ReplyCancel

  • I really need to add to my wardrobe. My clothes are getting pretty ratty looking. OMG the cocktail dresses!!! WANT.ReplyCancel

  • maggie s.

    Thanks for stopping by Accidentally… I love this article and am loving a little taste of your blog. Exactly what I am looking for to share with my girls as they grow into this stage. I LOVED this article.ReplyCancel

  • I need the three suit pieces. It’s very difficult for me to find a pair of slacks to fit my shape–petite but curvy (or overweight.lol). I bought a pencil skirt from a really good store but it pilled right up. :( Blazers–again I have the petite problem–I need to find one with 3/4 sleeves.ReplyCancel

  • Anne @ cheap custom shirts

    You are right! Every woman should at least have a couple of clothing basics that really looks good in them. You don’t have to own tons of clothing. All you need are clothes that compliments your look and style. Thanks for sharing.ReplyCancel

  • nicole @WriteSpell

    Excellent advice! I think it’s important to have a versitile wardrobe with things you can mix and match too and all of these suggestions are doable.ReplyCancel

  • Ruth H.

    Love this post! I’m getting ready to move out of my apartment and this was extremely helpful in helping me decide which pieces are must-haves that I shouldn’t get rid of. Though I completely agree that a pair of nice slacks is essential to one’s wardrobe, I cannot seem to find the perfect pair. Do you have any brand recommendations (especially for someone with a slightly curvy lower half)? Thanks for your advice!ReplyCancel

    • Penelope

      As someone with a very curvy bottom half, I find I often have to find a pair that flatters my bum and legs, and have the waist taken in (worth it for a great fit!)ReplyCancel

  • Donna

    I need a colorful handbag.ReplyCancel

  • Thanks for the shopping advice. I need to update my clothes!ReplyCancel

  • Well, that’s awesome! I have all those things! Still can’t get it together some days though… heehee! ^_^ReplyCancel

  • Thanks for the great advice!ReplyCancel

  • Maryann

    I am failing miserably at this.ReplyCancel

  • Great advice!ReplyCancel

  • I don’t have most of these in my wardrobe :/ I need to get shoppingReplyCancel

  • Love those shoes – they go with everything!ReplyCancel

  • I have the cocktail dress part covered!ReplyCancel

  • Mellisa

    Definitely great picks!ReplyCancel

  • I have been meaning to get a pencil skirt!ReplyCancel

  • Do you have one of these lists for summer?ReplyCancel

    • Penelope

      Brilliant idea! I will make a summer classic wardrobe list next :)ReplyCancel

  • Those jeans are super cute!ReplyCancel

  • I like all of those looks. Now I just need to lose weight so that I could wear some of those.ReplyCancel

  • I need to invest in a new coat this year. Something other than black…lolReplyCancel