The organiser in me loves reading wardrobe essentials lists. I like to visualise each item of clothing on me like a mental version of those paper dolls with the changing outfits you cut out from the activities book (the result of an intense imagination in the absence of owning trillions of barbie dolls and their mini-matching wardrobes – I would read the toy catalogues and play dress ups in my head).
My problem with articles that bang on about the essentials every woman should have in her wardrobe though, is that a lot of them are trend based and unless you have the chutzpah to look like Kendall Jenner (and perhaps her budget too) most essentials don’t really apply to the everyday woman.
Do you remember the years when leopard print was first introduced and it was SO revolutionary? It was a pattern taken from nature, a little bit edgy, a little bit primal, a little bit luxurious but ethically above board (being faux and vegan). Eventually this pattern trickled down to the masses in the form of purses, clutches, ankle boots, skirts, shirts, jackets, nail art, hair accessories. Actually let’s face it, Scary Spice was working the animal prints before it became mainstream and acceptable to wear, even if you weren’t a member of a highly successful pop group (and before cougars caught on and I started associating animal print with divorced ladies recapturing their youth and dating toy boys).
I digress (any excuse to reminisce about one of my favourite groups from childhood). My point is, lists that declared a leopard print pencil skirt as a wardrobe essential for the modern woman were trend driven and incredibly specific. A. Leopard. Print. Pencil. Skirt. If you wanted to be cutting edge and with it, you had to have the hottest thing right now. Even lists that name standard items get a bit too specific, like the ones encouraging white shirts but make sure they’re silk, because if it isn’t silk then you may as well be drinking the tears of a mockingbird, which means you are killing the environment and don’t care about the temperature of your grandma’s tea, therefore hurting your grandma. And nobody wants to hurt grandma, right?
To me, an essentials list is carved out of what would get you through a full week. A student’s list will be different to the working mother’s list, to the socialite’s list, to the entrepreneur’s list, to the foster mother’s list and so on, therefore not every item on an essentials list will be on another. I realise of course that magazines and websites that churn out these tips to get ahead sartorially are aimed at specific markets, but here’s a way you can fashion your own essentials list without being distracted by, what’s that…oooo pretty colours…
What would get you through a working week?
When I was working full time in an office, the bare minimum that was work appropriate for me was a shirt and formal trousers during winter, and the same but substitute the trousers for a skirt during summer. Right there I have 3 essentials already – shirt, trousers, skirt. To round out the winter options, I would add a jumper and a cardigan; for summer I would add a dress. Now the essentials has expanded to 6 items:
- a shirt
- a pair of trousers
- a skirt
- a jumper
- a cardigan
- a dress
That was my essentials list for the office, the barest of basics. Colours, cut, style and number of items are just variations on your essentials and are completely up to your own preference. In the office I dressed relatively conservatively, mostly out of laziness, and repeated outfits for convenience. The items you will have, the number etc will all be up to you and your personal circumstance.
Comfort or looking good?
Do you dress for comfort or for impact? And don’t raise your eyebrow, because that’s a legitimate question. When I was younger, I dressed for impact. Hang how painful the shoes were, or how annoying the skirt riding up my backside was, I looked dang good and ultimately felt good. As a result, when I started work I owned quite a few items that had that je ne sais quo – a pencil skirt with a ruffle at the back (incredibly inconvenient to walk in) and a fancy top decorated with diamantes (it was subtle, well, as subtle as Valley Girl can be). It’s more than likely that your taste between comfort or impact will change with age, so using the above essential list as an example, invest in either an impact or comfortable shirt. Of course clothes can be both, but just be aware of what you feel first when you wear the item, and classify appropriately.
And the weather today is…
This seems like an obvious factor, but consider the climate you live in. Are you tropical, temperate, humid, Scottish highland damp, hot cutting wind dry? I often made the mistake of being seduced by marketing visuals and advertising campaigns, which of course meant I went out and invested in clothes that were not seasonally or continent appropriate. I feel our summers this far down south are never hot nor sustained enough in length to justify regularly wearing ensembles like the below, for example, but you can bet your sweet backside I would still go out of my way to buy something similar in the belief that the clothes on my body would reflect the weather, and suddenly we would miraculously be enjoying Californian heat.
Say no to the glossy brochures and think about the realities of your climate, then choose pieces accordingly.
The world is blessed with the wonders of modern commerce and globalisation. We can purchase clothes from across the seas now, which means we are inundated with variety, and while variety is the spice of life, too much of a good thing can sadly be detrimental. Instead of widening your purchasing scope, narrow it down. Significantly. Keep a list of your absolute favourite stores, places that have a proven track record of stocking things that you love, every single time. And then never look further than that. If one place always has comfortable designed tops in colours that suit you and styles that flatter, only ever look at that particular store for the times you want to buy a new top. Of course, you don’t have to restrict yourself to just one place per type of clothing, but avoid thinking the grass is always greener at the next store (“I’ll see what they’ve got; oh let me just look at this place; perhaps the next store will have what I want”). You’ll end up falling down a rabbit hole and lose track of what you’re trying to purchase, probably impulse buying along the way too.
Get familiar with a few stores that you know will always deliver what you want, and stick to them. You’ll save time purchasing in the future, know exactly what your size is, and not be distracted by unknowns like measurement, fit, ethics, or material quality.