the essential classy wardrobe pieces every woman needs
A closet full of clothes and nothing to wear
“I am so frustrated by my closet! It’s packed so tightly I can hardly get to what I have…but I have nothing to wear. How do I create outfits with what I have?”
I get emails, messages, DMs, and comments in my Facebook group like this all the time, and the messages are full of frustration, shame, and overwhelm. I know exactly how they are feeling because I’ve been there!
There is a secret to putting together outfits, and it might sound basic, it might sound obvious, it might sound boring, but the best tips and secrets usually are, and that’s why they get overlooked (and being totally honest? So are the best jokes!).
Let’s talk about the unsung heroes of the closet, the behind-the-scenes wardrobe warriors, the foundations upon which we build our fashion. They get no credit, not love, no accolades, but they should!
Two Types of Wardrobe Items
If I had to divide my wardrobe into two sections, it would be these: basic foundation pieces and special pieces. Both have an important role in creating a wardrobe and an outfit, but one is usually overlooked.
Just like a fine meal or an inspiring piece of music, the key is balancing the foundation with the special parts. Not every ingredient can be as special as truffles, and not every note can be the high B in Nessun Dorma, or all the specialness gets lost.
Each of these outfits is a combination of basic and special in varying degrees, but they all need that basic element.
Basic Foundation Wardrobe Items
What is a basic foundation wardrobe item? They tend to be neutral, or your favorite color (that’s blue for me). Styles and silhouettes that suit your personal style (for me that’s classic style), solids or patterns that suit your style (give me stripes!), and really unremarkable…or so they seem.
Items like jeans, basic tees or tops, pencil skirts, flats, a jacket, ankle pants, etc., in solid neutrals or colors that feel neutral to you are the items you wear over and over, your go-tos, your wardrobe work horses, they go with everything, and yet they rarely get the compliments, the attention, or the love.
But without them you wouldn’t have a wardrobe. Wardrobe basics are the foundation of your outfits, just like a house has a foundation. Without the proper structure in place, the beautiful home you build will fall apart because there is no stability. The foundation pieces support the special items and allow them to shine.
If you’ve ever mastered a skill like music, sports, or dance, what do you spend a lot of time doing? Working on the basics. You practice your scales, your dribbling, or your barre work, and that is how you master the concertos, the impossible shot, and the Grande Jete.
Basics are boring. No one wants to practice them or talk about them, but they are the foundation for success, and it’s the same with your outfits. They start with the basics.
Special Wardrobe Items
Special wardrobe items get all the love because, well, they’re special! They’re fun! We get compliments when we wear them. But how many special pieces can you wear in one outfit before you look like a Ringling Brothers runaway? Besides, when everything is special, nothing is.
Have you ever texted your best friend when you bought a basic black sweater? Probably never, but what if you found it in this incredible punch-you-in-the-face pink? A rare find indeed because the color is unique.
Have you ever gone up to another woman and complimented her on her navy and white striped tee? Not likely, but what if it was this striped tee?
Have you ever made a bee-line across the store to ask someone where she got those awesome black ankle pants? Did you even notice her ankle pants? I doubt it. Might you muster the courage if they were this fabulous blue?
Black ankle pants never get a compliment, a question, or a text. The blue ones have, they do, and they will.
Special items get all the attention, but if you had to guess which items in my wardrobe get the most wear, which would it be? You got it – the basics. And yet we don’t get excited about finding them or buying them, but we SHOULD.
Do I love the blue ankle pants with all my heart? Oh I do. But do I wear them as often as the black ankle pants? No. Because they aren’t as versatile. The black go with everything. The blue don’t. I need a neutral basic top to go with the blue ankle pants unless I’m in an extraordinarily bold mood.
The black pants get a ton of wear, but none of the love.
In order to be able to wear these pieces, we need something to wear them with so we need to have a foundation of…foundation pieces! They are what hold your outfit together.
I’m far more comfortable pairing this purple sweater with other neutrals (you got it, basics), thank with bold turquoise pants. Occasionally I can, but I usually prefer the combination on the left.
It’s not fun to go in search of the perfect jeans. Being totally honest it ranks right below swim suit shopping. But the value of a pair of perfect jeans – the ones that fit you like a glove, stretch but don’t stretch out, lift and separate your bum (no more mooshy mommy bottom!), in the perfect color – is priceless. They make all of your special tops look that much better.
Compare that to jeans that lose their shape by lunch time, smash your tush into an unidentifiable mass, and squeeze your belly out and over the waistband like a tube of toothpaste? How great will your awesome top look now? Not that great.
Because I’m a Minimal Classic, many of my favorite outfits are made up entirely of foundation pieces, and if I had to choose one category or the other to keep, I’d keep only my basics and part with the specials.
Every outfit Starts with the basics
Shopping for basics isn’t sexy, fun, or Insta-worthy, but you need them. It’s worth the time to figure out what you are missing and find the right ones because it will open up so many more outfits when you find the basics that support your special pieces.
If you are struggling to create outfits, reconsider the basics. Do you have the foundation pieces you need? Or do you have a closet full of special items and nothing to wear?
Perfectly Put Together Student of the WEek
“Just when I think I’ve learned everything there possibly is to know about style and getting dressed, you teach me something new! Thanks, April!
I posted my struggle with this cardigan last week and am happy to have found a look that I love. It’s amazing how small changes can make a big difference. Instead of jeans and an untucked shirt, I’m wearing a dress that better defines my waist and better skims my figure. I also added a longer, more substantial necklace.”
Jill looks fabulous, and I love being part of her style journey as she figures out all little details that make wardrobe items and outfits work perfectly for her.
Find Your Style
If you are ready to find your style and shop your closet for items you will love to wear, the doors are open to join Perfectly Put Together: Find Your Style until Monday, March 23 at midnight!
My goal with this course is to help you find your style, create a wardrobe you love, and make it quick and easy for you to create outfits so you look put together. You’ll learn how to shop your closet for outfits you will love and want to wear.
The course includes 12 modules that start by defining the elements of an outfit, then defining your lifestyle and what you actually need from your clothes. Next we tackle those messages you’ve been told about what you can and can’t wear, and then in modules 5-10 we dive deep into specific details you may not have considered and really figure out what you love and don’t, and WHY.
In module 11 I share 3 outfit formulas to get you started creating your own outfits, and in module 12, we bring it all together and find your uniforms, your go-to combos that are winners every time. They make outfit creation effortless.
The bonuses will know your socks off, too.
- Bonus #1: The Art of the Selfie – And How to Take a Great One! Yes, there are some helpful tricks to know.
- Bonus #2: The One Thing You Can Do IMMEDIATELY to Update Your Style
- Bonus #3: Quick and Easy Neutral Makeup Tutorial for Warm and Cool Skin Tones
- Bonus #4: Exclusive Facebook Group with Access to Me and All Your New Best Friends! Priceless!
- Bonus #5: The Quick and Easy Way to Find Your Best Colors Valued. I hear over and over this is one of your huge pain points, and I finally figured out a quick and easy way for you to find your best colors!
- Bonus #6: Step-By-Step Closet Clean Out. This is the closest thing to having me come to your house and help you do it! It costs thousands to have a personal stylist come clean out your closet, and you get my help with this free bonus as I take you through my own closet clean out.