Basic Wardrobe Essentials

Basic Wardrobe Essentials1

Shopping, more often than not, entails buying that bag your eyes wandered to while you were helping your hubby pick shoes or that pink top which kept calling your name. Yes, you didn’t spend much on any of them. They were half off, or more. However, you didn’t know you wanted them until you saw them. Sometimes, until they made it home with you, and, in some rather unfortunate situations, you still don’t!

Of course, it’s fun to buy things that grab our attention. After all, shopping for clothes shouldn’t feel like buying groceries off of a list, right? For the most part, yes. However, there are times when we need to do just that. We shop for pantry essentials and then there are times when we pick up that odd sausage or seasoning at an ethnic food store. You don’t fill up your pantry with them. Then, why would you do that with your closet?

Essentials are a necessity. They are the foundation for building your wardrobe and developing your own style. So, take your time in choosing these pieces. Think long and hard before buying them. They are not seeing Goodwill anytime soon, so make an effort, put quality before price and buy an item only if it is ThePerfect one for you. Imagine you are shopping for a new home or a car (or a nose!). Wouldn’t you want the best you can afford? Ditto, here.

1. White button-down shirtWhite-button-down

Three rules here: One, make sure it’s 100% cotton. Two, it MUST fit you well. Three, buy the best you can afford.  It’s a versatile piece that will see you through work meetings, birthday parties and grocery shopping, in style. Pair it with jeans, pencil skirts, shorts or slacks.

B&J’s pick: GAP

2. Dark Jeans


If you can only buy one pair of jeans, buy a dark pair. Go for a skinny fit, if it works with your body shape. Otherwise, shop around till you find the perfect fit. Since dark jeans are ideal for evenings and dinners, you should try them on with your favorite evening shoes. (Hint: heels) Avoid too many distractions like excessive fade and embellishments. These pants should be the blank canvas to pair with an evening blouse, a fancy sling bag and make up.

This item is a real workhorse. A good pair will grow old with you (only, it may age better!) So, keep trying them on until you are 100% satisfied. When you find your perfect pair, buy it even if it’s not on sale. In fact, that rule applies to all the basic essentials. Remember? You are buying it because you need it and not because it’s a steal.

B&J’s pick for skinny fit: Levis

B&J’s pick for boot cut: J.Crew

3. The second pair of pants
This could be your second denim pair or cropped pants. These can be more casual, but, they must pair well with sandals and ballet flats. So, you know what shoes to wear when you go to buy these.

These are a blessing on those “I just want to put on a pair of pants”days. If the fit is right and the color makes you happy, it’s surprising how easy it is to look and feel good in them. And, you don’t even need to put on those heels.

B&J’s pick: Ann Taylor

4. White jeans

A newbie on the essentials list, I am sure this item is here to stay. My regular denims have been ignored since these joined my wardrobe. Classy yet trendy, stylish yet casual, subtle yet striking. Oh! I am in love with my white jeans. Staple? To me, they are like second skin!

Buy a pair and you will wonder how you managed without them all these years.

B&J’s pick: The Limited

5. Fancy blouse


Go for a pure fabric. You will see the difference. Especially after you wear it for the twentieth time. Pure fabrics last longer and look better. Silks and chiffons have a gorgeous fall.

Pick a color that looks best on you. You probably already know that color. If you don’t, find out. Take a friend’s opinion, try on clothes you already have, or browse through photographs of yourself. Choose a flattering style and cut. So long as it suits your body shape, it works.

Once you find the blouse, you will be amazed at the number of times you reach out for it every week. Pair it with a fitted suit for work, tailored shorts on weekends, dark jeans for dinners, or a fancy skirt for festive occasions.

You could start browsing here: Ann Taylor

6. Tees in neutrals

This is one staple that you are allowed to buy more than one of. Buy one in each neutral color –white, black, navy and grey. I also own one in blush and it’s such a darling. V necks are more feminine but crew necks are easier to find and work just as well.

Some rules here with no exceptions.

  • No figure hugging or see through tees. It shouldn’t look like you borrowed your boyfriend’s tee either. So go for a well fitted tee that doesn’t become useless when your muffin tops make an uninvited appearance or your waistline stretches by an inch or two. Go for a comfortable tee in the right size.
  • Good quality: While this rule applies to most basics, it’s a no brainer here because of the sheer number of wears and thus washes your tee will go through. You don’t have to splurge on a tee but spend enough to buy a good quality one. You don’t want tees that shrink or lose shape with a few washes.
  • No logos: As cute as the little green crocodile and the mighty moose are, ask yourself if they will go with your floral scarf. We are talking basics here. So put a hold on the logos.

B&J’s pick: UNIQLO

7. Striped tee

Clearly, the underdog of basics. The stripes get too much flak for no fault of theirs. Many presume stripes make them look fat. Wrong! Stripes can flatter all body types. You just have to pick one that works for you. No second guessing here. Try. That’s the only way to tell what works for your body type. Pick it in a darker shade if white intimidates you. Navy tee with white stripes? A classic, and, easy to work with.

It can push an outfit notches higher on the chicness scale. It also makes a great piece for layering. So, make sure it’s comfortable.

Carry your favorite blazer with you when you buy this so you can try it on and see how it works with it. Striped tee and a structured casual blazer: perfect recipe for looking dressed up with minimal effort. Al fresco dining in the spring or your Sunday Barnes and Noble time just got more chic.

B&J’s pick: UNIQLO (Of course, good ol’GAP and Banana Republic have a constant supply of striped tees.)

8. Little Black Dress aka LBD

We all have one or two or one too many. Get rid of that black dress you wore the first time you went to a nightclub in the 90’s. You are almost twice that age now. Give it away to your niece. Then go out there and look. Then look some more. Take your time. Save your pennies. When you find it, splurge. Buy the right one and it will faithfully stay by your side in good times and bad.

There are so many styles out there that it’s hard to suggest one. Don’t give in to a trendy style; instead, invest in a classic style that won’t get outdated next year. A black bow, a gold zipper, a luscious fabric subtly add an interesting edge to a simple black dress. A black dress gives you that wriggle room to experiment with different accessories. Don’t knock out that opportunity by buying one that’s too busy or has other colors on it.

What better place to kick start your hunt than White House Black Market?

9. Structured blazer

Structured, yes.Formal, no.

Structured yet casual? I will make it easier for you. Casual here doesn’t mean frumpy. It has to fit you well. Almost as well as a tailored suit. The casualness is brought in by the fabric and not the fit. Pick linen or cotton in a neutral shade. White or navy are the most versatile. White could be restrictive after Labor Day but it will slog for you all through spring and summer. A brass or gold button, especially on the navy one, is worth paying a little more for. You won’t believe how much of a difference that little blob of gold can make.

Pair this blazer with spring dresses, shorts in the summer, dark jeans on early spring evenings, cotton pants or a striped tee. The combinations are endless and it makes you look effortlessly chic.

B&J’s picks: J.Crew and Mod Cloth

10. Leather jacket


It has to be black or tan. You may end up spending as much as you would on all the other basics put together. So, the more often you wear it, the sooner your investment pays back. That leather jacket in blush is cute but you cannot squeeze out as much as you can from a black or a tan. Confused between tan and black? Pick one that goes best with your fall/winter boots.

Leather jackets not only last decades, they age wonderfully. The natural ruggedness of a seasoned leather jacket adds edginess to your outfits. Keep looking until you find the right one. This search may take years but you only buy one every decade or so. So be patient and keep hunting. Especially, in summer and spring when they go on sale. I still haven’t found mine!

Bomber jackets are my personal favorite, but, feel free to pick whatever length and style works for you. The color is the only rule here. (Of course, I am presuming it will be 100% leather.) This purchase would be your ticket to buy the blush one!

B&J’s picks: Some options – Mango, Wilson’s Leather, Zara and Cole Haas

11. Trench coat

Chic, feminine, versatile, work horse. A classic trench is all that and more. Except for those dreadfully cold winter days and a few weeks of scorching summer heat, everyday can be a trench coat day. In fact, once you buy the perfect trench, leave it in the car. You will thank me on those unexpectedly chilly almost summer days and the refreshingly warm winter days when the trench will be your stylish companion. Imagine stepping out for lunch on a sunny winter afternoon in a camel trench amongst the overdose of wooly blacks and grays.

Beige, camel and tan are such classics for a trench. However, don’t shy away from a burgundy or a navy if that’s what makes you happy. Tan makes me happy. So pick one in your happy color. Preferably in a shade of tan. Am I being pushy? Well, maybe. Peanut butter and jelly. Milk and cookies. Wine and cheese. Tan and trench. You get the point, right?

B&J’s pick: Burberry For the less fortunate ones, like us, here are some good options: Zara, J.Crew and Ann Taylor.

12. Maxi dress

Dress it up, dress it down, wear it all day or slip it on for that special date night. A maxi dress is such a sport! A solid one in a neutral shade is the most versatile. Don’t go for busy prints or fussy details. My pet peeve with a maxi dress – one that’s too long for you. Nothing is worse than seeing women do a free sweep of the floors with their maxi.

I agree that it’s not easy to find one in the right length. However, it’s a basic. Remember? You are going to wear it multiple times. Pay the tailor to alter the length if you find one that you love.

Options for pairing a solid maxi dress are endless – floppy hats, bold accessories, strappy sandals, crochet vests and chambray shirts.

B&J’s pick: GILT

13. A black Cardigan

It’s like the perfect pet – a faithful companion. I get cold, and, fast. I need one within arm’s reach. Quite literally! Mine is always in the car.

You can never have enough but a black is a must have. It’s also useful when you are unsure about how much skin is too much at a party or a restaurant. Discreetly put it on if you feel too exposed or take it off when you feel too covered up in that swanky poolside lounge. This basic does a thankless job.

B&J’s pick: GAP

14. Swimwear


All you need is one. It doesn’t have to be a skimpy bikini or a sultry tankini. It could be. It just doesn’t HAVE to.

What makes it the one? Forget the trends and the cuteness factor here. It’s not enough if it looks good. It has to look good on you. You have to look good in it. More importantly, you have to feel good in it. There’s no way you will have fun at the pool if you feel otherwise. Isn’t that the whole point of wearing one? Having fun? So wear one in which you can focus on the fun and not on the awkward tugging and pulling.

Remember, you set the rules here, and, with the numerous modest options, there’s really no reason to shy away from those pool parties.

Covered up, yet cute picks: Skirted, Boy shorts, Swim dress

15. Scarves

It’s not necessarily a piece of clothing, thus, a debatable inclusion in this list, but, scarves are such a staple that this list would be incomplete without them. A scarf, somehow, completes the look. Shorts and tee too simple? Throw on a striped circle scarf. Voila! Dripping in chicness, suddenly, aren’t you?

I cannot say enough about how much this little piece of fabric can bring to the party. Go crazy here with prints, sizes and colors. Whatever makes you happy, and this time around, I mean it!

B&J’s pick: It doesn’t have to be a Hermes. Target has tons of cute scarves priced reasonably.


Ramya Malisetty loves French food, Japanese culture, Merlot and King Charles Cavaliers. She obsesses over making a perfect bed, labeling everything in sight, Shabby Chic décor and preparing elaborate meals. She lives in sunny Phoenix, Arizona with her husband. Read about her foodie jaunts and fashion tips on her blog Wardrobe Menu.