How to Wear and Shop for Wardrobe Basics
Whether you're on a tight budget or you just want to be more organized, wardrobe basics make quality affordable and keep everything streamlined. All you need to know about wearing and shopping for wardrobe basics.
Why Wardrobe Basics?
I've always been in the beauty business in one way or another, which means perfect grooming has always been a must; even when I was completing my first apprenticeship as a hairdresser and earning a pittance.
Back then, I bought my makeup for next to nothing from Woolworth's and got my hair done for free at the salon. But affording decent clothes was a huge problem. Although the kind of stuff they sold at the Sunday open market was cheap, it was also badly made, and I usually ran into half a dozen other girls who were wearing exactly the same thing.
Dissatisfied with the junk in my closet, I eventually devised a way of putting together a wardrobe of well-made, interchangeable basics that emphasized quality rather than quantity. The challenge was to create as many unique outfits as possible with the fewest clothes possible. Of course, no matter how basic, replacing an entire wardrobe costs a fortune. The secret is not to buy everything at once but by season.
If you buy wisely, you'll have a complete wardrobe of good quality garments after just four seasons with everything you need for work and play. And you won't feel the pinch.
I still use this system today, not only because it makes good clothes affordable, but because it keeps my wardrobe manageable.
What Are Wardrobe Basics?
Skirts, pants, suits, dresses, tops, blouses, sweaters, jackets and coats are the basic items every well-dressed woman needs in her closet. They are 'wardrobe basics'.
For a workable wardrobe, your basics should be of solid, neutral, interchangeable colors: darker for fall and winter, and lighter for spring and summer. You can buy blouses and tops in matching colors from the color wheel (see below), but if you're on a tight budget, it's better to keep these neutral, too. Use accessories and costume jewelry to add color.
Wardrobe basics should be made to last. You need classic designs that won't go out of fashion too quickly. Before buying, examine cut, texture and color.
The Color Wheel
Primary colors are red, yellow and blue. Mixtures of these are secondary; orange, purple and green. Those that merge on the wheel, like reddish-purple, are tertiary. A primary color and its opposite secondary color, like orange and blue, are complementary colors.
Warm and Cool Colors
Neutral colors are those that do not appear on the color wheel, like brown, black, white, taupe and gray. Their undertone determines their degree of warmth and which colors they can be matched with. Warm gray, for example, has a yellow undertone, while cool, steel gray has a blue undertone. A warm brown has more red than a cool brown, which is also less saturated. You could match a warm gray with a rich burgundy, and cool brown with pale blue.
Which Colors Suit You?
You can tell what type of colors flatter you by looking in a mirror in a fluorescent-lit room and holding a piece of pure white fabric to your neck. If your face looks sallow, yellow-ish, olive or golden, you need warm colors. If your face looks rosy or pink, you need cool colors.
Pay as much attention to texture as you do to color.
Rough or heavy textures should be contrasted with smooth textures to set off their structure. A tweed suit, for example, looks better with a plain cotton blouse than with a heavily textured Aran sweater. On the other hand, a flimsy or glossy fabric that bears no qualitative similarity to tweed wouldn't look good, either.
Or consider a silver sequined party dress. It would look better with a black or white patent leather purse than with a glittery or matte one.
Cut is important because it determines how well a garment 'hangs', and how comfortable you feel wearing it. Comfort ensures free, natural movement. Armholes that bind, for example, will make you appear stiff and undermine poise.
If you own a garment you love too much to throw away, but it doesn't quite look or feel right, take it to a dressmaker who might be able to alter it.
The only thing that should be fashionable about a wardrobe basic is its cut. A garment with faddy trimmings can't be termed a 'basic', and will be out of style almost as soon as you take it out of the store.
But faddy accessories are very useful. Shoes, bags, belts, scarves and costume jewelry are what keep wardrobe basics looking interesting, colorful and up to date. They help you vary your look in spite of few garments.
Glamorize a pair of white pants and a white top by adding a gold belt and bag, and a pair of strappy spike heels. Dress up a plain overcoat with a faux fur boa around the neck. And think of all the things you could do to a little black dress.
If you use accessories well, nobody will ever notice you've been wearing the same clothes for the past three years.
How to Shop for Wardrobe Basics
Buy according to season. Lighter spring and summer clothes tend to be less expensive than heavier winter garments, so this is the best time to start shopping if you haven't got much money. You should have most of what you need before summer is over, which means you'll be able to start saving for your winter wardrobe.
Your clothes should correspond with your lifestyle and/or job. The following wardrobe suggestion would work well for an office or corporate worker:
- Two or three pant/skirt suits in black, gray and cool brown to provide all the skirts, pants and jackets you need, which you can mix and match.
- Three (low-cut) tops and three blouses in colors that match all three suits.
- Two or three elegant sweaters in the same colors as the suits.
- A black, gray or cool brown coat.
- Two black jersey dresses for formal occasions; one short and one long.
Alternative colors for suits are navy, taupe/beige and white depending on the environment. The only trouble with navy, which is a corporate favorite, is that it doesn't go well with black and brown, so it may limit mixing and matching ability.
If you find yourself in less formal surroundings, you could buy separate jeans and jackets in place of suits, but stick to the color schemes suggested.
You Don't Need an Extensive Wardrobe
With just a few basics, you'll never be short of something to wear, no matter what the occasion. And you'll never look as though you wear the same thing more than a couple of times with good mixing and matching and proper use of accessories.
A less extensive wardrobe certainly doesn't have to be a limiting one!
© 2010 Jayne Lancer