Sara's Style Blog

How to build a basics wardrobe

Jackets and clothing summer 2018

Everyone has experienced that moment when you find yourself unexpectedly given an opportunity to buy a new item of clothing. It might be that you suddenly have a glorious half hour alone in a shopping centre or it might be your mother/sister/husband on the phone saying “I’m out shopping and I want to buy you something” or you go online and your favourite shop has a 20% sale off everything, but only until midnight.  Anyway, you think, “brilliant!” I can find something I really need and you enter your mental wardrobe to surmise that missing item that will lead you to the perfect wardrobe.

Except it is really hard to mentally wade through those clothes you already own; there’s too many different styles, too many different seasons all jumbled together, too many ‘perfect but’ items. So you end up buying a ‘nice top’. It really is a lovely top but when you get it home it doesn’t quite go with the trousers you have and the cardigan that you were planning to wear with it doesn’t quite sit properly on the shoulders. So you think, it doesn’t matter, I’ll wear it on a hot day when I don’t need a cardi and I’ll make do with those trousers or I’ll get a new pair. And in the end, you either wear the top and don’t feel wonderful (when you should!) or it languishes in your wardrobe until it becomes the wrong season to wear it or until next year when that pair of trousers is still needed. In fact, those trousers should form their place at the head of the queue of items you need to build your perfect wardrobe, except you always forget. And so it goes on.

Wouldn’t it be great if you already knew exactly what kind of top you wanted, what you needed. If you had a list on your phone or in your diary of those outstanding items, in priority order with detailed requirements. You would know that the top had to be cap sleeves or no sleeves and be a narrow fit to offset your wide linen trousers. Shopping would be so much more straightforward, so much more effective, and so much more rewarding.

I’m going to show you, not only what you need in your basics wardrobe, but how to get there.

  1. Firstly you need to do an audit of your existing clothes. Split them into 3 piles (do try on anything you’re not sure about and, do yourself a favour with the donate/dump pile: BE RUTHLESS)

    – Summer – keep for next year (pack away)
    – Winter/all seasons
    – Donate/dump

  2. Tick off from the list below what you currently own in the Winter/all seasons pile.  This isn’t a definitive list of basics and I’m certainly not saying this is all you need but if you have these in your wardrobe then all those other lovely pieces you have fall into place. And I guarantee you, if you only owned items on this list you would feel wonderful every day and always have something to wear.
  3. Now, you need to think. How would the items above transform your wardrobe? Get excited about them. Look online, create a Pinterest board, make some lists. Decide what colours you would like to focus on, think of how fabulous you will feel when you always have. If you’re on a tight budget, what is the first thing you’re going to buy.
  4. Go shopping!
2 white shirts Slim jeans Smart dress Leather belt Comfortable flats Smart jacket
2 casual T shirts Smart-casual trousers Casual dress Light scarf, patterned (eg leopard print) Comfortable heels Smart winter coat
2 smart tanks
(silk or similar)
Smart trousers Flesh coloured T shirt bra   Boots (eg Biker)  
Long cardigan Smart-casual skirt White T shirt bra   Casual shoe (eg Converse, skater shoe)  
Short cardigan   Black or navy T shirt bra      
Smart warm jumper (crew neck or higher to go over anything)   Camisole      



  • How much you buy in neutral on the above list depends on how big your budget is and how often you want to update your wardrobe. Personally, on a modest budget I would keep almost all of the above neutral except the scarf, 1 tank, 1 t shirt and a cardigan or jumper which I might choose in a pop colour (eg this season’s RED).
  • I decided 2 years ago to not buy any more black. Apart from biker boots and some smart heels I have stuck to it. It makes the transition from Winter to Spring so much easier and is more forgiving on your complexion.
  • Don’t ever buy something if it isn’t the final piece of the jigsaw. Requiring another purchase to make it work adds unnecessary pressure, financial and time.
  • If your bra shows AT ALL when you try it on, don’t buy it.
  • I follow Martin Lewis’ maxim: when deciding whether to buy something or not, think would you rather someone gave you £20 or would you rather have this T shirt that costs £20. If your answer is the former, don’t buy it!
  • Sorry to be didactic but it’s all about high-waisted trousers. Please dump/donate any low-rise trouser. And if you haven’t taken the plunge please do so now. You won’t regret it. They feel amazing.
  • Don’t kid yourself that you’re going to buy an ‘investment piece’. The only items I have owned for more than 5 years that are still holding their own are: some evening dresses, vintage winter coat (owned for 15 years and still going strong!), none of which cost a lot. Most of your basics will last max 2 years, maybe 3 or 4. But that’s because you will wear them a lot!
  • Having said that, spend a little more to get good quality on the items that will be washed a lot eg T shirts, tanks.
  • Always shop alone.

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