My closet has survived countless styles and trends and over the years. Acid wash jeans in the 80s (cough), plaid flannel shirts in the 90s (wheeze), and those belly exposing crop tops back in 2000 (spew). OK, I’ve owned a few too many jean jackets during these decades too. Sigh.
But regardless of the year, trend, or supermodel in fashion, I’ve managed to own a few select clothing pieces that have stood the test of time. These classic essentials have not only helped me build a wardrobe that’s always in style, but these key pieces have also saved me from spending thousands on needless clothing.
Here’s why every gal should stock quality, classic clothing pieces:
- Girl, you’re lookin’ good! Classic clothes look good on everyone. The trick is finding the cut, length, and fabrication that works for your figure.
- You get what you pay for. Investing in quality fabrics and great construction ensures your timeless classic lasts for years, not months.
- Up or down? Classic clothes can be dressed up or down for every age, body type, and occasion. Making your wardrobe work double-duty will save you big money over the years since you’ll spend less on casual, workplace, and formal attire. Work it.
- No more bad Facebook photos? You know when someone posts an old 1980s photo of you decked out in acid wash denim and your feathered bangs (spritzed with 1/2 can of Aqua Net) are teased higher than the flames burning in Hell? Yeah, covering that mess with a classic trench coat would have spared me *some* grief. Maybe.
Anyhoo, this post isn’t about keeping your hair backcomb-free. I’m more interested in saving you money by sharing some key pieces (my favorite wardrobe essentials) for every gal — whether she’s a student, a graduate interviewing for her first job, or a seasoned professional looking for a polished timeless look.
Are any of these 12 classic clothing pieces stocked in your closet?
1. A classic trench coat.
I’ve worn mine over baby-barf-covered yoga pants while standing in long lineups at Costco. I’ve also donned my trench while viewing priceless works of art at the Louvre in Paris. Designed to hide any fashion faux pas hidden underneath, the classic trench will take you from a schlumpy slob to a chic chick with the cinch of a belt.
Perfect for wearing around the world (or packed in a suitcase) three seasons a year, a simple beige trench is a reliable coat that’s worth the spend.
Many ‘fashion bloggers’ would point you to the $1,000 plus coats made by iconic luxury designer Burberry, but I won’t. I snagged my fully-lined beige bargain for around $100 at Banana Republic years ago. Retailers like J.Crew, The Gap, Old Navy, Zara, and H&M all sell trench coats at affordable price points too, so try on a bunch to get the right fit.
Heck, after wearing the same trench with classic lines for eons, I stepped it up a notch by ruffling a few fabric feathers. This BCBG eBay bargain is all business in the front with tiers of crazy ruffles on the back.
Carl calls this fad-tastic gem “the mullet of trench coats”. Yes, Carl can be a bit of an a$$hole. So my advice is to always start with the classic first, and then go for the mullet later.
2. The perfect pair of jeans.
I have a well-documented thing for jeans. But if my house were to burn down, there’s one pair I’d rescue without hesitation — my Levi’s boot cut dark wash jeans. Long and lean when paired with my favorite black heels, this is the denim I reach for every time I attend a function requiring a little class or sass. Boot cuts balance out my booty while creating the perfect kick for my black heels. Classic and gorgeous, I love these pants.
Sure, I own skinnies, straight legs, and flares too, but those beautiful boot cuts seem to fit best, and that’s pretty much the point with jeans — find a pair that fits, regardless of cut, and dress ‘em up or down depending on your event or mood.
Just skip distressed faded washes with whiskers — those pants will be the laughed at acid wash jeans of yesterday. Dark denim is both classic and timeless.
3. A crisp white shirt.
Tuck it into a pair of jeans, wear it under a boyfriend blazer, or layer it with a cardigan and skirt. The crisp, white, button down shirt is a must-have wardrobe staple that can go from work day to weekend without a hitch.
OK, there’s one hitch — yellow armpit stains. If your pits are like mine and have the superhuman power of turning any white shirt into a yellow pit of reverse frugality, then do yourself a solid by spending very little on your white wares. Direct sunlight can bleach the yellow outta most pit stains, but spending around $20 on your crisp white shirt might make the yellowing seem a little less pitiful.
4. A lightweight cardigan.
I have a thing for a mid-length merino wool cardigan. It’s the perfect four-season piece for layering over tops, dresses, skirts (and yellow-pit-stained white shirts). The most serviceable colors are black, grey, and cream, but I love pops of color in blues and deep reds too. Wrap a skinny belt around your waist to complete the look and you’ve got a layered outfit that looks very put together.
A quality merino cardigan can be hand or machine washed with ease and last years past the purchase date. Retailers like J.Crew, Banana Republic, and Club Monaco are known for their huge cardigan selections year round, so watch for sales and know your size.
5. A little black dress.
Wear it to weddings, dinners, Wednesday work day meetings, parties, or roll it up and wear it on a trip around Europe — the little black dress (LBD) is a wardrobe essential that works hard for you when that surprise last-minute party invite lands in your inbox.
Dress it up with a silk scarf and heels, or down with a fitted cardigan and flats — a well-cut LBD can be your best friend for years. I love my lightweight wool shift (with stretch) for longevity and clean-a-bility. I picked mine up at Banana Republic for around $75.
6. A fitted single-breasted jacket.
Upgrade that basic jeans and crisp white shirt ensemble with a simple single-breasted blazer. A basic black blazer is perfect for meetings, funerals, weddings, and can even turn your LBD into a suited option for work.
Long time readers will remember that a black blazer was the ONE PIECE of clothing I desperately needed before my big interview with million dollar man and Dragons’ Den star, Robert Herjavec.
How I met Robert Herjavec from the reality show Dragons' Den.
Check out Date with a Dragon: Meeting Robert Herjavec from Dragons’ Den for the story behind finding my favorite BCBG blazer.
7. A black skirt.
A figure-flattering dark skirt can be paired with countless items in your closet to create a perfectly polished outfit. Whether your best fit is an A-line, pencil, or straight cut skirt, be sure to invest in a dark or neutral color hemmed to the knee for a timeless take on this wardrobe essential.
8. Slim black pants.
Who doesn’t own a pair of basic black pants? I must own three pairs, and each pair plays well with everything in my closet. Stick to pill-proof fabrics that resist attracting pet hair, and you’ll be happy with your slim black pants for longer than a few dog-snuggling minutes. Promise.
9. A comfortable pair of flats.
If you wear them often, then a comfy pair of ballet flats can dress up an outfit without becoming a heel.
Wear your ballet flats in place of running shoes to look a lot more polished and put together — especially if you’re shopping at IKEA in a pair of skinny jeans wearing a white shirt and wrapped in a cardigan. Maybe.
10. The perfect black heels.
I teetered and tottered on this one — mostly ’cause I only own one pair of black heels, and they’re weird. OK, they’re very weird.
My Fluevog Mini Lily Darlings could never be considered a classic shoe with that 3-inch hourglass heel on a thick rubber traction sole. Seriously, this shoe is neither a classic nor a fad. Heck, I don’t think this wacky heel has ever been in fashion. Perhaps that’s why it’s never out of fashion?
I’ve owned this very comfortable excuse for a black heel for nearly a decade (maybe) and it’s been my tall friend at countless Christmas parties, events, and day trips out for coffee. This heel is durable, gives me traction when a little tipsy, and I love walking around in the wacky.
My point here is to find a pair of sticks you love and wear the heck out of them. Those 6-inch platform hooker heels may be cool today, but will they be comfortable enough to endure tomorrow?
11. A simple scarf.
I wasn’t a ‘scarf person’ until I traveled to Europe, where every man, woman, and child wraps themselves in some form of scarf thinger. Tie it, knot it, or casually drape it around your neck to stylize a basic t-shirt, fight the breeze in a trench, or add some pizazz to a LBD.
My scarf is a $5 special bought at The Gap. I love the thing so much that I’m on the lookout for something more colorful, perhaps in silk.
12. A statement piece (or two).
Want to really pop? Not afraid to stand out in a black blazer-clad crowd decked out in white shirts and dark jeans? Then add a statement piece (or two) to your wardrobe to show your creative side.
Based on my super fun Fluevog Mary Janes (yep, wore ‘em to my wedding) and this crazy Prabal Gurung J.Crew Exploding Bow Blouse (an almost frugal find found used on eBay) you gotta know I like a shock of color and a fun pair of kicks to pair with my grey cardigans and Levi’s.
When choosing your statement pieces, be sure to weigh the cost of the clothing versus the longevity of the fad. Buying too many fashion pieces will make you look a little dated a year from now.
Your Turn: What wardrobe essentials have I missed? Let me know in the comments.