Building Up Your Basics

The classic black dress.
Last week for What's in Your Closet we finished up our miniseries on finding your personal style, and I'm dying to know if anyone added a new item to their wardrobe in the past seven days. If you have, I would love to hear about it!

At the end of the final chapter, I promised we'd have a crash course in what the "basics" are when it comes to building your wardrobe. The short answer is they are considered to be classic pieces, things that will stand the test of time and trends, and are very practical to a woman's everyday life.

The long answer I've pulled from the one-and-only Tim Gunn, advisor to the contestants on the show "Project Runway." I love Tim for various reasons, and his list of the "10 Essential Elements" any woman should have in their closet is really solid.

  1. Basic Black Dress: The basic black dress has been around for a long time and is often called the "Little Black Dress." It's true that shorter skirts on the basic black dress, when they hit you in the right place, can be more flattering than a long black dress.
  2. Trench Coat: The trench coat is one of the pieces that is both classic and currently a hot fashion item. Most any store sells this piece now. It is great for fall and you can pick it up in a wide range of lengths.
  3. Dress Pants: Although it doesn't say black, this is probably what you want to look for. Black is flattering on all figures and goes with everything.
  4. Classic Shirt: The white shirt is a definite classic, but it can also come in many different styles to make it look trendy and not dated. Find one that accentuates your best attributes and minimizes trouble spots. For example, if you have wide shoulders, stay away from large collars.
  5. Jeans: Everyone has a pair of jeans, but does everyone have a pair of jeans that make them look great? The wider leg, low-rise jean style has been popular, but now people are shifting to a narrower leg along with a higher waist, which eliminates the unflattering "muffin top" look.
  6. Any Occasion Top: Find something you look great in that can look respectable under a jacket but bring on the fun after hours.
  7. Skirt: If you need dress pants then you also need a skirt. A skirt is womanly and can be flirty or businesslike. Nowadays women do not wear many skirts or dresses, which makes a lot of them fall into a rut of dressing sloppily or like men. (See number 8.)
  8. Day Dress: Women also are not wearing as many dresses anymore. It was certainly liberating to go from the '50s when women wore dresses every day to wearing more practical pants for gardening, exercising and so forth. But the dress does not have to be abandoned altogether. They can be very flattering, and there is nothing wrong with "dressing up" for daytime.
  9. Jacket: A jacket does not have to be masculine. Find one with a proper, fitted shape. Women's jackets should follow the silhouette of a woman's body and accent the hourglass curve at her waist. It is also a perfect piece to put with the skirt or dress pants, and white shirt. Or make it casual with a pair of jeans.
  10. Sweatsuit Alternative: As mentioned before, women wear fewer skirts and dresses these days. But some women have taken casual to the extreme and spend days on end in sweatsuits. It is possible to be casual and comfortable without looking like a slob. Find a comfortable material (that's why this doesn't say jeans again – denim is not as comfortable as a nice soft cotton) that you would want to wear every day. It could be khakis, cords, a cotton dress or much more.
He doesn't really cover shoes so, for what's it worth, here is my two cents. 

I like for my shoes to be practical, meaning they can be worn with many different outfits depending on the season. And where you live also plays a big part. Out in California we can get by with wearing sandals of some sort for a good portion of the year, so it makes sense that they make up most of my shoe collection. But say you live someplace like Seattle, where it rains a lot; you're going to need a nice pair of rain boots.

I also like color into consideration. I've never been much of a fan of mixing brown and black together, so I make sure I have one of each shade when it comes to pumps and boots. For sandals I consider gold and silver to be the "brown" and "black," respectively. Think about the colors you wear most often and make sure you at least have the basic shade that complements it.

All this said, here's my suggestion for people who experience every season:
  1. Summer: a pair of gold sandals to serve your earth-toned/brown outfits. A pair of silver sandals to serve your black outfits or ones with bright solid colors. It also never hurts to have a good pair of wedges in either black, brown or white.
  2. Fall: a pair of brown boots and a pair of black boots. How high they go up all depends on your personal taste. Mine are mid-calf, but I'm really liking the ones that go just above your knee this year. I also suggest some closed-toe flats that you can wear to work or with jeans. If you like to wear heels to work, then make sure you have a pair of classic black pumps, and a pair of brown (classic meaning no frills or patterns and a simple 3-inch heel).
  3. Winter: Your fall shoes can pretty much transition into winter, except you'll most likely wear boots more, especially if you live somewhere where it snows. If you do, consider some snow boots, too.
  4. Spring: Not much to say for this season, other than to recycle your summer sandals and your flats from the fall.

{Source for Tim Gunn's Essentials: Suite101; image courtesy of the Deccan Chronicle}

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