I’ve always been a basics clothing person. I don’t like fussy, contrived clothes, a lot of details and I like to mix-and-match the items in my closet. Even when I was a little kid and my mom would bring home an “outfit” that came as a set to wear I would break the pieces apart and wear them separately. As I blogged about a few months ago, I loved those basic-driven Simple Chic books from the ’90s (post here) that were all about basic pieces that have longevity. Of course, I enjoy novelty items here and there which I view more like garnish in my wardrobe than the protein and I use the novelty pieces as impact when some punch is needed. However, I have certainly made my fair share of looks completely built on basics.
This post is definitely not meant to imply that a closet full of basics is the only way to go. Everyone is different and for some women, a more novelty-driven wardrobe is a more authentic expression of their style. However, no matter where you fall on the Basics/Novelty spectrum, basic items still have their place of importance in everyone’s wardrobe because they are essentially the glue that keeps a wardrobe together. In cases where a woman has too many novelty items and not enough basics she often lacks the pieces that enable her to connect the items in her wardrobe, maximize their use and make outfits.
The problem is, basics aren’t all that exciting to shop for unless you have the vision to see the bigger picture. Basics demand that we see beyond the item on the hanger and can visualize its use in fun and creative ways and, let’s face it, this isn’t a strong suit that many women possess. If it were, I wouldn’t be in business for 19 years. In addition, either shopping in-store or online, our focus will always be pulled to the most exciting things. Of course, we’re going to go for the novelty “plug and play” items that require little thought and where the work is already figured out. Throw that novelty top on with black pants and you’re done. Yet, how many events or parties have you attended where you were one of the many women there wearing their versions of the novelty top and black pants outfits?
I’m not saying that the tried and true novelty top with a black pair of pants look is bad but it’s not exactly fresh and beyond those black pants or maybe a pair of jeans, what else can you do with that top? Not much usually. And this is where the problems begin. Too many of these novelty purchases make you assume your wardrobe is easy when it actually winds up becoming very one-note and hard to maximize.
GET EXCITED ABOUT BASICS
If you haven’t been utilizing basics in your wardrobe, I want to get you excited about them because they really are the best way to get the most from your closet with less. I never would have been able to pack Mrs. Wondrous so she could live for a year out of one suitcase without good basics, for example. Here are 9 reasons why having a good variety of basics will benefit you and your wardrobe.
1. You Will Save Time
Everybody is time-starved and nobody has the bandwidth available for getting dressed to be a chore. And while, yes, that novelty top and black pants immediately seems like the easy answer, my example above explained why this isn’t necessarily the case unless you want to wear a version of the same outfit every day. This past Sunday morning, I was laying in bed after a late evening the night before. I was awake early enough to attend services at my Unitarian Universalist congregation but wasn’t exactly feeling like getting up. So I made a deal with myself: if I could come up with an outfit in my head that I could get excited about wearing I would get up and go. I cobbled together a simple look of all basics; jeans, a navy t-shirt, a navy blazer, navy loafer mules, and a scarf while lying in bed. Each one of these pieces I have worn about 50 different other ways and it wasn’t just that I could pull these basics together easily in my head, it was also because the basic nature of these pieces offered a variety of combos I could maximize quickly.
Wherever you land on the basics/novelty scale, you want to have at least some items in your closet that allow you to do this and in a way that won’t make you feel like you are compromising your outfit. Most women have outfits in their closets they can just throw on but not every woman is excited about what they look like when they wear them.
2. Basics Play Multiple Parts
This brings me to my next point, basics are versatile chameleons that can be worn in all sorts of ways. When I style a client, I always try to illustrate the multiple ways they can wear an item. If you look at recent posts about clients, like Mrs. Radiant, Mrs. Vivacious and Ms. Demure, you can see how the pieces get used over and over again to maximize their use.
3. Basics are The Glue That Holds Things Together
Comparing a client like Mrs. Vivacious to a client like Ms. Demure or Mrs. Radiant, Mrs. Vivacious’ style is much more novelty-driven. Despite that, her wardrobe still has basics in it and it’s those basics that are necessary to connect all those great novelty pieces I selected for her. Without them, her wardrobe would be filled with a lot of randomness that wouldn’t necessarily work together and her wardrobe would have been much less wearable.
4. Basics Yield Greater Returns
Think of your closet like your financial portfolio and your clothing as the stocks and investments. You want the Amazon, Apple, Berkshire Hathaway clothing versions, not the Kodak or Blockbuster stocks. Basics are great investments for several reasons. Even if you spend more on basics, the cost-per-wear for these pieces is still usually much lower because they last longer and can be worn more frequently. They can also be worn often without feeling stale because they can be changed up in different ways. If you have one novelty dress or jacket that can be worn just one way, frequent wears of these items are much more identifiable and quicker to feel tired and overworn.
5. You Can Keep Your Wardrobe Tight
Basics ensure you can keep less in your closet because the outfit options increase with less. With greater mix-and-matchability you get more. A bunch of novelty dresses can be fun but a good workhorse dress that you can wear with the blazer that you also wear with the pair of jeans and a basic top or with a cardigan that looks great with your tailored pants is much more flexible.
6. Basics Have Longevity
An old boss of mine used to say, “I’ve got shoes older than you!” when he hired me at 22. I texted him a few weeks ago when I put on a pair of shoes that were older than my college-aged niece I was seeing that day and said, “I am now old enough to use your line!” Basics don’t date nearly as fast as novelty pieces and while novelty items can be brought in as fun updates for your wardrobe, it’s those old, reliable basics that keep your wardrobe chugging along. Subtle things do change over time about basics so they won’t last forever, but they will last a considerable amount of time.
7. Basics Create Amazing, Iconic Outfits
Before you go out and buy another spangly blouse or trimmed out dress, consider some of the most iconically stylish women we all love and what about their styles we appreciate. Piazza Sempione created their Audrey pants after Audrey Hepburn who styled that simple tapered ankle silhouette with a black turtleneck and the company has been running the style for well over a decade.
8. Basics Allow You to Shine
Basics have an incredible ability to create a seamlessness between the clothing and the person. My mom used to say that you never want an outfit to enter a room 10 minutes before you did. A good outfit of basics can be dynamic in a way that doesn’t take anything away from the person. It’s a balance where the woman shines because the clothing supports her.
9. Basics Can Make You Look Less Basic
Here’s an interesting phenomenon. Basics can make you look less basic in that pejorative way when someone is defined as unoriginal, unexceptional, and mainstream. It sounds counterintuitive but the next time you are in a crowd notice how most women lean. You will see lots of those novelty top black pants outfits as I described, unoriginal, uninspired prepackaged looks, and pieces with strange details to make an outfit appear more exciting than it actually is. While I hate the notion that we’ve reduced some women who just like what they like into negative stereotypes like Karens or being Basic, it is interesting how mixing basic pieces can make someone look less unoriginal or unexceptional than when they don’t.
Potential Downsides of Basics
Despite all the positives, there are some potential downsides to basics particularly if you don’t utilize them well. If basics aren’t working well for you, it could be one or more of these issues.
Fit is Critical
Basics have little margin for error. There are few distractions and poor fit will be a lot more obvious. Tailored basics need to fit well and even simple things like hems can make or break classic pieces.
Cheap basics look cheap. This is not to say you have to drop a ton of money to look good in your basics but the more structured your items are the better quality they should be. First, you want to be able to wear these pieces multiple ways and keep them in your closet for a long time and, second, cheap tailored fabric doesn’t wear well or look all that good. If you are on a budget, spend on your “hard pieces” or tailored items and less on your soft pieces. Consider purchasing luxury or designer pricepoint second hand or on consignment where you will spend the same price as you would for something of lesser quality, watch for sales and try mixing higher with lower to elevate the appearance of the less expensive pieces. Remember, by buying basics you can own less and spend more per item.
Basics Can Be Boring if You Don’t Mix Well
A problem I see often is a client tells me they like a classic look but put together outfits that are so boring and snoozy because they don’t know how to make their basics look dynamic and fun. Outfits using good basics do not have to look staid, too traditional, uninspired, or uncreative. I have put together some outfits together below that can help you with this.
Basics Should Support Your Style
Despite them being basics and rather generic in look, the way you wear your basics should still capture the essence of your style and that is all done in how you bring your pieces together to create a look. Additionally, where you fall on the basics spectrum indicates how heavily you should use them. If your style is more novelty-driven you can use basics more like glue to connect the novelty items and if you prefer a more classic look, you can use your basics to mix different clean, evergreen outfits. You need basics but to what to degree you do is personal.
Outfits Using Basics
Now I am going to get you excited about basics by sharing these five outfits
I start with this outfit because it is a near-exact match to an outfit I wore a few weeks ago. In this outfit, I used a navy cardigan from Theory that is similar to a style I own from Quince. The Quince cardigan is fabulous and incredibly affordable for the quality and if the site showed product shots I would have used it. With the cardigan, I added my absolute favorite basic v-neck t-shirt from J.Crew, a pair of skinny jeans, cognac Aquatalia booties, similar to the pair I own, and a camel scarf. This is an outfit full of basics but far from boring. It’s also a style that won’t go out of style anytime soon and I have taken all the pieces in my wardrobe and worn them many other ways.
This is also a good example of how to spend on basics. The boots are a luxury price point but I got my pair new secondhand. The t-shirt is from J.Crew factory because even though it is classic, t-shirts aren’t where you should be devoting a lot of your wardrobe money. The Quince cardigan alternative that I bought is a style that is of high quality from a company that sells direct to reduce costs and the jeans are basic J.Crew jeans I wear because the fit is good for my body and spending hundreds of dollars on jeans just isn’t a priority for me.
A type of basic outfit like this is one that could easily fail. One wrong step and you could easily get mistaken for a cater waiter. Basics are easy but they are also nuanced. It goes back to fit, quality, and how the looks are finished. For example, the change-up of basic beige pumps and the belt adds unexpectedness and the necklace adds a novelty finish despite it being a versatile item. I usually refer to pieces like this as novelty basic which means when an item look like a novelty but acts like a basic.
I styled these black cropped straight-leg ponte pants from Donna Karan with a white silk blouse from Vince. I finished the look with beige pumps from Marc Fisher, a beige belt from Tory Burch, and a black and gold double strand necklace.
This outfit is an example of how you can take very classic pieces and mix them in a variety of different ways. A good navy blazer can be a workhorse with a ton of uses. The striped Breton has been stylish since it was invented in 1858 and can be worn in an endless amount of ways. Jeans require no explanation on their versatility, a pair of sneakers, a red belt, and hoop earrings. All stalwart, basic staples that can be mixed-and-matched and worn forever.
A misnomer about basics is that they should all be in classic colors. This is not true. In fact, it’s having basics in a variety of colors that harmonize well that will give you even more flexibility. Despite all the different shades of neutrals in this outfit, plus the orange shoes, each one of the pieces in this look is in classic styles that can be maximized.
I styled these tan stretch pants from M.M. Lafleur with an olive sleeveless silk tank from Eileen Fisher and a beige duster cardigan from Open Edit. I finished the outfit with basic ballerina flats in orange from Ballerette and added a bit of novelty with this chunky gold link necklace.
In this last look, I am using this dress from Theory that is basic enough to be styled in a variety of different ways. It can be dressed up and down, a blazer can be added, different shoes, jewelry, and so on. I styled it here with a cropped cardigan in burgundy from Hobbs, a grey pair of pumps from M.Gemi, and a textured link necklace from Ann Taylor.
If You Need a Little or A Lot, You Need Basics
Whether your wardrobe is basics-driven or if you are someone who prefers more novelty clothing, you need basics in your wardrobe. If you’ve been struggling with the clothing in your closet, take some time to analyze what basics you have and if you have what you need to make your wardrobe complete, diverse, flexible, and sustainable.