Basic Wardrobe Essentials for Moms

This post on Basic Wardrobe Essentials for Moms is always a popular one, so I’m updating it again for fall 2015. This list will vary somewhat depending on your lifestyle and career choice, but I’ll assume that we’re talking about a non-professional wardrobe here. These are the basics that most women need. Once you have these, you can build around them and incorporate a few new trendy items each season.

I recommend making these essentials investment pieces. I spend more money for classic wardrobe essentials that I hope to last many years. Then each season, I add a few trendy items to round out my wardrobe. Those are my budget buys because I know they’ll only stay in my closet for a couple of seasons.

wardrobe essentials

13 Basic Wardrobe Essentials for Moms

1. A Pair of Great Fitting Jeans

I’m going to be super predictable here and start by recommending that every woman have at least one pair of great fitting jeans. Jeans are an item for which I recommend making an investment if it is at all in your budget. Even if you’re on a tight budget, if you’re patient, you can find great designer jeans at off-price stores such as Marshalls and T.J. Maxx or even at your local consignment store.

A great pair of jeans is appropriate for {almost} any occasion. You can dress them up or down. I wrote a post a while back on How To Find the Perfect Jeans if this is something that challenges you. If you can only have one pair, go for a dark wash in a straight leg style. That is the most versatile and the most universally flattering. If you’re slender, you may want to go with a skinny jean. If you’re heavier or carry your weight in your hips, you might want a straighter leg to help keep the proper proportions. Flares are coming back in style this year, but I would recommend making those a secondary pair. They’re more of a fashion statement than a wardrobe essential at the moment. Straight leg jeans are still the classic.

Paige Skyline Straight Leg Jeans

 2. Cardigan

The drapey sweater trend is still going strong. It’s comfortable, flattering, and easy to wear. In recent years, the boyfriend sweater has also been super popular. And I still see plenty of the traditional cardigan style pictured below. No matter what style cardigan you prefer, it’s a must-have in your fall/winter wardrobe because you can easily throw it on over your favorite tank or tee or button-down blouse and it changes up your look and adds warmth when the weather is cooler. LOFT has tons of great cardigans to choose from.


 3. Layering Tees and Tanks

With the cardigan trend, it is essential to have a few basic tees and tanks. You can also wear them under a pullover sweater that is a bit too short to add interest and also to help balance out your proportions. I am a huge fan of Banana Republic’s Essential Tank. I also like the J.Crew Perfect-Fit Tank.

essential tank

Relaxed-style t-shirts are the trend of the moment. LOFT currently has a ton of different variations on their Vintage Tee. I like to wear these with a “front tuck” and a belt.

vintage tee

4. A white button-down shirt.

This is one piece that I do not own and probably never will. I’ve tried, and I just do not like collars, and I don’t like the feeling of a blouse layered under a sweater. However, this is one piece that most fashion mavens would determine an essential, so I will dutifully include it. This is the Foxcroft  Fitted Shirt ($76).

white button down

5. Structured Blazer

Blazers are no longer just for suits. Wear one over a dress for added interest (and warmth) or with your favorite t-shirt and blue jeans for a fun juxtaposition of dressy and casual. White House Black Market is a great place to go for blazers. I love that they have a lot to choose from, and they often have really cute detailing so they’re not too businessy. HINT: it does not have to be black!

moto jacket

Another option is a denim jacket. I probably should have listed this as a separate item because I think both a blazer and a denim jacket have a place in most women’s wardrobes. I absolutely love my denim jacket and wear it 3 out of the 4 seasons of the year.

Classic Denim Jacket

6. Versatile Dress

Every woman needs at least one go-to dress that she feels good in for date nights, events, church, or whatever curveball life might throw your way. I don’t wear a lot of dresses, but I do have two or three that I can rely on when I have the occasion to dress up.

a-line sheath

7. Black Leggings

Leggings are another versatile piece, and they’re more popular than ever. Wear them with tunics or long sweaters or oversized blouses. You can wear them under skirts or dresses, and they look great with a poncho (another wearable trend right now.) Dress them up or down. My favorites are the Ultra-Wide Waistband Leggings, only $36 at Nordstrom. These are great quality for a great price.


Just please remember. LEGGINGS ARE NOT PANTS. Cover your tushies, ladies.

8. A basic pencil skirt.

Believe it or not, I do not have a go-to pencil skirt, but it is something I should probably add to my shopping list! You can dress a pencil skirt up or down, wear it with a blazer, jean jacket, or cardigan…. ankle boots, tall boots, ballet flats…. even Converse sneakers with a t-shirt and denim jacket on top. The sky’s the limit. Okay, I’m adding this to my fall shopping list right now.

pencil skirt

Another option… and one that I DO have… a denim pencil skirt. If you live a casual lifestyle as I do, you may not need a dressier style, but a denim skirt is always a great piece to have in your closet year-round.

denim skirt

9. Flats

Ballet flats are very much on trend this year, but they’re also a classic that never goes out of style. Every woman should have at least one go-to pair of ballet flats or loafers. A “nude” color is great because it goes with everything, but you can also go with black or brown. Or, go for leopard! Leopard is a neutral that can be work with almost anything, including most patterns and prints.

Sam Edelman Alaine

10. Ankle Boots

There is still a place for a knee-high boot, but ankle boots have DEFINITELY won the popularity contest as of late. There are so many styles to choose from. You know I love my Toms Desert Wedge Ankle Booties ($88.95). They’re fabulous for casual wear.

toms desert booties

The BP. ‘Trolley’ Ankle Bootie ($99.95) is classic. These would work with skirts, trousers, skinny jeans, and even under flares or bootcut jeans.

B.P. Trolley Ankle Boot

The Umberto Raffini Kyra is another style that is best suited for skinny jeans or skirts and tights. I have these and love them. Pardon the itt-bitty picture.

Umberto Raffini Kyra

There are so many other styles and colors available, from slouchy suede to sophisticated heels. Definitely peruse your favorite shoe store for the style that is best for you. Of course, you may want several, but everyone will want to have at least one pair.

11. A pair of classic pumps.

While booties and ballet flats are taking center stage this fall, sometimes you need a classic pump. Pumps are another item I would advise investing in because they will last a very long time, and if you’re going to wear heels, they should be comfortable. Rather than the expected black pump, a more current look is to go with a “nude” or flesh tone.

Ivanka Trump 'Boni' Pointy Toe Pump

12. A Great Bag

No, really. Ditch the faded mom bag. I don’t mind investing in a great handbag, but you really don’t have to spend a lot. Or, you can. It’s totally up to you! This R Minkoff ‘Mini Avery’ Tote is definitely an investment piece at $325, but it’s such a classic. It goes with everything, and you would carry it for years.

R Minkoff 'Mini Avery' Tote

But then, this Faux Leather Shopper by Poverty Flats is adorable and budget- friendly. It comes in tons of colors as well.

POVERTY FLATS by rian 'Colorful' Faux Leather Shopper

And then of course, there is something at every price point in between. Shop all handbags under $250 at Nordstrom.

13. Accessories

This is where you can have fun and experiment. You don’t have to spend a lot either. Places like Target and T.J. Maxx have lots of affordable options for costume jewelry and scarves. Try some fun, colorful bracelets or a wide bangle to add interest to your outfits. And of course scarves are still going strong.

stella and dot best sellers

What pieces are you adding to YOUR Fall 2015 Shopping List!?!

Join The Conversation

53 Responses

  1. I have to disagree with you on one thing, Jo-Lynne. If you aren’t skinny, you probably will want to skip the skinny jeans. 🙂 Or at least, I will want to skip them.

    1. They are definitely easier to wear when you’re thin, but Sarah once wrote a really good post about how to pull them off if you aren’t. https://www.waterwatereverywhere.net/2011/01/fashion-friday-myth-jeggings-are-only.html

      A straight-leg jean can often read as a skinny jean, though. I always tell people to try those first, if they don’t want to go for the skinnies. (And I wish they’d come up with a new word for skinny jeans. I hate that term.)

      Do you ever do leggings? It’s sort of the same concept. You can do boots and tunics with skinny jeans too.

      Confession: I don’t have leggings. I don’t know, I just never quite got on that train.

    2. Tara – I used to think so too, but I took Jo-Lynne’s advice and tried on a pair. They actually looked pretty good. Remember when you are trying them on that you will be putting a whole outfit together also. My advice would be to try to buy a good quality pair. I just bought some at the Gap Outlet for about $35. I am tall and plus-sized, but I have a friend who is shorter and they look good on her too. Try it, you might be surprised!

  2. Agree with all your picks here…but I would have to add in a GREAT BLAZER. Any solid will do…but they are so downtown hip with white t shirt, jeans and flats and SO business meeting appropriate with a great pencil skirt. My blazers are worn lovingly once a week at LEAST!
    Great roundup! Love you in that printed dress!!!

    1. Hey Carly! Yes, I actually considered adding that in here, as well as a white blouse, but I didn’t b/c I don’t have either and I don’t really miss them. Personally I hate the feeling of a collar, and it interferes with my short hair, plus I have a short neck, lol, and I don’t know, all together I don’t have much luck with them personally. But yeah, most lists of wardrobe essentials would include a great blazer. The other thing I didn’t manage to fit in there is a pencil skirt. I also didn’t mention outerwear. It was hard to choose just 10! LOL

  3. Great post! I would add a crisp white blouse, a structured jacket in a neutral color (a blazer or similar to dress up jeans or even the leggings), and a well-made, timelessly classic neutral (tan or natural leather) pump. I also think every girls needs a pair of fierce heels for evenings out. They don’t have to be high at all, but they do have to make her feel beautiful and sexy.

  4. I’d say a good pair of comfortable, flattering black pants. I’d also agree with Megan and say good, classic black heels (Cole Haan is worth every penny) and good, classic neutral heels.

  5. Great list! I have almost all of these already.
    I seriously need to find some ballet flats I like…maybe even in color! GASP!

  6. Speaking with the voice of the “professional” dress woman, you basically have to have two wardrobes. This one and the one you wear to work. It helps that I try to keep everything in the black/gray range so that it will all mix and match and I can pretty much wear one pair of shoes every day (I know, sacrilege, but it helps so, so much).

    1. LOL, yeah, I think it definitely comes down to 2 wardrobes. Which is why I left out things like black pants, a pair of heels, etc. I don’t find that I really need those pieces, although they would round out my wardrobe a bit.

  7. I’ve found I really like the Mossimo brand long-sleeve T’s at Target. I like the v-neck b/c I don’t really like clothes around my neck and just don’t feel the normal T looks right on me. Though I almost always wear a tank underneath.

    1. My current favorite source for long-sleeved T’s is Ann Taylor Loft. They’re a bit thinner than I’d like but the fit is pretty good and they look a bit dressy. I prefer the scoop neck.

  8. great fashion post, by the way.
    the real comment i have to make is… thank you!!! as a new blogger, i am absolutely inspired by your blog. over 2000 posts! wow. and we are sisters in Christ, love that.
    at any rate, i just want to tell you that all those hours and hours of time you have spent on this blog have been worth it. it is lovely, and i’m certain Papa is pleased with it too.
    another shocker is how much the headings on our blogs are alike! i promise you , i did not copy your idea!! it is a crazy, wonderful thing how much they are alike 🙂
    best of the best to you Jo-Lynne.
    i’ll be back 🙂

  9. Love your picks…I am not a hoodie girl, though!

    I would also add to the list a nice pair of basic black dress pants. I bought some at Kohl’s year before last and I honestly pack them for EVERY event I go to. I can dress them up with heels and a sparkly embellished top or dress them down with boots and a nice drapey sweater and tee.

    Another wardrobe staple I can’t live without is a jersey knit (thick, no wrinkle) black matte skirt. I can literally roll up the sucker and toss it in a wad and put it on and voila! It looks great. Mine is George brand from Walmart believe it or not! I can wear it with just about anything.

    1. Not silly at all! Sometimes Polyvore, and sometimes I actually do it in Photoshop. And sometimes I screen capture a row of items from a website, as I did for those ballet flats.

  10. Finally getting back to comment on this post–so great! I also wanted to add that if you try something on once and think it doesn’t look good, try again. I tried a few drapey sweaters and they looked terrible. I thought that trend just wasn’t for me. Well, I found a great sweater at the Gap Outlet a few weeks ago, and I’ve been wearing almost every other day.

  11. Hi Jo-Lynne sorry to comment on an older post but I am curious if you would change anything on this list for 2014? Perhaps this will show my age bit I feel like style is changing too fast! So a great list of staples is worth it’s weight in gold!

  12. LOVE! I’ve been trying to slowly build up my “base” or essential wardrobe with high quality items so that they last longer, leaving me to buy less expensive brands for the every changing trends.

  13. Those 13 items are all great pieces for moms as well as women in general. I have them all and agree with all. I have to get a new pair (or two) of booties though. I’d love a couple of pairs with the chunky heel. You look lovely layered in those black leggings which are my favorite Winter staple.

    Pleasure linking up today. I got a remix post going on I’d love your thoughts on. Thanks, Ada. =)

  14. Great post! I need to work on my wardrobe and will use this as a guide. I’m with you on everything except the skirt & pumps. I wouldn’t wear those enough to make it worth the investment. I think the last time I wore a skirt was 2001. 🙂

  15. Great post! I’m in the process of cleaning out closets and determining what I need to get for fall!


  16. I agree, a good pair of jeans, a structured blazer and booties are a must for fall. Love your picks, especially the Franco Sarto booties! Have a great weekend! ~Cynthia

  17. This is an excellent list and I have to agree 100% with all of it. Totally agree with skinny jeans being for all shapes and sizes too. A nice dark wash pair with some stretch flatters all body types. Hope you have a great weekend!

  18. All great pieces Jo-Lynne! and You’re so right- we all need everyone of these pieces in our closet! Thanks for the Macy’s sale alert!! I love those Toms booties as well…I wonder, are they comfortable?? Also, I would really love to see how you style that black pencil skirt! Please do it soon!

  19. I am going to check out the jean recommendations. I always have trouble finding a good pair. As for the white shirt, I think it’s good to have something like that in your wardrobe style wise, but it doesn’t have to be white. With my hair and skin tine I look terrible in it so I opt for crime colored items. Thanks for the recommendations!

  20. “Leggings are not pants.” Amen and Amen! I pray women heed this. If they only knew how it looks wearing leggings with a too-short top, SURELY they wouldn’t do it.

  21. Great post! I just added a pair of Sam Edelman boots so I can’t wait to wear them. Our weather here is still summer.

  22. “LEGGINGS ARE NOT PANTS.” HAHAHAHAHA. Amen. I despair when I see what my little 3-year-old girl sees looking at the “big girls” at schools in the UK. Here in England they all have uniforms, most of them wearing skirts they hike up to their chests, and then at the weekends they all appear to be wearing leggings and a top (or bandeau). In England. In winter. Seriously, it’s depressing as a mum of a little girl!!
    On a more positive note, great list, thank you! I’m trying to build up my wardrobe more sensibly after a massive clear-out made me realise I have a load of patterned skirts, tops & dresses that I cannot mix and match, so I’m trying to build more of a neutral capsule wardrobe so I only need to buy accessories often to feel like I have a load of new outfits! 🙂 We are on a tiny budget for clothes in my house (one salary, SAHM family!), so this is great advice.

  23. I was lucky enough to find a fleece button down that I use as a cardigan. I don’t have a blazer and my accessory collection is minimal, but that’s okay since I’m more likely to find myself in a mosh pit than in a conference room. I could probably rent a suit if I need one and be better off overall.

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