I’ve been wanting to start a series of posts on the building blocks of a functional wardrobe, but the more I thought about it and tried to line up topic ideas, the more overwhelmed I got.
At the end of the day, fashion is so very personal. What makes a functional wardrobe for me isn’t necessarily going to work for someone else, and I feel unqualified to give advice, per se.
What I can share is more about my personal style journey. I actually enjoy reading those types of posts more than generic fashion advice, anyway, and I expect we all do.
So these posts will be more about how I’ve been honing in on what works for my current life and style, and how I’m striving to make intentional purchases that add value and versatility to my wardrobe. Hopefully you can adapt this information to make sense for your closet.
First, here are a couple things I’ve learned that are really helpful as I assess my wardrobe:
#1. It’s important to keep your lifestyle in mind when building your wardrobe, and make sure you have an appropriate ratio of casual/business/formal pieces in your closet to make outfits that suit your life.
#2. Working with a color palette helps to build a cohesive wardrobe and makes it easier to mix and match. My palette is black, grey, white and other cool neutrals.
Then I integrate colors and prints that work well with those neutrals — plum, burgundy, olive, and teal are favorites, as well as shades of pink and blush. Oh, and I love a good animal print!
#3. Wardrobe essentials are not to be confused with statement pieces. A functional wardrobe needs a good assortment of both, but this post is about wardrobe essentials — those indispensable closet staples that help create complete outfits.
I chose black wardrobe staples for this post because most of my outfits have a black component in them somewhere, and these are pieces I find myself reaching for over and over again. They help make up the foundation for my wardrobe.
My Must-Have Black Wardrobe Staples
You may be wondering, why black? Black sometimes gets a bad rap, and I get it. It can be cliché or a bit of a copout, and it’s too harsh for some skin tones, especially as we age.
But black is also amazingly versatile, it flatters my skin tone and hair color, and it suits my personal style aesthetic. This may change as I get older and as my style evolves, but for now, black it is!
Perhaps the foundation color for your wardrobe will be navy, grey, taupe, camel, or ivory… but I think it’s a good idea to have one base color to work off of. Going with a shade similar to your hair color is usually a safe bet.
Okay, with that length preamble, let’s get started!
1. Black Jeans
Denim is an essential part of my wardrobe, as I work from home and live a very casual lifestyle. I don’t have a lot of events and occasions to dress for, and even my church is fairly casual, so I really don’t have a lot of need for work wear or special occasion outfits.
Not only do jeans work well for my life, but they also suit my personal style, as I tend to favor classic looks with a bit of an edge.
Black jeans are a great way to straddle that line, and they come in a variety of styles and washes so they can be dressed up or down. They’re definitely a workhorse for my personal wardrobe.
The key, of course, is finding the perfect fit and style for you. For me, that’s a black skinny jean, but I’m open to new silhouettes as trends evolve.
As with my blue jeans, I like to have a few options in different styles and washes. I have a washed black pair for more casual looks, a jet black pair for dressier looks, and a pair with a raw hem that can go either way. All three are pictured above.
2. Black Sweaters
Sweaters are also an essential part of my wardrobe, and I always have a few classic black sweaters in my closet. They make great layering pieces as well as chic stand-alone pairings with my favorite jeans.
Cashmere is always my favorite type of knitwear, but I do have some wool/cashmere blends, and occasionally a cotton or acrylic sweater will make the cut.
V-necks are the most flattering and versatile neckline for me personally, but I also love a good black turtleneck, especially for layering under leather jackets or wearing with coats when I’ll be outside for a length of time.
In the spring/summer, I wear a lot more color in general, but I always have a few go-to black tops in the mix. A black t-shirt or two are a must, and I like to have a silk or woven tank for layering and pairing with jeans for date night looks. In fact, those stay in my closet year ’round.
3. Black Boots
I tend to gravitate to black footwear because of my hair color. Did you know that one trick for making an outfit look more cohesive is to bookend the outfit by matching your shoes to the color of your hair? It helps frame the look and make it look more intentional.
Although I do wear other colors, I have a lot of black shoes, especially boots in the fall/winter. They pair well with black and grey jeans, and because they create a low contrast with those dark colors, they make me look longer and leaner.
This time of year, I wear boots more than any other type of shoe, and I also wear a lot of sneakers. #signofthetimes
Ironically, I do NOT have a pair of go-to black sneakers. For some reason, I much prefer a white sneaker, but that also works with my overall color palette.
As for boots, I always like to have a pair of tall black boots in my closet for date night or sometimes church outfits, and I have several styles of ankle boots as well. Right now, I find myself most often reaching for my Vince Henderson Chelsea boots or Marc Fisher Yale Chelsea boots (both pictured above.)
4. Black Coats
When it comes to outerwear, I’ve tried other neutrals and some fun colors, but I often find myself wishing I had a black alternative to whichever one I’m reaching for. Over the years, I’ve come to realize that black outerwear just makes the most sense for me, so I’m not going to fight it.
Coats can be quite an investment, so I usually go for classic styles that I can keep for many years.
I’ve had my Burberry quilted jacket for going on five years now, and it is usually my most worn coat, but I’ve been wearing my long puffer more this year than ever before because this winter has been so cold. Unfortunately the one I have was recently discontinued, but the new style is good too.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: 2020 Fall/Winter Outerwear Guide
I don’t wear the wool reefer nearly as much as the other two, as my lifestyle is quite casual, but when I need it, I need it.
In addition to those, I also have a black rain trench (not pictured) that I wear when it’s rainy but not cold enough for a winter coat. It’s also by The North Face, and I believe it’s been discontinued as well, but this one is similar.
And, I recently added a sporty short puffer to my closet, which I’m also liking a lot right now! I do have a couple of other coats that aren’t black, but I definitely wear my black ones the most.
5. Black Jackets (Leather Preferred)
I decided to make a separate section for black jackets because I wear these as more of an outfit topper than a piece of outerwear. In the fall and winter, it’s usually a leather jacket.
I’ve loved a black leather jacket since I was in my 20s. I remember buying my first one when I was shopping with a friend. I was a 3rd grade teacher back then, and my students used to call it my biker chick jacket. They thought they were so funny.
I wore that thing for years, until I ripped the sleeve when it caught on a hanger in my coat closet. I was devastated that it wasn’t fixable, and I replaced it as soon as I was able.
Fast forward 20 years, and when the weather permits, you will probably find me wearing a leather (or suede) moto jacket. It’s still my favorite way to complete an outfit.
I currently have two black leather jackets, and both are pictured above. I have a few other suede and leather motos, but I don’t reach for them nearly as much as these two.
6. Black Handbags
I always advise people when looking for a neutral bag to carry with ALL the outfits that black is not necessarily the best choice. (A shade of cognac or taupe is typically more versatile for most women’s wardrobes.)
That said, these days, I find myself carrying a black bag more often than not — especially in the fall/winter, but also quite a bit in the summer. It just works well with my current wardrobe, and there is something so chic about a black bag. I can’t quit them.
I will never be without a black tote, but these days, I’m reaching for my black crossbody most often. I also love a mid-size black shoulder bag, such as the Everlane Studio Bag, which unfortunately was just discontinued. I have no idea why, it was so good.
That doesn’t mean I never carry my lighter bags, and if I didn’t swap out my bags with my outfits and could only carry one bag for an entire season, I would go with taupe. But since I do like to change out my bags with what I’m wearing, my black bags get a lot of use.
7. Black Sunglasses
You may have noticed a common element in many of the pictures in this post — black sunglasses. It is almost impossible to overstate the value a great pair of sunglasses adds to an outfit.
When selecting a pair, obviously you want to pick a shape that is most flattering to your face. I tend to go for an oversized pair of cat-eye sunglasses.
I believe quality sunglasses elevate a look in a way the cheapies cannot, and on a cost per wear basis, you should really get your money’s worth because you wear them almost every day year ’round.
And I know, I know… someone is going to say they refuse to invest in nicer sunglasses because they will lose them. I said that too, until I finally decided to try a pair and see if I could keep track of them.
I quickly found that I take much better care of more expensive shades than I did my dollar store sunnies, and I have only lost ONE pair of nice sunglasses in the past 15 years, which is when I started investing more in them.
That said, you don’t need to break the bank for a good pair. There are many good quality, stylish options under $100. Two brands I recommend in this price range are Quay and DIFF. You can also get good sales on Tory Burch, Kate Spade, and the like if you’re patient, and of course there is always the second-hand market.
8. Black Belt
One wardrobe item I’m trying to wear more of is a belt. I don’t really need one because I don’t have an issue with pants gaping in the waist, but now that we are doing more tucking of tops, I appreciate how a belt adds an element of interest to an outfit. It also breaks up a block of color when I wear a monochromatic look.
I was wearing a Rebecca Minkoff O-Ring Belt that I loved, but when I lost weight, it started to look too big, so recently I set out to find a replacement.
I wanted something classic and understated but good quality, and I ordered and returned a few before I stumbled upon this B-Low the Belt Baby Bell Bottom Belt. I don’t make the names, folks. I just shop them.
It’s an excellent quality pebbled leather, supple and soft; and the buckle is a nice silver — not super shiny but not brushed either. It goes well with the hardware on most of my jackets, and of course, I wear a lot of silver toned jewelry as well.
I’m currently on the hunt for something similar with a gold buckle, but I don’t want two of the same, so I’m holding out until something strikes my fancy.
Of course, you can find lots of belts for far less, but I tried some, and I didn’t like how stiff they were. I would rather have one or two nice ones that I wear with everything than a bunch of cheapies, but that’s just my personal preference.
And the final item in my list of must-have black wardrobe staples is…
9. Black Joggers
I would never have dreamed of having a jogger category in a wardrobe must-have list before 2020, and yet, here we are!
Joggers have definitely become a staple in my wardrobe over the past year, and I have a few different pairs that I rotate through. I like how they can be strictly activewear, or you can elevate them with a graphic tee and denim or leather jacket for a casual everyday look.
I’ve got three of my go-to jogger looks above, and yes, the pair in the middle isn’t really black per se, but they have a black base, and I like how they offer me another option in a sea of solid black joggers.
So yeah, I think that about covers it! I considered listing my black silk face mask as #10, but I’ll leave that to your imagination.
I could have included a few other types of footwear — I love to wear black mules and black pumps when the weather permits, and I have black strappy sandals I wear a lot in the summer, but I’m in winter mode right now, and this list is long enough!
I read somewhere recently that if you’re struggling to create outfits from your current closet, chances are you’re missing a good assortment of wardrobe essentials. Perhaps you have a closet full of statement pieces, or you have lots of wardrobe essentials that don’t work well together. If that’s you, I suggest a good closet purge, followed by an assessment of what’s left.
Then, as you get dressed over the next few weeks, if you find yourself missing a crucial element of an outfit, keep a list of things you need to shop for, and stick to the list. Or if you have an item you want to wear, and you’re not sure what you need to go with it, search for that item on Pinterest and see how other ladies are styling it.
At the end of the day, building a functional wardrobe is always a work in process, so take your time and have fun with it!
I’m open to more ideas for posts similar to this. I am by no means an expert, nor do I have it all down pat, but I’m happy to share what I’m learning along my style journey!
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photos: Alison Cornell