Summer Wardrobe Essentials

As we near the end of May, I always like to share my list of summer wardrobe essentials in preparation for 25 Days of Summer Fashion, which starts in just a little over a week.

Plus the Nordstrom Half Yearly Sale starts tomorrow, and all the Memorial Day weekend sales are starting up, so this is a great time to make a list of what you need to round out your closet for summer!

The spring-to-summer transition is much more subtle than winter-to-spring or summer-to-fall, but I still like to freshen up my wardrobe for the summer season. I’m already noticing some “holes” in my wardrobe when I go to get dressed on the warmer days.

When you notice those “holes” in your wardrobe — pieces you need to complete an outfit — keep a list. Add to that list anything you see in these wardrobe essentials that you might also need, and then you can be more intentional when you go shopping because you’ll know what you need.

By way of disclaimer, every woman is different so these “essentials” are really more like suggestions.

Take your lifestyle, your job, and your budget into consideration, but this is my list of summer wardrobe essentials for a stay-at-home mom (or work-at-home mom) who dresses fairly casually most of the time, but also needs a few dressier outfits for church on Sunday and/or an occasional date night or lunch date with friends.

Summer Wardrobe Essentials

Again, I have a very casual lifestyle so that will be reflected in this list. If you need work wear for a professional environment, your list may look a little different, but this should still be a good starting point.

#1. White Jeans

Madewell High Rise Skinny Jeans

White jeans top the list because they’re one of the mainstays of my summer wardrobe. They make a crisp statement and pair well with everything from neutrals to pastels to brights.

Right now my go-to white jeans are the Madewell 9″ skinnies pictured above. They’re moderately priced (and you can find them on sale from time to time!) and they fit great. Best of all, they aren’t see-through and they don’t bag out with wear.

I linked to Shopbop because they have the most sizes available, but you can also get these at Nordstrom and at Madewell carries them in petite, tall, and taller lengths as well.

I also rounded up some other favorites in the shopping widgets below.

Shop white jeans:

#2. Jean Shorts

Joe's Frayed Denim Bermuda Shorts

As a stay-at-home mom, I practically live in denim shorts in the summertime. I’m willing to spend money on my jean shorts because I wear them so much, but I’ve also been on the hunt for more budget-friendly pairs to recommend.

I recently reviewed over 20 pairs of shorts, if you’d like to check out that post for specific suggestions, and you may also like my post on dos and don’ts for wearing shorts.

As always, take into consideration your body type and your style aesthetic and choose a pair that you will love to wear over and over.

Shop denim shorts:

If you’re not comfortable wearing shorts, you may like my recently updated post on alternatives to shorts.

#3. White Tee

J.Crew Vintage cotton V-neck T-shirt

A good white tee is something I never want to be without. You can wear it with anything and dress it up with accessories. Choose a tee that fits well and a neckline that flatters you. A v-neck is pretty much universally flattering, but you can always do a scoopneck or a crewneck if that works for you.

Length is another thing to consider. I like shorter ones for wearing with skirts and shorts and longer ones for wearing with pants and jeans. Don’t rule out the possibility of tailoring if you can’t find the perfect tee. T-shirts can easily be shortened or nipped in at the waist to achieve the perfect balance for your body. If you’re going to wear it a lot, it’s well worth the extra effort and expense.

Shop white t-shirts:

Even if these aren’t pictured in white below, they do all come in white. Sometimes I can’t select the color of the item I put in these widgets.

#4. Cropped Pants

PAIGE Mayslie Cropped Jogger Pants

Cropped pants in a lightweight material are a nice alternative to shorts, although I like to have some of each. Fortunately cropped pants are very much on trend right now so they aren’t hard to find, and they come in all different silhouettes.

Shop cropped pants:

#5. Casual skirts

Caslon Paperbag Waist Skirt

Casual skirts are another nice alternative to shorts, and these days anything goes — from maxi skirts to pencil skirts, from denim to chino.

I don’t wear a ton of skirts, but they’re a great way to level up a casual t-shirt. Plus you can wear fashion sneakers or sandals with them, just like with shorts. I also included a skort or two in my recommendations below.

Shop casual summer skirts & skorts:

#6. Denim Jacket

KUT from the Kloth 'Helena' Denim Jacket

Even though it is generally hot in the summertime, I always get cold in air conditioning so I often bring a denim jacket along as a layering piece. I wear mine with dresses as well as with pants and jeans.

A white denim jacket is particularly sharp for summer, but if you wear white jeans and pants often, you may prefer a blue jean jacket. I have one of each, and I wear them both a lot.

Shop denim jackets:

#7. Neutral Flat Sandals

I recommend neutral sandals for your basic wardrobe essentials because they’re so versatile, but once you get your basics situated, you can branch out with some fun colors.

If I had only one pair of flat sandals, it would be my Tory Burch Miller sandals in Sand Patent or Makeup. They go with everything, and I find myself wanting to wear them almost every day.

While they’re my all time favorites, there are a lot of other great options for less. Sam Edelman makes a nice sandal, and he has a lot to choose from this season, or you can find some great designer lookalikes at Target.

Slides are having a moment, but they’re not as easy to walk in as a thong or an ankle strap sandal, so take your personal needs into account. If you need support, check out Vionic, Born, and Abeo.

STYLE TIP: The key with comfort sandals is to look for more delicate styles — thinner straps are always going to be more flattering than thicker straps, etc. 

Shop flat sandals:

#8. Neutral Wedge or Block Heel Sandals

Marc Fisher LTD Orla Sandal

When you want a dressier summer shoe, wedges and block heel sandals are practical and on trend. What’s nice about these styles is they’re easy to walk in and offer more stability than a stiletto.

Shop wedges and block heel sandals:

#9. Fashion Sneakers

I honestly don’t find myself wearing sneakers much in the summer — I’m a sandal girl through and through — but it seems like they should go on this list just the same.

I love the white leather sneaker trend and have worn my Veja Esplars a lot over the past few months, but I think I’ll break out my Converse Shorelines again for summertime. I really love the convenience of a slip-on, and canvas is cooler than leather.

For a good sock that doesn’t slide down in Converse, I recommend these Nike no show socks.

Shop fashion sneakers:

#10. Casual Summer Dresses

Boden Melinda Dress

Casual summer dresses are a great alternative to shorts or cropped pants, and the nice thing about a dress is, they’re “one and done.”

STYLE TIP: Be sure to wear your dress with strappy sandals — clunky closed toe shoes with a dress can look frumpy. 

Midi dresses are definitely having a moment, and maxi dresses are popular too, but I prefer a knee-length dress, myself. Don’t be afraid to show some leg! (Self tanner is your friend.)

Shop casual summer dresses:

#11. Lightweight Cardigan

Caslon(R) Off Duty Waffle Cardigan

This is a new addition to my summer wardrobe essentials this year, and I’m not sure why I never included it before because I’ve relied on my Splendid thermal draped cardigan every summer for the past few years.

A cardigan is a nice alternative to a denim jacket in certain situations, but I wear mine more as a pajama coverup in the mornings, or with shorts and a t-shirt on chilly summer nights at the beach or on the deck with friends.

Shop summer cardigans:

#12. Summer Handbag

Tory Burch Leather Hobo

Handbag trends right now are all about the light neutrals — white, ivory, blush, as well as straw and macrame.

Of course every woman has her personal preferences, but I like to have a crossbody for going out and events as well as then a few totes and hobo style bags in various colors for my daily use.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: Save, Spend, Splurge: Spring Handbags

If you like to carry just one bag pretty much everywhere, make it something in a light neutral that goes with most everything in your closet.

Shop spring/summer handbags:

#13. Bathing Suit + Coverup

Miraclesuit Vesuvio Printed One-Piece Swimsuit

Oh, yes, the dreaded bathing suit. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be spending a lot of time at the pool this summer, and having a well-fitting bathing suit is a must.

No one likes bathing suit shopping, but it must be done. Because I’m busty, I always look for a suit with an underwire bra built in.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: 2019 Swimsuit Guide

Shop swimsuits:

And don’t forget a coverup! I usually throw on my jean shorts and a t-shirt and call it a day, but there are tons of cute coverups out there. I’ll be updating my post on swimsuit coverups, so stay tuned for that!

You may also want a pair of flip-flops to wear with your bathing suit, and don’t forget a beach bag!

Shop coverups:

To Sum It Up!

This list of summer wardrobe essentials isn’t exhaustive, but it should get you started. You’ll definitely want a variety of cute tops to wear with your shorts and white jeans, and adding a pair of printed shorts is a fun way to add some interest to your wardrobe. I like to have a few basic tank tops to wear on the hottest days or to layer under a jacket or blazer with pants or skirts. I always keep a few pairs of blue jeans in my closet for cooler days or evenings, and I will still wear my pastel jeans to church occasionally.

I’d love to hear what pieces you consider to be essentials, and I hope this post helps as you form a foundation for your summer wardrobe.

If you’re overwhelmed and looking for help building your summer wardrobe, I highly recommend trying out Trunk Club. It’s a personal shopping service by Nordstrom. You can read more about it HERE.

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