Summer Wardrobe Essentials

As we near the end of May, I’m updating my list of summer wardrobe essentials in preparation for 22 Days of Summer Fashion, which starts on Monday!

2020 Summer Wardrobe Essentials

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.

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

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

Summer Wardrobe Essentials: White Jeans

wearing: Madewell jeans with Sam Edelman slides (50% off)

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 skinny crops pictured above. They’re moderately priced, and they fit great. Best of all, they aren’t see-through, and they don’t bag out with wear. I also love these Levi’s straight crops for more casual days.

Shop white jeans:

#2. Jean Shorts

Summer Wardrobe Essentials: Jean Shorts

wearing: Joe’s Jeans 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.

Be sure to take into consideration your body type and style aesthetic, and choose a pair that you will love to wear over and over. If you struggle with shorts, you may like my post on dos and don’ts for wearing shorts. And if you don’t like shorts, check out my post on alternatives to shorts!

Shop denim shorts:

#3. White Tee

Summer Wardrobe Essentials: White T-Shirt

wearing: Boden tee with Rag  & Bone jeans (50% off)

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.

I did a huge white t-shirt review a few months ago, so check that out if you want more details on the ones I rounded up below.

Shop white t-shirts:

#4. Cropped Pants

Summer Wardrobe Essentials: Cropped Pants

wearing: Paige joggers with TB sandals, VC jean jacket (40% off) & Bodyn tee

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. Skirts & Skorts

Summer Wardrobe Essentials: Skirts & Shorts

wearing: Talbots skort with Everlane tee & Veja sneakers

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. Dresses & Rompers

Summer Wardrobe Essentials: Dresses & Rompers

wearing: Boden dress (similar here and here) with Stuart Weitzman wedges

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.” Same is true for a romper, although I do find those tricky to wear after a certain age.

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

Boden and Old Navy have a lot of nice options. 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 summer dresses and jumpsuits:

#7. Denim Jacket

Summer Wardrobe Essentials: 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:

#8. Lightweight Cardigan

Summer Wardrobe Essentials: Lightweight Cardigan

wearing: Athleta cardigan with Lululemon joggers and P448 sneaks

A cardigan is a nice alternative to a denim jacket in certain situations, and I like to wear one 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:

#9. Neutral Flat Sandals

Summer Wardrobe Essentials: Flat Sandals

wearing: Nine West sandals (similar here)

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. I always gravitate to nude tons that blend in with my skin color, but I also like to have metallics and white and black.

As far as trending styles, slides are having a moment, but they’re not as easy to walk in as a thong or an ankle strap style, so take your personal needs into account. Happily, sport sandals are also trending, and they offer a good bit of support. I like to have some of each.

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:

#10. Neutral Wedge or Block Heel Sandals

Summer Wardrobe Essentials: Wedges and Block Heel Sandals

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:

#11. Fashion Sneakers

Summer Wardrobe Essentials: Fashion Sneakers

I’ve been wearing fashion sneakers a lot more over the past few months than I ever have in my life, and I’m finally on the bandwagon. They’re so practical and comfortable, and they give almost any outfit a casual cool-girl vibe.

See my Fashion Sneaker Review.

My white leathers Vejas are my go-to, but I also love the P448 skate style for trendier looks, and the Tory Burch court sneakers are a more elevated style that works well with more classic looks.

I also like the convenience of a slip-on, and I wear my Vince snake print sneakers all year ’round. I recently ordered these Sorel nubuck slip-ons in the taupe for a lighter summer shoe. (Bonus, they’re waterproof!)

And before you ask… no, I do not wear socks with my sneakers.

Shop fashion sneakers:

#12. Summer Handbag

Summer Wardrobe Essentials: Versatile Handbag

wearing: TB hobo with Rag & Bone jeans and Veja sneakers

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.

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

Summer Wardrobe Essentials: Swimsuit & Coverup

wearing: Prima Donna tankini top and bikini bottoms with sarong coverup and Maui Jim sunnies

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. I’m planning to update my Swimsuit Guide later this week.

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.

Shop coverups:

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

BP. Bow Band Floppy Straw Hat

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, and I always keep a few pairs of blue jeans in my closet for cooler days or evenings.

When you notice “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.

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.

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Join the Conversation

12 thoughts on “Summer Wardrobe Essentials

  1. How do the J. Crew Saturday sneakers run size-wise? Most of the reviews say they run big. Do you agree?

  2. This is a great reference for us!  I am going to check out the W&W denim shorts since I love their jeans.  I am curious if your feet get hot in sneakers without socks because mine sure do sweat.  Putting baby powder or Gold Bond powder in my sneakers is a must, but even then I still can’t wear them for an extended period of time.  I hope the weather is decent up there.  This is a cooler and pretty rainy day for us, as tomorrow will be also, but it’s better than the really high humidity and 90’s, so we’re happy.  

  3. I have everything on the list and multiple of most. What excuse do I have to go shopping now?  

  4. Fun post!  I’m so ready to be able to wear my summer clothes. I just realized from your pictures, I could cut off a pair of my denim shorts and, rather than having to roll them up a couple of times.  I prefer a bermuda, but they are just a little too long most of the time.  You’ve inspired me to cut off my jeans.  Now, I’ll try it with shorts.  😊

  5. Great list. I believe I have it all.  I just want new items and get them in a store.  🙂  One of our big malls opened up but the news said only a few stores were open in it so people were disappointed after showing up thinking all stores inside would be open. This morning was hard to wake up to yet another covid day with some things opening, but you really don’t feel you can still go out because of the risk etc.  Have to wait until June 11th for my hair.  Too long, so hoping for a cancelation.  I think everyone will feel much better after a cut and color.  🙂 LOL  Today is suppose to be our last day of cloudy and gloomy and then going to be in the 80’s for a few days.  Looking forward to your Summer series to come.  Have a good week.  

  6. PS. I have a request for casual summer dresses to replace shorts. Not too bright and not all with print. 

  7. Such a great list of what we need for Summer!  I want to order the Marc Fisher sandal.  I wear both 7 1/2 and 8s.  Does it run big or wide?  I have a somewhat narrow foot.  Thank you!!

  8. Perfect list! Couldn’t agree more with these staple items. I now have serious hat envy! Just found 50% off Joules on so will be seeing what staples I can find on there. They also have hundereds of other fashion vouchers (Boden vouchers and sales too!). 

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