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Summer Wardrobe Essentials

It’s the first day of June, which means summer is well and truly on its way, so today I’m updating my list of 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.

2021 Summer Wardrobe Essentials

Since it was cold and rainy over the weekend, and I didn’t have much going on, I took some time to go through my closet and weed out some of the pieces I’m not wearing. I tried them on to be sure they still fit, and that I still like them. Some things I put away to revisit this fall, others I put up high on my “maybe shelf” so I can see if I reach for them now that I’ve tried them on and been reminded about them, and others went straight to the donate/resale pile. I try to keep a pretty tightly edited closet, and it feels good to get things pared down again after doing so much shopping this spring.

Summer Wardrobe Essentials

Every woman is different so these “essentials” are really more like suggestions. As always, take your job, lifestyle, and budget into consideration when making your list. 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#1: white skinny jeans // aqua sweater // sandals // #2: white straight ankle jeans // white tee // tan cardigan // #3: white crop flares (more here and here) // tie dye muscle tank // sandals

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. I have several pairs in different silhouettes, and I rotate through depending on my mood and the overall look I’m going for.

#2. Jean Shorts

Summer Wardrobe Essentials: Jean Shorts#1: black denim cut-offs // floral tee // sandals // #2: cut-off denim shorts (more here) // grey tee // sandals // #3: similar cuffed Bermuda shorts // red top // sandals

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.

See my Denim Shorts Reviews for more info on specific styles this season, and if you struggle with shorts, you may like my post on Dos and Don’ts for Wearing Shorts. Don’t like shorts? Check out my post on Casual Alternatives to Shorts.

#3. White Tee

White Tees for Summer 2021#1: scoop neck tee // crop flares // sandals // #2: crew neck tee // straight ankle jeans // sandals // #3: v-neck tee // boyfriend jeans // sandals

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 scoop neck or a crewneck if that works for you.

See my White T-Shirt Reviews for more info on the roundup below.

#4. Cropped Pants

Summer Wardrobe Essentials: Crop Pants#1: straight crops // stripe tee // sandals // #2: cargo joggers // grey tee // denim jacket // sandals // #3: similar sweater // white crop pants // similar sandals

Cropped pants in a lightweight material are a nice alternative to shorts. Fortunately cropped pants are very much on trend right now so they aren’t hard to find, and they come in all different silhouettes. Just be careful with the length; you want your crop pants to end below the widest part of your calf.

#5. Skirts & Skorts

Summer Skirts#1: drawstring skirt // tank // sandals // #2: stripe skirt // tank // sneakers // #3: midi skirt // top // sandals

Casual skirts are another nice alternative to shorts, and these days anything goes — from maxi skirts to pencil skirts, from denim to woven styles. I don’t wear a ton of skirts, but they’re a great way to level up a casual t-shirt. I also included a skort in my recommendations below.

#6. Dresses & Jumpsuits

#1. stripe midi dress // sandals // #2. old jumpsuit // #3. tweed sheath // sandals

Casual summer dresses are a great alternative to shorts or cropped pants, and the nice thing about a dress is, it’s “one and done.” The same is true for a jumpsuit. And of course, it’s a good idea to have a couple of “occasion” dresses to pull from when you have a wedding, graduation, or other event to attend.

#7. Sandals

Summer Sandals#1. braided block heel slides (more here) // #2. espadrille wedge sandals // #3. studded flat slides

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. When you want a dressier summer shoe, block heel sandals are trending this spring. The best thing about this style is they’re easy to walk in and offer more stability than a stiletto or even a wedge.

See also my Shoe Trends for 2021.

#8. Denim Jacket

Denim Jackets: The Summer Outfit Completer Piece you need in your closet. #1: denim jacket // grey tee // white jeans // sandals // #2: white denim jacket // floral top // blue jeans // #3: denim jacket // black dress // sandals

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.

#9. Fashion Sneakers

Fashion Sneakers

While I mostly wear sandals in the summer months, I keep a few pairs of sneakers handy for rainy days, or those times when I want more support. My white leathers Vejas are my go-to, but I also love the P448 skate style for trendier looks, and slip-on styles are nice to have as well.

I really should get a pair of canvas sneakers; they’re lighter and more breathable for summer, but I don’t have any at the moment. And before you ask… no, I do not wear socks with my sneakers.

#10. Summer Handbag

Neutral Summer Handbagsstraw tote // leather crossbody // Tory Burch hobo

Handbag trends right now are all about the light neutrals — white, ivory, taupe, and blush are popular; and it’s also nice to have a straw tote option. 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. See my post on Handbag Trends for Spring 2021.

#11. Sunglasses

My Favorite Sunglasses #1. rag & bone sunnies // #2. Gucci sunnies // #3. Maui Jim sunnies

I’m a big fan of oversized plastic frames, as you can see, but there are lots of other styles trending right now.

#12. Bathing Suit + Coverup

Bathing Suit Sun Hat Sunglasses Reading by the LakeAthleta tankini top // old Gap shorts // sun hat (boutique purchase) // Gucci 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. Check out my 2021 Swimsuit Guide for lots of options.

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.

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!

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.

It’s a good idea to keep a list, and when you notice “holes” in your wardrobe — pieces you need to complete an outfit — add them to the list. 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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25 thoughts on “Summer Wardrobe Essentials

  1. Great list! I really like how it’s set up with the three small pics and recs below. I’m so ready for some warm weather! We had to turn the heat back on this weekend.

  2. Thank you for this post. Lot’s of great suggestions for summer basics
    I’m wondering if you could do a post on accessorizing dresses with jewelry. Including different necklines. I’m currently trying to find the right necklace/accessories to wear with a round neckline in a cobalt blue color to wear to a wedding. I find this difficult to shop online, trying to find the right length necklace. (For reference my dress is the Calvin Klein tulip sleeve sheath dress.)
    I value your fashion advice as I have added many things to my wardrobe from your posts and always get compliments!

    1. I wrote this post a couple years ago and updated it in 2019. It might be helpful: https://jolynneshane.com/how-to-style-necklaces.html

      Trends right now are geared to shorter, layered necklaces, and the minimalist look is in as well. If in doubt, I go without and focus on the earrings instead.

      I looked up your dress. Is it this one? https://shopstyle.it/l/buZWU

      With the high neckline and the pretty tulip sleeve, I would be tempted to leave the necklace off and wear a larger statement earring. If you are larger chested, I would definitely go that route. If you’re smaller chested, a pretty layered necklace could look pretty.

      Something like this, in gold or silver: https://shopstyle.it/l/buZVA

      Or you could bring in some color, something like this? Maybe the aqua with the navy? https://shopstyle.it/l/buZW4

      1. Thank you so much for your quick response! Yes this is my dress but in cobalt blue. I am smaller chested so I may go for the layered look. But I also like the idea of more of a statement earrings and no necklace !!
        Plan to shop tomorrow!!
        I appreciate your help!

      2. If someone is larger chested and the neckline is high and round, often it is a good idea to use the necklace to distract from the large amount of plain fabric and break it up with a necklace. I like pendants that land halfway between the neckline and the horizontal line defined by the bust points.

  3. Great review. I just went through my closet this weekend, too. My summer essentials are the same. The only exception is that I love a pair of long, lightweight, flowy pants for evening dinners out– casual or dressy. Because the air conditioning is often turned up so high in restaurants, I like to wear long pants and a sleeveless shirt rather than going with a sweater, wrap or jacket. Happy Tuesday, that definitely feels like a Monday!

    1. Yes, those are always nice to have. They don’t work great for my body type so I never have them in my closet, but definitely can be an important staple for many women.

  4. I always like these, because it helps me to think about what I have and what I need (okay, usually what I want). I think I am mostly good. I finally broke down and got the Paige utility crops. I love them. I have about 3 pair of Paige jeans, and they fit well just like these did. I am starting to see that when something you like seems pricey, it usually is because it’s a better quality and fit and I should just buy it. I have probably purchased 3 cheaper green utility joggers/crops and none of them really worked out. The Paige crops are perfect, and I would have been better off just buying them first!

  5. How often do you get new white tee shirts? Yearly? And how do you wash them to keep them white? A little bleach? Is it just me with the yellowing tees? 🙄. Love your blog! Thanks, Tina

    1. My white T-shirts yellow also. I treat them before I wash them with liquid laundry soap. You can even use dish soap, as long as it doesn’t have any colour. I just use Kirkland brand unscented liquid laundry soap and rub a little into the yellowed areas, such as under the arms and launder as usual. If it’s really bad or it’s a larger area that has yellowed, I soak it first in cool water with the laundry soap and then launder. I have a white Lole shirt that is probably ten years old and I’ve managed to get it white enough to continue wearing it.

      Jo-Lynne, thank you for your kindness and generosity. You put so much time and effort into responding and helping your readers…even taking the time to search for the dress Sally mentioned. Wow! When my son got married a couple years ago, you gave me great advice about the dress I’d chosen for rehearsal. I also appreciate you mentioning your Canadian readers. Sometimes we can feel a little on the outside looking in living north of our American friends. It was so nice of you to include us. God bless you. 💌

    1. We’re going to do it a little differently this year. Cyndi and I will be joined by a different guest blogger each Monday in June, for a 4-part summer style series. It starts next week!

  6. Thanks for this great list. Do you think it is OK to wear white jeans with gently ripped knees (no gaping holes) and a raw hem or should I buy new ones to stay more current?

  7. I have a post idea for you. What about flip flops? I just lost one of my black flip flops…..well, I think the neighbor dog took it off my deck lol….they were Nike brand and I want to find another pair for casual for when I don’t want to wear my good sandals. I don’t really like the rubber Old Navy style ones, but something comfortable, casual and can even be okay if got wet when I’m watering, at the beach etc. What do you wear to the beach or by your poolside? Thanks

  8. These are great suggestions and I’ve updated my shopping list. Could you please let me know how can I locate on your website the post where you describe the item in more detail. For example, I would like to read more of your details on the “cropped white pants with the hot pink top”

  9. Hi there… I find your posts to be very, very helpful.

    Quick question about high rise jeans: where should the waistband sit when wearing high rise jeans?

    Should it be right at the belly button? Or should it be an inch or two above the bellybutton? Or should I try to are use the bottom of the rib cage as a landmark? I’m currently struggling with this

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