Summer Wardrobe Essentials

Before Cyndi and I kick off our summer fashion series in a few weeks, I wanted to share my summer wardrobe essentials.

I tend to rely on a few basics (like white jeans, jean shorts, and crop blue jeans) and then a bunch of different tops to rotate among them — ESPECIALLY in the summertime when layering is difficult due to the heat. But I do think it’s helpful to have a list of wardrobe essentials for each season, so for today’s post we’re going to discuss the summer wardrobe pieces you might want to have in your closet.

9 summer wardrobe essentials for women over 40

By way of disclaimer, every woman is different so these lists of “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.

If you need work wear for a professional environment, your list may look a little different, but this is still a good starting point. These are all items that I might spend a bit more money on because they aren’t trends that will be gone next year, but I’ll give options at different price points because I realize everyone has a different budget to work with.

Summer Wardrobe Essentials

White V-Neck Tee

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 having a shorter one for wearing with skirts and shorts and a longer one for wearing with pants and jeans. These days the relaxed fit is popular, but I think your basic white tee should be more classic and fitted. 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 also try to find t-shirts without the boob pocket, lol.

I like Carly at Thirty Something Fashion’s personally designed Perfect White Tee (if in between, size up; use code Jolynne10 for 10 percent OFF your order) but they are pricier than most and they’re on the thinner side. The fit and quality is great, though. This Halogen Modal Tee (if in between, size down) is thicker than some and not as form fitting. I also like Caslon’s Slub U-Neck Tee, but it is thinner and has the boob pocket (if in between, size down.) Talbots has one people like a lot, but I haven’t tried it yet. 


White Jeans

White jeans make a crisp statement and pair well with everything from neutrals to pastels to brights. I cannot IMAGINE my spring and summer wardrobe without them. It’s important to find a pair that fits well and the material is thick enough that you can’t see through it. You know I will recommend premium brands like Paige and AG but you can certainly find decent white jeans for less.

Buy your white jeans in the style that works best for your body type. I currently prefer a skinny jean, and my favorites are the Paige Verdugo style. The DL1961 Emma is also nice. Both are verrrrry comfortable, but they are legging jeans so you have to be okay with them being pretty snug. LOFT makes a nice budget-friendly option. No matter where you shop, be sure to try them on and get a good look at your rear view to ensure a great fit. See my white jeans review for more advice on how to find the perfect white jeansSpring Wardrobe Essentials: white jeans


Dress Shorts or Cropped Pants

These aren’t for everyone, but I love having a pair of dressy shorts in my closet. Sometimes I wear them with flat sandals and sometimes with wedge sandals if I want to dress them up. I’m a huge fan of the Ann Taylor City Shorts. I love these because they are classic and can be dressed up or down. If you prefer a slightly longer length, their Mid Shorts are a good choice. I personally steer clear of Bermuda length shorts because I feel they are aging on me, but they look quite chic on some ladies. It all depends on your body type, your age, and your personal style aesthetic (and how comfortable you are baring your legs.)

The LOFT Riviera Shorts are also nice classic shorts, and they come in several different lengths, although when I tried them on this year, I didn’t love them. Try to find shorts that follow the line of the leg. If they stick out too wide, it looks awkward. Also be sure to check the rear view.

summer wardrobe essentials: dress shorts


If you aren’t comfortable in shorts, substitute a pair of cropped pants in a lightweight material. Cropped pants are very much on trend right now so they aren’t hard to find. Check Ann Taylor, White House Black Market, and LOFT for lots of options. I have this pair of these Gap Bi-Stretch skinny ankle pants, and they have a nice fit. You will want to size down, though. They stretch out as you wear them.

Summer Wardrobe Essentials: Ankle Pants


Denim Shorts

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. My favorites are a few years old. I brought my old AG rolled hem white denim shorts and my Citizens of Humanity cut-off denim shorts with me to Florida. (By the way, AG is having a Friends & Family Event. It’s 25% off sitewide, and the code is FF25. These are hands-down my favorite jeans, and this is a great time to snag a pair!)

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. I tried on this pair of cut-off denim shorts at LOFT a few weeks ago, and I liked them quite a lot.

Summer Wardrobe Essentials: Denim Shorts

If you’re not comfortable in shorts, a pair of cropped jeans is great to have. In fact, I wouldn’t want to be without those in the summer either. You don’t have to buy cropped jeans, either — you can just cuff your favorite straight leg or skinny jeans and go. I wear my DL1961 Emma jeans cuffed all the time.

Kut from the Kloth Lauren Crop Jeans


Lightweight Jacket or Cardigan

Even though it is generally hot in the summertime, it’s always good to have a basic layering piece for throwing on when you’re in a highly air conditioned space. A white blazer is a great option, or if you have a more casual style, as I do, a denim jacket is nice to have. A white denim jacket is particularly sharp, but if you wear white jeans a lot, you may prefer a blue jean jacket. I have one of each, and I find that I wear them both a lot. I have this white one by KUT from the Kloth. It it super lightweight, and it has a nice shape to it. And I still love my Splendid thermal cardigan. I wear the swan color all summer long. It’s great for cool evenings. Also consider a denim vest. It adds a layer of interest without as much warmth.


Neutral 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. Flat sandals are also a must for summer. If I had only one pair of flat sandals, it would be my Tory Burch Miller sandals in Sand Patent. They go with everything, and I find myself wanting to wear them almost every day.

For a more budget-friendly pair, Sam Edelman makes a nice flat sandal. His Gigi sandals come in a pretty almond color, and I also really like the Greta. For a similar style in a comfort shoe, check out this pair by Born. I’m also a huge fan of these Abeo sandals. I wore them walking all over Disney World for two days and my feet felt great.

summer wardrobe essentials: neutral flat sandals


For a heeled sandals, I’m currently loving these blush perforated wedges. They’re a fun variation on the more popular Marc Fisher Adalyn style (which I also like, lol!) For a closed-toe option, these Steve Madden lace-up wedges are cute.

Summer Wardrobe Essentials: Wedge Sandals

These days block heel sandals are having a moment as well, and they pretty much serve the same purpose. You can find them in all different heel heights to suit your needs. I love my Sam Edelman Yaro sandals for dressing up an outfit, but these Hinge Cora sandals are fun for a more casual vibe (and on a great sale too!)

Summer Wardrobe Essentials: Block Heel Sandals


Casual Sneakers

I find myself wearing my Converse Shoreline sneakers a lot right now. They’re perfect with shorts, jeans, or casual dresses. They have that cool, casual vibe that is so fun to wear this time of year. Adidas Allstars are cute year round as well.

Versatile Dress

I don’t wear them often, but I never want to be without a versatile dress in my closet. You want something you can wear to almost any event that might crop up — graduation party, wedding, dinner date, church service, etc. Our church is casual, but I like to wear a dress on occasion, and it’s always fun to dress up for dinner every once in a while, so I try to have a couple of summer dresses to choose from. I love the Eliza J brand at Nordstrom right now, and I have good success at White House Black Market too.

Embroidered Neck Sheath Dress ELIZA J

I lumped all styles of dresses together in this one, but you will probably want a couple — at least one casual dress that you can throw on with sneakers or flat sandals for casual wear, and a dressier one for events that might crop up. A maxi dress is fun for casual, but I prefer a knee-length dress, myself. I love this t-shirt dress from Old Navy for $19, and Athleta always has a lot of casual dresses to choose from.


Summer Handbag

This year it’s all about the light neutrals — white, ivory, blush, grey… go with whatever works with most of your wardrobe.


Bathing Suit + Cute Coverup and etc.

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 always look for a suit with an underwire bra built in. See my 2017 swimsuit guide for specific suggestions.

Shirred One Piece Swimsuit

I usually throw on my jean shorts and a t-shirt and call it a coverup, but there are tons of cute coverups out there. See my post on swimsuit coverups for specific suggestions.

You may also want rubber flip-flops to go with your bathing suit, although I usually wear my Tory Burch Miller sandals to the pool. They’re patent leather so I don’t worry about getting them wet, plus they are cuter and easier to walk in than traditional flip flops. And don’t forget a cute beach bag!

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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