Summer Wardrobe Essentials

I know, I know. It seems like spring just arrived in most parts of the country, but the days are getting shorter, and the weather’s getting warmer, and it’s time to start thinking about summer fashion!

Let’s discuss the wardrobe pieces you might want to have in your closet this summer season.

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.

9 summer wardrobe essentials for women over 40

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.

I tend to rely on a few basic bottoms (like white jeans, jean shorts, and crop blue jeans) and then I like to have a bunch of different stand-alone tops to rotate among them — ESPECIALLY in the summertime when layering is difficult due to the heat. Then of course there are shoes and accessories you’ll want to have to complete your summer outfits.

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

#1. White 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 shorter ones for wearing with skirts and shorts and longer ones 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.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: 2018 White T-Shirt Review & Comparison

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.

Shop white t-shirts:

#2. White Jeans

White jeans make a crisp statement and pair well with everything from neutrals to pastels to brights. I wear them all year round, but I cannot imagine my spring and summer wardrobe without them.

Spring Wardrobe Essentials: white jeans

It’s important to find a pair that fits well and the material is thick enough that you can’t see through it. Pay attention to pocket placement, and be sure you look at them from all angles before you settle on a pair.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: 2018 White Jeans Review & Comparison

You know I’ll recommend premium brands like Paige and AG, but you can certainly find decent white jeans for less. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised by this year’s version of the white Old Navy Mid-Rise Rockstar Super Skinny Jeans in Bright White.

Shop white jeans:

#3. Dress Shorts

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.

Shorts come in 3 general lengths:  short (3 — 4″ inseam), medium (5 — 7″ inseam), and long (9 — 11″) lengths.

YOU MAY ALSO LIKE: Dos and Don’ts for Shorts

I’m a huge fan of the 4″ 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 6″ Mid Shorts are a good choice. I also like the 5″ Coastal Stretch Shorts at White House Black Market.

I personally steer clear of Bermuda Shorts because they tend to age me, but they can look chic on some ladies. It all depends on your body type, your age, and your personal style aesthetic. Typically Bermuda shorts look best on taller, thinner women. A mid-length short with a 4″ or 5″ inseam tends to be universally flattering.

Shop shorts:

#4. Cropped Pants

Cropped pants in a lightweight material are a nice alternative to shorts. In fact, having both in your wardrobe is ideal. Cropped pants are very much on trend right now so they aren’t hard to find.

Summer Wardrobe Essentials: Ankle Pants

Check Ann Taylor, White House Black Market, and LOFT for lots of options. Also, 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.

Shop cropped pants:

Also, casual skirts are another nice alternative to shorts and cropped pants.

I don’t wear a ton of skirts, but they’re a great way to level up a casual t-shirt, and you can wear fashion sneakers or sandals with them, just like with shorts.

#5. Denim Shorts

Summer Wardrobe Essentials: 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, but I’ve also been on the hunt for more affordable pairs to recommend. I’ll be posting my denim shorts roundup later this week, so stay tuned for that!

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 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 skinny or straight leg jeans and go.

Shop cropped jeans:

A denim skirt is also a nice piece to have in your summer wardrobe. I rounded up some cute denim skirts at the end of THIS POST if you need some suggestions.

#6. Denim Jacket / 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.

I love to bring my denim jacket along as an optional layering piece if it gets cold indoors. 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 find that I wear them both a lot.

Cardigans are also nice to have; I still love my Splendid thermal cardigan. I wear the swan color all summer long. I’ve rounded up some other cardigan options, but be careful here. Cardigans can go frump-ville really fast.

STYLE TIP: Make sure to choose cardigans that are slenderizing and slim-fitting; you don’t want too much excess fabric because it adds visual weight.

Shop denim jackets and summer cardigans:

#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.

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. The Born Mai is another great choice, and it’s super comfortable.

If you need more support, check into Vionic sandals. They come in tons of great styles, and you can most certainly find something that is flattering and comfortable. If you can pull off a more boho look, Birkenstocks are great too. 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.

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

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

For a heeled sandals, I love Sam Edelman’s Yaro. Yes, they’re high, but with the ankle strap and the block heel, they’re actually fairly comfortable and easy to walk in, and they look good with everything from jeans to dresses. They come in a ton of gorgeous colors. For a neutral, I love the Oatmeal Suede, and I also have them in a pretty cerulean blue. If you need a lower heel, check out this Steve Madden pair.

If you want to splurge, Stuart Weitzman’s NearlyNude ankle strap sandals are absolutely gorgeous; I have the Black Nappa, and the Bambina Nappa is on my wish list.

Wedges are another great sandal option and typically have a more casual vibe. Since I wear a lot of heels, I like to have both block heel sandals and wedge sandals in my summer wardrobe.

The Treasure & Bond pair pictured above is a great value for the price point. I’ve also got my eye on this gold Michael Kors pair, and you may want to check out this Vince Camuto pair as well. I rounded up all of the above plus a bunch more options below.

Shop wedges and block heel sandals:

#9. Casual Sneakers

I find myself wearing my Converse Shoreline sneakers a lot this time of year, and I also love my Vans. Both pair well perfect with shorts, jeans, or casual dresses, and they have that cool, casual vibe that is so fun to wear this time of year.

You can channel your inner Kate Middleton and go for a pair of Superga kicks. They’re very comfortable, and I’ve heard some say they have more support than the Converse. For a budget-friendly pair, a reader wrote in and recommended this pair from Target.

If you prefer something with more support, the Adidas Superstars are nice all year ’round sneakers, and I also like the Gazelle because they’re not quite as bulky.

On the other end of the cost spectrum, Vince slip-on sneakers are hugely popular right now. They look great on, and they’re leather inside and out for the ultimate luxury sneaker. I have the backless pair in black leather, and I love them, but I wouldn’t mind having a lighter color for spring and summer…

Shop fashion sneakers:

#10. Special Occasion Dress

I don’t wear them often, but I never want to be without a versatile dress in my closet.

I like to have something I can wear to almost any event that might crop up — graduation party, wedding, dinner date, church service, etc.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: What To Wear to a Summer Wedding and What To Wear to Your Child’s Graduation

For dressier dresses, I love the Eliza J brand at Nordstrom, and I have good success at White House Black Market too.

Shop summer occasion dresses:

#11. Casual Summer Dress

Casual summer dresses are a nice 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 can be frumpy. (See #7 and #8 above.)

Maxi dresses are still in style, but a knee-length dress is generally more flattering. Don’t be afraid to show some leg! (Self tanner is your friend.)

Shop casual summer dresses:

#12. Summer Handbag

Put away your black bag and only use it when it actually goes with your outfit. This time of year, handbag trends are all about the light neutrals — white, ivory, blush, grey, and straw.

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

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.

Shop swimsuits:

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: 2018 Swimsuit Guide

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 rubber flip-flops to wear 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 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. 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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