12 wardrobe pieces every woman should own

If you have a wardrobe full of clothes and accessories and yet nothing to wear, it could be time to take a more radical approach and pare back to a sleekly edited minimum. The idea of the capsule wardrobe, a small selection of pieces that all fit and all co-ordinate, is an increasingly attractive proposition, especially for those who are short on cupboard space and short on time. Imagine the energy saved if your wardrobe was edited down to just a dozen or so gorgeous pieces, and you knew everything you reached for looked great.

A well-edited wardrobe makes life much simpler, when you know that everything you reach for looks good and feels comfortable.Credit:Stocksy

I first saw this in action many years ago, when a fashion editor friend was moving to New York and decided to clear out her very extensive wardrobe. She donated a huge pile to charity, sold the rest at the markets and was left with a neat edit of about 15 favourite items, albeit they were all black. Hers was the perfect capsule wardrobe: a chic black dress, tailored pants, classic wool coat, blazer, cashmere sweater, cardigan, flat boots, high-heeled pumps, silk shirt, T-shirt, handbag and evening bag. There may have been a pair of jeans. One pair of sandals. That was it. It could all fit in one suitcase.

It’s a liberating thought, to be that concise and that mobile. I often walk past those little elf houses in Ikea, where they optimistically demonstrate how to live comfortably in 10 square metres, and I marvel at the one skinny cupboard in which they suggest a human could store their fashion items.

Who are these natty Nordic people, who apparently own one pair of pants, some sneakers and a down jacket? Where would they put the expensive knee-high boots, bought 12 years ago but rarely worn? The leopard cocktail coat? The Fijian basket? The six swimsuits, four denim jackets, 10 pairs of faded track pants?

A recent European study found that people do not wear at least 50 per cent of the clothes in their wardrobe, so halving what you have is a great place to start if you’re keen to downsize. Keep the core basics – the pieces that fit you well and that you wear time and time again. You will free up space and then be able to add a trend-driven piece or two each season. You’ll feel lighter and be significantly better dressed.

Editing does takes courage and letting some things go can be emotionally difficult, so if tossing out huge amounts of clothing all at once is too daunting, try the “remove five things a day” technique.

After a massive clean-up, I reduced my wardrobe by about half and can now, by glancing at my clothes, tell you who I am: a woman who likes colourful silk blouses, white or blue cotton man-style shirts, black pants, jeans, expensive overcoats and black cashmere sweaters. I probably don’t need to move far from that; maybe the occasional new dress for a wedding or a tropical holiday. I have made a lot of expensive mistakes along the way, but I think I have a formula now. I also seem to be amassing brown leather artisanal sandals and traditional Kashmir shawls.

Editing does takes courage and letting some things go can be emotionally difficult, so if tossing out huge amounts of clothing all at once is too daunting, try the “remove five things a day” technique. And not just from your wardrobe, but the whole house. You will be amazed how quickly you realise you can do with less, and everything you keep somehow looks much more appealing.

What is the point of having lots of things you seldom wear? A well-edited wardrobe makes life much simpler, when you know that everything you reach for looks good and feels comfortable. Fashion stylists and designers often talk about wardrobe foundations – the key pieces that every woman needs to cover every occasion.

When I see a list in a magazine or on social media, I always have a quick skim to see if there’s a new addition I might have missed, like a quilted orange cape, or silver platform rainboots. But, no, the classics seem to have pretty much remained the classics, so it’s worth doing a rundown of the top 12 so we know we are on the right path.

1. A tailored blazer

In black, navy or a neutral, such as sand or khaki, a smart blazer will pull any outfit together and can even be worn over workout gear. Current styles are a little bit oversized and boxy, for ease of movement. I am currently eyeing one in teal blue velvet for some added drama.

2. Jeans

High waisted seems to be a defining trend now, either straight legged or loose fit. Warning: high waist and loose fit is heading into mom jeans, so probably better left to the young. High waisted and straight is a great look with a heel and jacket at any age.

3. A white shirt

You can’t have too many. Oversized man’s style is a good option. Looks great over jeans or black leggings.

4. Leggings

Ah, the legging. They are such a modern, comfortable, versatile option, at any age. Wear them with a big white shirt, or with a T-shirt and a longer line blazer.

5. A trench coat

A neat khaki trench coat is a no-brainer – French-inspired cool with a utilitarian edge. And pockets!

6. A soft knit

A roomy black, grey or camel sweater is always appropriate, night and day. The short-sleeve sweater is also a great cross-seasonal piece – very chic, and great over a long-sleeved shirt.

7. A suit

A well-cut suit is another timeless solution piece. Black is the obvious option and will double as a tuxedo for formal events if you add jewels and heels. White is also a gorgeous choice if you can bear the dry-cleaning. The jacket and pants can also be worn separately, of course, for more outfit options; a cream jacket with jeans is a smart look for lunch or a dinner date.

8. A dress

Choose any style that suits your figure. It might be a silky slip dress (wear a sweater, cardigan or trench with it), A-line, a sack dress with puffy sleeves, a sheath, a button-through shirtwaister, or a tunic. I bought a new one this week – mid-length and with long, voluminous sleeves, edged with a band of striking yellow fluoro trim to add interest. And with, joy of joy, pockets.

9. A black T-shirt

A silky black T-shirt will work with everything. A key wardrobe essential.

10. A mid-length skirt

Current styles are wrapped and A-line, but again, go with the cut that suits your body shape. I am currently mad about bias-cut slip skirts with elastic waists – I have them in metallic silver, navy silk and pink sequins. I love them worn casually with a cotton shirt and sneakers.

11.A hoodie

This is a newish foundation piece, but loungewear and sportswear feel like they are here to stay. Make it cashmere for the ultimate in casual luxe.

12. An oversized comfy cardigan

Chunky, ribbed or textured, the grandpa cardigan is key to easy weekend style.

There are your basic perfect 12. Then again, I don’t wish to be too militant; there is room to be playful. This might be the moment to throw in some insanity. I need to discuss my new lime-green patio pants.

Edited extract from Why Did I Buy That? (Murdoch Books) by Kirstie Clements, out now.

This article appears in Sunday Life magazine within the Sun-Herald and the Sunday Age on sale October 31. To read more from Sunday Life, visit The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

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