Building a Basic Wardrobe That Isn’t Basic

It’s autumn in the Midwest.  With falling leaves and dropping temperatures come scarves, sweaters and boots.  This weekend, I took the opportunity to pull out of storage my cold-weather staples and flip my summer wardrobe to fall.  Since I keep a capsule wardrobe my seasonal shift was as simple as putting away a few pairs of shorts and switching out tees for long-sleeved layers.

My creation of a capsule wardrobe was motivated in equal parts by my desire to save money and my love of sleep and the extra time this style affords me in the morning.  When literally everything in my closet coordinates, there’s no wasting time wondering if things go together.  Some of the world’s most successful people, from President Barack Obama to Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, have adopted a capsule wardrobe in an effort to make one less decision every day.

Here are my tips for building a basic wardrobe that isn’t basic:

  • Know what works for your body and what to wear that has you feeling your very best, whether that be powerful, put-together or pretty. I like skirts and dresses on others, but they just don’t work for me.  So as much as I love a pencil skirt in the store, I stick to pants.  And personally, ballet flats leave me feeling blah.  So along with my morning coffee (French press, please) I need at least a little heel to put a perk in my step.
  • Mix and match pieces that easily coordinate with each other. I work in a professional setting, so black and tan trousers are my go-to staples.  I like Nordstrom’s Halogen brand.  When a little more formality is needed, I can throw on a blazer.
  • For tops, I stick with neutral solid colors that can pair with either pant. The Tippi from J. Crew is a light-weight three-quarter length sleeve sweater that can be worn all year long.  This all-season piece is available online year-round and different colors are released – and go on sale – throughout the year.
  • Like pants, I keep it simple with two pairs of shoes for work – in tan and black patent. Do make sure all your shoes have the same heel height and will work with all the pants in your closet.  And don’t forget to invest in tailoring for a polished look.  Some stores even offer the service for free with purchase or for store card holders.  I’m a fan of Cole Haan 40mm wedges.  This 1.5” heel gives a little bit of height, but pants tailored to this length could still work with those old flats still lingering in your closet.
  • Buy high-quality pieces that will last years and take care of your investment. I look for pants I can wash and iron at home.  During summer months, I wear my sweaters twice between dry-cleaning and in the winter I add an extra day with Dryel.  And don’t throw away a pair of pumps because of a scuffed heal.  Adding an insole will keep the inside in good shape (and smell!) and a cobbler can keep your old shoes looking new.
  • Mix up your uniform with accessories. Skip the trendy choker and go for classic jewelry that will never go out of style.  Scarves are great for the colder months and you can rock statement necklaces throughout the year.
  • For special occasions, either keep an multi-purpose little black dress at the back or your closet or try Rent the Runway instead of buying something new for every event.
  • Don’t ever pay full price! Sign up for email notifications.  Use the Wish List feature on your favorite store app to save items you love and then check back frequently for sales.  And always use a shopping-portal – my current faves are and Ebates, which even offers cash back in a few select brick and mortar stores.
  • Keeping your closet and drawers organized and clean will help fight the urge to shop. Avoid that paralyzing feeling of not knowing what to wear by having all your options visible and easily accessible.  Your days are stressful enough, make this first decision one that sets you up for success!

Adopting a capsule wardrobe can help you be intentional about how you spend both your time and money.  Use the changing seasons as a chance to make your life better by living more with less.

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