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How to Build a Wardrobe: Part 1

August 20, 2012

Many people have asked me recently about what essential items they should have in their wardrobes. Friends who want a refresher, family members who have returned to their pre-pregnancy weight, and people who are in various life transitions have been feeling a bit overwhelmed and they’ve asked for advice. Does any of this sound like you? If so, please read on!

I should preface this post with a few things. First, I have suggested items that are classic, traditional and that can serve as foundational pieces. Second, I have mentioned brands that generally work for me. I’m loyal to most of the brands that I have suggested in this post because they consistently fit me well and are high quality items. Third, this post reflects the beginning of a casual wardrobe. Stay tuned for more work-appropriate guidelines in the future. Fourth, while you will notice that a lot of the foundational pieces of a wardrobe are neutral colours (e.g., white, black, grey), you must not neglect colour. I think one of the easiest things to do as you’re putting together a new wardrobe, is to work around a colour theme. What are you most attracted to and what works best for your skin tone and colouring? Personally, I am drawn to red accents but for this post I’ve opted for a pink theme. Finally, in building a wardrobe it’s important to figure out what kind of style you’re most attracted to. I usually recommend gathering pictures of outfits that you find interesting and then try to replicate the looks. I am drawn to the styles of Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Middleton so I look to them for inspiration. So, with that, let’s get started!

In building a wardrobe from scratch, I like to begin with undergarments. Many fashionistas stress the importance of a good foundation and I definitely agree. For everyday basics I prefer the Calvin Klein underwear collection. Stick to neutrals which will serve you for any outfit and then add in some patterned and coloured pieces.

T-shirts are a staple in every good wardrobe. Depending on the fabric and cut, they can be dressed up or down. It’s true! Begin with neutral colours as they are the most versatile. Then, add some patterns and colour. A well-fitting classic black and white striped tee will make you look polished even on your most “I feel frumpy” days. Like other pieces in your wardrobe, opt for the highest quality product you can afford (and that you’re willing to spend money on). I usually buy my tees from The Gap or Banana Republic. They fit me well and they feel good. I use them quite a bit so my collection needs a yearly refresher. I have crew neck, scoop neck, and v-neck tees. Choose the neckline that works best for your body and go from there.

An essential element in your classic casual wardrobe are jeans. Of course! Jeans can be dressed up though so again, pay attention to style and fit. Ask an honest friend or trust a salesperson in a denim store to help you find the perfect pair. For a few years now I have recommended a skinny leg but if you’re not comfortable with this (or it doesn’t suit your body shape), then a straight-leg is pretty much a no-fail solution. And don’t limit yourself to only one pair of denim. Again, begin with the classics – blue and black. And then build – add coloured or patterned denim (super on trend right now) or a light grey wash. You’ll notice that the tees and denim options can be easily mixed and matched. Everything works well together. I’ve recently rediscovered Levi’s and I think this might be my new go-to brand. I also like Seven for All Mankind.

While I am trying to recommend pieces for a classic casual wardrobe, it is important that you have at least one fabulous dress in your closet ready to go. A well-fitting LBD (little black dress) will take you from a parent-teacher meeting to dinner with your husband. Opt for cap sleeves as this will make your dress more versatile. You can then add a blazer or cardigan if you need to wear it to work. A patterned wrap dress such as the DVF I’ve featured here will likely turn into your new best friend. A well-made wrap dress with a striking pattern will make you look and feel your best. Paired with flats, you can wear it to lunch with friends, add heels and you’re ready to attend a wedding. I love dresses because you don’t need to worry about matching them with anything. One piece of clothing – how easy is that? I do think, however, that a classic black pencil skirt is another essential element in one’s wardrobe. The A-line style is more forgiving if you’re not sure about the slim lines of a pencil skirt. Again, buy clothes that fit your body the best and that you feel confident in. Okay – so once you’ve got your LBD and LBS (little black skirt), you can add additional pieces if necessary. If you stick to your colour theme then you’ll have pieces that can easily be matched. Brands that I’m drawn to for dresses and skirts include Femme de Carriere and Club Monaco. I also have a few Theory and BCBG skirts that have also served me well.

A few additional pieces can be added to your wardrobe to increase the versatility of all the pieces I’ve mentioned above. A classic blazer, white shirt, and chambray shirt can increase the level of sophistication and formality to the pieces above. Accessories such as skinny and wide black belts will work with your pants, dresses and skirts. I have way too many white shirts in my closet but I wear them almost every day. Mine are from brands such as J.Crew, Eddie Bauer, Ralph Lauren and Talbots. I have black leather belts from J.Crew and Club Monaco. My watch – extremely similar to the one pictured below – is from the men’s collection at Fossil. (Side note: I can’t say enough good things about Fossil – I’ve been loyal to the company for at least 10 years).

Discussing coat options is a bit tricky because your requirements will depend on where you live. A simple denim jacket and a well-made tan trench coat will take you through many seasons.

While I think all aspects of building a wardrobe is fun – I really love shopping for accessories. Jewelry, shoes, and bags can completely transform an outfit. You know all that talk about day-to-night transformations? Well, it can easily be done with the right accessories. It’s easy to get carried away (at least for me it is) so, again, I recommend starting with classic pieces – think pearls and gold – and then add in complimentary pieces – think chunky and colourful (and less expensive than gold!). If you invest in high-quality (and real) items, they will last you forever.

Shoes. Ah. Shoes. Many of us already own way too many shoes, right? But, really, if you invest in a few pairs of classics, they will serve you well. Leather shoes should be your priority as they’ll fit your foot best and they’ll last if you take care of them. My go to shoe brand is Nine West although I count Ralph Lauren and Cole Haan as favourites as well. Five pairs of footwear will work well in your new wardrobe: black ballet flats, black heels, nude heels, cute sneakers, and black knee boots.

I feel the same way about bags as I do about jewelry and shoes. Invest in quality. A well-made black bag in a classic shape with limited hardware will last you for a long while. Start there. Then, spice things up with a colour that you love. Here, I opted for a pink Longchamp. It would look great with a white tee and grey denim. I’ve also added a cross-body bag that will free up your hands while you’re grocery shopping and a black leather clutch for evening. Finally, don’t forget about your wallet! Go for something that is well made and suits your lifestyle. Brands I love in this category include Longchamp, Gucci and Burberry (high-end, I know, but, in my opinion, worth it!).

Okay – so there you have part one of building a wardrobe. What do you think? Again, I haven’t really touched on work wear or evening wear so stay tuned for part two! If you have specific needs that you would like me to address, please leave a comment. Happy shopping!

Images via Polyvore.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Vanessa permalink
    August 20, 2012 7:24 pm

    Love this post and you always wear the classics so well!! And you’ve always had great dresses!!!

  2. August 23, 2012 1:21 pm

    Jordana this is an outstanding post- thank you for your work thinking about how to build a wardrobe and assembling perfect examples that cross the price spectrum. I love that you start with the real foundational pieces- underwear and bra! People often forget that these pieces are so critical to fit of garments and make getting dressed (and undressing) exciting-!

    I love that you worked pink into the looks as the accent colour- so lovely and an easy way to introduce colour to an otherwise formal base. I also think it makes sense for gals and guys who only have one or two colours that they really love- no shame in focusing on it and its tones instead of taking risks into new colour territory.

    One item that I’ve loved the past few years is the soft blazer – deconstructed and so much more comfortable for everyday wear. I like that it still retains the formality of a blazer’s lines while having the cozy feeling of a cardi.

    I love reading your reasoning on all these pieces and I completely agree with you on all points! This is an essential guide as you say, for the wardrobe refresh or the newbie. Love it!
    -Johanne

  3. Shannon Y. permalink
    August 28, 2012 9:57 am

    Great post, Jordana! I think it’s fantastic! I also love the pop of pink! Here are a few of my “go-to” items:
    Undergarments: CK bras for sure but prefer Joe Fresh undies. I don’t know who CK is kidding, but he could stand to make his undies a little bit bigger.
    Tees: GAP
    Jeans: Straight leg = Silver (great fit and have been wearing Silver since high school); Sevens; GAP super skinny.
    Dresses/skirts: Love the pencil skirts from Jacob; CK dresses are fabulous and just fit my body so well (stick with what you know and what fits). I’ve also found some gems at H&M, Target, GAP.
    Shirts: Jacob cuts a good shirt; am on the search for that perfect blazer.
    Accessories/Jewelry: Just invested in a hunter green blinged out Fossil watch (Florida deals) and I am a huge advocate for scarves! They’re the perfect accessory to punch up an outfit and can be worn all year round (and you don’t have to worry about the size)! :)
    Like most girls, I love jewelry! Cheap, expensive – I love it all! I’m a fan of classic pearls and I’m currently in love with the Stella & Dot flower earrings (pictured above – gift from Mom).
    Shoes: Nine West, Cole Haan, Naturalizer (they have great flats and I have a great pair of black suede boots from there that are so comfy). I also have 2 pairs of Jessica Simpson shoes (black wedges and recently acquired nude pumps) and they are a work-appropriate height and extremely comfortable! Also, on my wish list is brown riding boots.
    Bags: Kate Spade (I’m yet to own a real one, but love her designs and colours) I tend to spend less money on bags, but Jordana does make excellent points re: quality and style!
    Can’t wait to see the work wardrobe post! :)

  4. Christine permalink
    December 21, 2012 1:41 pm

    Jordana – this is a great post. I actually went and searched for it to read it again. I’m definitely in need of a complete wardrobe revamp 10 months post baby and looking at going back to work. I’d be very interested in reading “Part 2” … could be a good post for those looking for a change in the new year, eh? ;)

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