Is there really an essential wardrobe for every woman?

If you subscribe to fashion listings or read fashion magazines or follow fashion on twitter, you may feel saturated by claims of “X essential pieces for women,” “the X basic pieces ALL women SHOULD have,” and its different variations. Needless to say, these proposals touch a very deep cord, as our wellbeing is related to how we look and how much and what kind of energy (joy or stress!) it takes us to decide what to wear and what we need to feel and look good.

“What and how many are the essential pieces every woman needs in her wardrobe?” A response to this question is undoubtedly attractive, as it carries the promise of saving time, mental energy and space in our cluttered closets. And this is why we want to believe in the enchanted carriage that will bring the pieces we need to deliver us from the misery of not knowing what to wear. Three decades ago, Donna Karan’s 7 basic pieces hit the sweet spot, and her pioneering idea has been followed up by other designers and fashionistas (and even opinionators) who claim to know how many and which pieces are essential to take us from day to night and from activity to activity during the whole week.

But when you look at these proposals, don’t you feel they are not quite—or not at all—for you? Ding Dong! The midnight bells break the spell of a minimal, essential, stylish and versatile wardrobe that is adequate for every woman, when we realize that the proposed pieces do not correspond with our lifestyle, body, preferences, budget and personality. (I may have pushed the Cinderella image a bit too far …)

I don’t know about you, but I distrust sweeping and homogenizing generalizations (without qualifications). It’s not so much that they are not quite right for me in particular,  but that these generalizations deny the variety of women’s lives—the thin fashion standard for which many of the clothes are conceived, the color palette, and so on and so forth.) And I am not even talking about how pretentious they sometimes are. So, in the best cases, we disregard them and don’t care; in the worst (and unfortunately very common) cases, we feel badly, a sense of inadequacy, of not fitting in (pun super-intended).

So what should we consider when thinking about essential pieces?

Truth Nº 1: There is no universal essential wardrobe because every woman is different.

The essential wardrobe is an ideal, and it assumes a particular type of woman that does not encompass the diversity of women's lifestyles, occupations, preferences, cultures, body types and personalities (and I am not even talking about geography!). The most important thing is that each piece is a good fit for you, for your lifestyle and for your body. Paraphrasing Iris Apfel, when you look at the mirror, you should see yourself. (“The greatest fashion faux pas is looking at the mirror and seeing someone else”). If you work in the corporate world, you will likely need a white or off-white button-up shirt or blouse, shell top, formal pants, jacket, cardigan sweater, all in a palette of “conservative” solid colors (navy, tan, gray, black, and note that I said likely). But if you are a yoga teacher, or a homemaker, or writer, or chef, or stylist, these pieces won’t be essential to you (if they are of any use at all). Moreover, the designs, cuts and colors of proposed pieces may not be the most flattering for your body shape, skin undertones, and physical comfort.

Truth N-2: It is possible to think about “partial” desirable wardrobes that are adequate for similar lifestyles. (I know, I am full of qualifiers today.)

What kind of work do you do and what kind of activities do you have during the week? This is the question you should ask yourself, and respond honestly. (I know, I said this in an earlier post.) A wardrobe is personal and intimate, it has to be adequate for your lifestyle, your budget, your preferences, your personality and your physical wellbeing – there should be, in every sense (no qualifier here), a good fit. We can think of groups of basic pieces that would accommodate the variety of existing activities and lifestyles, and that would leave enough room for pieces expressing our preferences, personal style and personality. We will talk about basic pieces for women working in offices, for those working at home, for those working outdoors, for those having many social events, and so forth. Your “homework” is asking yourself which activities you do most so that you can focus on the wardrobe  that is functionally and uniquely yours. (And if this feels too overwhelming, you can ask a friend or an expert for help,)

Having proclaimed these two truths (I am just making fun of myself given my distrust for oversweeping generalizations), I must confess that there are two items that I find essential for every woman. (Okay, maybe almost essential for almost every woman)

The two essential items for every woman are a pair of closed toe medium heel shoes and a scarf or foulard.

Whatever your body type and whatever your activities, a pair of closed toe medium heel shoes (1 to 2 inches) and a scarf or foulard are essential for every woman. (Okay, not including those women who live in geo-cultural contexts where no shoes or very specific shoes are needed.) Closed toe medium heel shoes provide good support and grounding, for both standing and walking. (Think about moving from one room to another on floors of different qualities, think about running after kids, picking them up and putting them in the car; think about a cocktail party; think about walking from work to an evening outing in a hurry.) We can wear them with casual outfits as well as with more formal or elegant ones.

This may not be your color, but I love them. Still, this is the idea.

This may not be your color, but I love them. Still, this is the idea.

And the scarf or foulard brings something playful with style and color while allowing us to cover what we want to cover and show what we want to show. And it keeps us warm, or protects us from the sun, and it cuddles us when we need it!

And this is colorful "within reason." I love it. Read my blog about them.

And this is colorful "within reason." I love it. Read my blog about them.

The choice of colors for shoes and scarves will depend on our undertone skin color, the rest of our wardrobe, and our personality.

And this is the greatest thing about shoes and scarves: whether colorful and daring or black and classic, the right shoes and scarf add the touch of style to any outfit. They ground you and caress you in your own style.

If you have thoughts about the topic of this post, I would love to hear them! Please leave comments below. It is a great way to build collective knowledge.

Till next time,

Keep styled!