Getting Back To Basics…

Wardrobe basics are the key to stress-free style. Here's a sleek and simple outfit with black jeans and tee, light orchid cardigan, leopard print bag and white boots. Details at une femme d'un certain age.

January always feels like a good time to re-connect with what supports and sustains us. We may make adjustments to our diet and exercise routines, make lunch dates with friends now that the holiday rush is over, or start a meditation or journaling practice. In addition to those, I find it’s a good time to assess and refine my wardrobe.

Earrings | Bracelet | Boots | Tee | Jeans | Sweater-Coat | Bag

The Key To Stress-Free Style

There’s an oft-cited figure which says that most of us wear 20% of our clothing 80% of the time. That may or may not apply to you, but if we don’t shop with wardrobe cohesion in mind, it can be easy to collect a lot of random items that pile up in our closets. I find that too many choices can feel overwhelming and stress-inducing.

While experimenting with style and creating new combinations can be fun, getting dressed shouldn’t be an ordeal. Our wardrobes should serve us, rather than the other way around.

It certainly helps to de-clutter, but it’s also important to focus on a versatile, cohesive foundation. With the right basics in our wardrobes, we can kiss those “nothing to wear” days goodbye. A good stable of “workhorses”, plus accessories and a few accent pieces (“Show Ponies”) can cover just about any activity or occasion short of a Black-Tie or Mother-of-the-Bride situation.

Your wardrobe basics will depend on your lifestyle and style preferences. They’re the pieces you find easiest to style and reach for most often. Here some examples of mine, and I’ll cover the What and Why in greater detail over the next few weeks.

Simple, Sustainable Style

One of the pitfalls of being a style blogger is feeling a certain degree of pressure to always have new and unique outfits to post. It’s led me at times to wear things that really don’t feel like a true expression of my style, and to purchase much more than I otherwise would. I’ve begun to feel a bit of burnout. That’s always a sign that I need to re-connect with what feels authentic and organic.

I’ve also been thinking a lot lately about the environmental impact of the fashion industry. That coupled with a fresh year’s desire to “simplify, simplify, simplify,” has motivated me to re-focus on wardrobe fundamentals and sustainable style. I’ll be sharing more outfits with an emphasis on re-mixing my wardrobe basics, using accessories and accent pieces for variety. This is how I get dressed most days, and how I get the most out of my wardrobe.

Some of you may find this approach to style boring, and that’s OK. À chacun à son goût, and all that. I’m hoping it will be helpful to those who are trying to keep their closets manageable, while still having versatile, comfortable and stylish options for everyday life and travel.

What are the wardrobe basics you rely on most?

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  1. Thank you, this is so timely. I don’t have much disposable income to play with for clothing purchases, so I try to buy thoughtfully and stick to the classics. Now I’m a furloughed federal employee, so I won’t make any purchases and will be looking to get maximum impact from my existing wardrobe. I always look to you for inspiration, Susan, and you’ve led me to some wonderful (low-priced) pieces. Thank you for keeping a wide variety of price points in mind.

  2. “Some of you may find this approach to style boring…” I must admit it isn’t very exciting but so necessary. It’s the blank canvas we all need to which we can add fun pieces, if we choose to do so. We need basic pieces that are a good quality, fit properly and are the right style for our body type, etc. I find this the most difficult part of planning my wardrobe and your advice (along with the links to see actual pieces) has been so helpful. Thanks so much.

  3. Fashion is fun and exciting and can also be overwhelming and exhausting. My jobs require basic black, white and conservative pieces. And more often than not, I am finding I reach for basics when I’m not at work. It’s a culture of dressing down it seems.
    Still, I am forever browsing blogs and fashion sites. And as I am getting older it seems like trendy looks more immature than cool. I am looking for simplicity in separates with maybe attention in the details, better quality fabrics and fit becomes paramount. Yes, I still have those make me happy pieces in my closet that I never wear but can’t get rid of.
    I enjoy your viewpoint and get inspiration from your choices. A little change is good for the fashion soul. It can lift us up, bring us confidence and put some spice into our step.

  4. I had a plethora of clothes, all miss matched and whim purchased. I actually had t shirts with the tags still on them……..alot of shark frenzy buying when I found a sale with my trendy daughters and thought I would love it too……( I am 67!!) Oh no, I bagged it all up. I went to my meager pile of clothes remaining and realized that on a daily basis I was only wearing 8 pieces or so…..all the time!! There was my go to pile of useable clothes I really enjoyed and felt good in. Then, I found a color palette (thanks to you!) and now that is all I will wear. The basic pieces I upgrade for special events, but it is all a similar color and profile! Now everything matches, or looks good together.
    So many thanks to you, as you helped me see this. I actually think I look 100 percent better, pulled together, and I am not bored or worse yet, uncomfortable trying to be something I am no longer

  5. Shopping our wardrobe is the way the overwhelming majority of us get dressed everyday so I look forward to seeing your remixes.

    My wardrobe focus this year will be updating for fit as my weight loss slows, preferably with alterations; otherwise I will be shopping only for quality replacements for a few pieces. I had to completely replace my wardrobe last year which I found to be a stressful and frustrating endeavor. Trying to put together a cool weather wardrobe while competing with Christmas shoppers was most unpleasant!!! It was truly an all consuming project and this year I’m looking forward to enjoying what I have.

    Kudos to you for recognizing and taking action to regain your authenticity amidst the pressure to constantly entertain your readers with something new. Fashion is constantly sprinting forward to show us the latest and greatest, but style is a marathon that lasts a lifetime.

  6. Yes!! What a timely post! I’m not even a blogger, and I’ve been feeling burnt out on fashion recently. In this 24/7 society of ours, too much of even a good thing like fashion is just too much. Thanks for bringing the focus back to balance, quality and updated classics.

  7. In the winter, most days I wear black jeans and a turtleneck; – accessorized if I go out. In the summer, it’s jeans and a tee shirt. I love being retired! Eileen Fisher predominates my wardrobe, and I make use of their buy back program to minimize the random items. It will be fun to see your approach to keeping it simple.

  8. May I ask an unrelated question? I will be going to a ballet performance at the Opera Garnier in Paris in May. I know in NYC theatres these days most people are dressed for going hiking, in jeans and athletic shoes but it really hurts my heart to think of such casual wear in that beautiful building. So, what would you wear? Does your basic travel capsule cover it? Or does one step it up a notch? Merci for your feedback.

    1. Penelope, I too attend the Opera and ballet in Paris and will be going to Carmen in May. On my last visit, the ladies sitting next to me were in comfortable pants and scarves. The gentleman on the other side casual also with a scarf accent. I think you will feel best going in what you are comfortable in, if it is fancy and this is your style, you will look amazing just as you would in pants and a shirt.

  9. I like the direction you’re taking. I have plenty of clothes and several capsules based on color, black ( my favorite), navy and gray. I read fashion blogs to see how they put their outfits together. For example, I have a beautiful alpaca deep red/wine colored long sweater. You’ve shown something similar with leopard accents, booties or purse. I wouldn’t have thought of doing that. Your use of metallics is thoughtful and I’ve added two pieces as a result to add a little pizazz to my outfits. Now that I’m retired my life consists of occasionally going to the movies, lunch with friends, out to dinner with my husband and jaunts to the wine country here in California.. A casual lifestyle and yet I still want to look polished. Your attention to shoes, bags and outerwear have been so helpful.

  10. Wonderful post today, thanks! Looking forward to learning more about ethically sourced sustainable clothing. You’ve made a difference in my life.

  11. I’m very grateful to you for this approach. As we get older we don’t need as much, but it definitely must be chic. Otherwise…

  12. Thank you for posting… I want to really go through my clothing… I cannot possibly wear everything I own… I recently took a 2-week trip & took the clothes that I love & feel good in… I wore it all! Am digging in this January to see what I can do to help myself, lol! Thank you, Susan!

  13. Your post today and all the responses has been so inspiring to me. I have been struggling to simplify wardrobe and create cohesion. I also have things with tags and it is embarrassing. I look forward to following this path.

  14. Last year I resolved to wear everything in my closet, and I’m still working my way through it. When I find myself reluctant to wear whatever is next in line, I try to figure out why. If something fits fine, I have a hard time justifying getting rid of it just because I simply don’t like it anymore. I grew up wearing clothes I didn’t like; but that was what I had, so that was what I wore. My parents grew up in the Depression, and that mindset left its mark on me.

  15. This is a very thoughtful post. Anytime I have decluttered or downsized I have been much happier. Whether I am going through my shoes, my closet, organizing the garage, or even moving to a smaller home! You are correct that having a lot of choices is stressful. I used to make clothing purchases based more on impulse. And I eventually end up donating most of those items or buying something just to match it! So I am slowly trying to acquire my “foundation of basics”. My budget requires that I do this over time. But I look forward to having a leaner closet in the future!

  16. This is a great post to remind us to pare down in January and focus on the goal of always having something that works to wear. Thank you!

    I do have a question though…and I can see you cringe already, tee hee, but I am similar to you in stature and shape and I live in Northern California in the winter. I love ankle length pants and jeans, but I get cold here with the damp sometimes. Is there any way to wear them with a sock/stocking without looking like a total idiot? Even when I wear a bootie or an ankle covering boot, there is that odd small piece of lower calf skin above the ankle. I thought those chilly Parisiennes might have a stylish fix here that you saw on your trip.

    Thanks for all your great posts.

    1. Or black tights. They will add a little extra warmth, as an extra benefit. Black pantyhose will work, as well.

  17. As someone else said this is a very timely blog. I often wondered about fashion bloggers and do they get tired of their clothes as well. For me, less is more, and trying to be more thoughtful in what I purchase. I’d rather have nicer, well fitted and quality basics, and spruce them up with scarves, and jewelry. I am also having difficulty in purchasing clothes that don’t have to be handled with so much care. For instance, so many of the fabrics such as rayon or a blend of rayon, do much better hand washed. I would rather be able to wash on gentle cycle and hang to dry. I actually shrunk a pair of “washable” pants and luckily was able to return them. Do you have any suggestions on clothing material that works well for you and doesn’t require so much care? Thanks for your always interesting subjects.

    1. Hi Kerri, apologies, but I’m not able to do that from my end. You’ll need to click on the “manage subscriptions” link at the bottom of the email to unsubscribe from comments.

  18. Love the way you’re thinking. I’ve purchased many regrettable items that have barely been used or haven’t been used at all. I actually feel overwhelmed (and a little guilty with respect to our earth) with my closet full of misfits.
    Hope to clean it out, pare down to basics and move forward more “smartly.”
    Can’t wait to see what you’ll be sharing on this front.

  19. I agree with the comments above. I like fashion, but the media can over saturate us, changing our needs into wants, and ultimately, not help the environment, or us. Stick to your ideals, giving us the well made basics and classic styles, I appreciate it.

  20. I appreciate your considered thinking and attention to detail. As I think about what has worked in my various life-stages: corporate professional, media professional, SAHM, I have found that comfort plus style are what interest me most. Not ‘fashion’, but style. That said, I find it incredibly frustrating with this middle-aged body that has somehow taken over my life – that many of the images that accompany your suggestions feature much younger, unrealistically thin women. I like the way some of those pieces look on the screen, but they don’t translate to my body. I’m not blaming you; this is the way the industry works, but it presents a real challenge to me to find what works with my body in its current incarnation. Wondering if I’m alone in that.

    1. Hi Berenice, I think many of us are dealing with a changing body as well as changing lifestyles. What I try to remember when looking at online retail images is a) the models are often 8-10″ taller than I am, and b) the clothes are often pinned, tucked or otherwise arranged for the shoot to make them look more fitted. I don’t expect most clothing to look the same on me as it does on the models. After a few years, I’ve developed a pretty good sense of what fabrics and silhouettes will work for me, and judge by the proportions on my body. I think they key is just to try everything that appeals to you, then forget the online images and just focus on whether you like how it fits your unique body. Occasionally I find that some pieces look better in person and on me than they do online. 😉

  21. One thing that is not often addressed is how much “old”, slightly worn-out or bleach-stained clothing should be kept to do housework, painting etc. I suspect that I keep too much, but I most certainly don’t want to destroy new or older but non-decrepit clothing as I clean floors, cupboards, toilets etc. as well as gardening and yard work.

  22. Your plan for the new year sounds wonderful – I rarely need more, but sometimes I need inspiration for different. I’ve enjoyed your blog for years, and lately have especially appreciated your lean towards simple and sustainable. Thank you for what you do, and I’m looking forward to Une Femme in 2019!

  23. The talk on this blog lately and quite often is about how French women always seem to look “Oh, so chic”. Every season, the French woman buys a new outfit, fit perfectly, and wears it till another season comes along and a new appropriate outfit replaces the previous one. This way, she is always parading confidentantly, in the latest fashion appropriate for the season and her life style. I feel that here in the USA we tend to buy in bulk at sales and end up with items that end up on the discard list but never leave the closet.

    1. There’s a lot of mythology around the chic French woman. I’ve lived in Paris for over 20 years and what most of my French friends do is add a few pieces – not a whole new outfit – every season or so. That way, they look stylish and show they’re aware of trends but keep things fairly classic/understated and integrate the new things with their existing clothes. Not everyone can splash out on a whole new outfit every season. And there’s much more awareness of sustainability/environment issues too in recent years.

      1. My French family members, men and women equally, buy new outfits seasonally. It could be only a new blouse, skirt/pant and blazer that fit to perfection . They wear it to death and add a Hermès or some other big name scarf, and a classic big name handbag and shoes from previous seasons. Their French friends do the same. When you open their closets, it’s easy to get dressed quickly, as everything is well curated and easily accessible. Not so with my good and close American friends and family where one just disappears in the closet while looking for an item, which perhaps is available in 12 colors, because it was bought at a great sale!!

  24. This is a worthy direction to move towards. I’m most interested in style bloggers who restyle items because I myself am moving in a more minimalist direction in my life overall and want to make more responsible purchases for the environment, fashion sense and lifestyle.

  25. As I read I thought of the pieces that I wear over and over – usually black! Just back from a couple of weeks in Italy and Malta for which I succeeded in fitting all I wore into a carryon – and I didn’t get bored with the clothes this time! Black slim slacks – almost leggings, and black or camel tops under black or camel long sweaters were the basics, accented by favorite scarves. I did pick up a lovely forest green velvet jacket in Florence and wore that on New Years Eve – knotted a scarf with coordinating colors into a “necklace” since I hadn’t brought one with me. What would I do without my black basics? I’d be lost!

  26. I also want to simplify and pare down. When I was young I thought the ideal was a huge wardrobe and never repeating an outfit. Now I’m interested in fewer, quality pieces and interesting accessories. Seems to be a common thread, no pun intended!

  27. I’ve found your transition very interesting and enlightening. Your new, warmer hair color is very flattering as is your shorter hair. Though I haven’t always liked the new colors as colors, I can see that they are good on you, and I have begun to see the importance of colors other than black. I know that I have tended toward too much solid black in an effort to avoid what I call the “middle aged, middle class” look of bright colors, bad fabrics, and “whole outfit dressing” (N.B., I am pretty much middle aged and middle class, myself; I am referring to an aesthetic, not a demographic), and I have been trying to lighten up a bit. I look forward to your posts as you progress in your color training.

    You’ve been very good with travel wardrobes. What we could use now is suggestions for at home ways of dressing that are comfortable, attractive, and realistic, i.e., practical. Most blogs show women out on the town. We need ideas for clothes to wear while cooking, gardening, taking walks, and curling up with our reading. As most knit pants are unflattering, and I don’t wear leggings, I can only think of baggy khakis and fitted tees