I don’t own a little black dress. And yet, I manage to get myself clothed and out of the house daily without this magic-bullet of a wardrobe basic. How is this possible?
Basics are the items that allow our wardrobes to function. They are like the oil in our cars or the framing in our homes, absolutely necessary but not terribly exciting. So when I wanted to put my wardrobe in order I googled “wardrobe basics.” The internet responded with the same list over and over again. Black wool pants? Sigh. Ballet flats? So not me.
If I were an executive working in a high-rise office in NYC, I have no doubt these lists would be very helpful. But there is nowhere in my school-teaching, goat-herding, soaking-wet-track-meet- standing life for a pair of statement heels.
What follows is a list of traditional basics and my take on a piece that would serve a similar purpose, but be more functional in an active woman’s wardrobe. The Mud and Grace basics allow me to ride my bike to work, run around the classroom pretending to be on the Silk Road, meet my family for dinner and maybe hop in the car for a last-minute weekend road trip. These basics will not take you from the boardroom to a hip nightclub, because they won’t let you in those places if you have chicken feed stuck to the sleeve of your coat. But they will take you on the messy, fun adventure of life most Mud and Grace readers seem to have.
1. Traditional basics list: A little black dress
- How often do you go to cocktail parties? Formal business meetings? The funeral of someone who would have wanted you to wear black? How often do you use the word “little” to describe anything in you wardrobe?
Mud and Grace option: A knee-length knit dress
Comfortable, warm, easy, washable, this dress can be casual when worn with boots and tights, or dressed up with jewelry and heels. With the exception of formal events, which rarely happen in my town, this dress is always appropriate.
2. Traditional basics list: A black pencil skirt
It’s true, pencil skirts are flattering. But you can’t ride a bike in a pencil skirt, and you really shouldn’t pair one with Frye Boots.
Mud and Grace option: A casual skirt in a neutral color
Find a skirt that can take the place of jeans, something casual that can be dressed up when you need it to be. This skirt should make you feel fantastic, and elevate your wardrobe on days you need it, but it shouldn’t be fussy.
3. Traditional basics list: Crisp white blouse
If you love ironing, are willing to have it tailored so it lies perfectly flat along your bust, and never spill coffee on yourself, go for it. For the rest of us mortals, these shirts just aren’t worth the trouble. Plus they always feel “crispy.”
Mud and Grace option: A soft chambray shirt
A bamboo or tencel option is so soft, never needs ironing and goes with absolutely everything.
4. Traditional basics list: A black blazer
I have a black blazer, and I absolutely love it. But I tend to forget about it for seasons at a time, so my wardrobe obviously functions just fine without it
Mud and Grace option: A denim or cargo jacket
These easy jackets “finish” and outfit without making your feel fussy. They are perfect for unpredictable weather, or the unpredictable heating and cooling systems in our places of work. Find a good one, wear it forever.
5. Traditional basics list: A striped shirt
Striped shirts really are adorable, but they are not for everyone. I swear I’m one beret away from street mime the minute I put on a striped shirt.
Mud and Grace option: A plaid or gingham shirt
Still adds a bit of interest in a limited color pallet, but substantially less preppy.
6. Traditional basics list: Trench coat
Let’s take a large piece of shiny, khaki fabric, spatter a bunch of buttons across the front, give it huge lapels and pretend it’s flattering!
Mud and Grace option: A great rain jacket that fits your style
You do need a great jacket to keep the rain off. That might mean a trench for you, although a single row of buttons and a darker color would probably work better for most women. Most of us can find a sharp looking, seriously rain-repellant jacket that will work well with jeans and boots.
7. Traditional basics list: Classic pumps
I do love a classic pair of pumps, and I own some… and I wear them maybe once a year. It would be wrong to call them foundational in any way.
Mud and Grace option: Smart looking, comfortable ankle boots.
Ankle boots are less of a commitment than mid-calf or tall boots, but keep your feet warm and dry, and your outfit updated.
8. Traditional basics list: White sneakers
Does no one else encounter mud in this world???
Mud and Grace option: Off-white sneakers
No one will ever know how many times they’ve been through the wash
- Traditional basics list: Good quality black, grey and white t-shirts.
OK, you actually do need these. I have them in long sleeve, short sleeve and tank top. If black, grey and white aren’t your colors, find them in the neutrals you wear, like cream, olive and navy.
A few week’s ago we heard Jessie’s story, about a woman who is in the process of going a full year without buying any clothes. Part of what enabled Jessie to embark on this adventure is that she had a fully functioning wardrobe at the start. Many of us will be attempting a 40-day no-buy starting October 14th. Check your basics this week, and make sure you have what you need to get dressed easily in the months to come. As traditional basics lists don’t work for me, my list may not work for you. But take the opportunity to write your own basics list, and make sure yours are in good repair and ready to roll starting October 14th.
Do you have a “basic” I didn’t include today? Let me know what your “must-have” pieces are in the comments below!