Your personal basic wardrobe plan

What are your most basic wardrobe needs ?
Long Holiday Weekend thoughts, and appropriate when the son of someone who was famously stylish is getting married today.

I’ve been reviewing what people suggest for wardrobe plans. The same items keep being mentioned as essential, many of which I never wear (Little Black Dress, blue jeans). And some of the things I always wear are never mentioned (lots of layers). Most of the plans aren’t relevant to other people round here either. (I did see someone wearing a black blazer ten days ago, though it was silk and unstructured. Yesterday there was an edgy one lined with stripes and worn with leggings. Not, I suspect, what the people who say you must have a black blazer are thinking of.)

My reactions helped me recognise my priorities, so here they are in case they help you too.

Of course wardrobe planning is more effective when you know your most flattering colours and shapes. And your personal style. And the needs of your lifestyle.
And after a classic closet clearout, so you only have things you love which are flattering and in good condition. (YouLookFab has a new post on closet editing.)

This is about how many clothes and other items you need, so you can fill in the gaps. (I’m surprised to find how many things I wear all the time, yet never think of having more than one of. . .)

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Here’s a list of basic types of garment :

coat, raincoat, cape.
casual jackets such as knits, shirt jackets, shrugs, or hoodies.
pullover layering tops, such as sweaters, tunics, or overblouses.
sleeveless tops and camisoles.
casual tops.
short sleeved tops.
blouses, shirts.
pants, crops, shorts.
jumper dresses.
protective clothes, such as aprons, coveralls.
special requirements for hobbies, sports, work.

Here’s a wardrobe.pdf of the list, to download and print.
Wheee, I’ve learned how to include a pdf 😀

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Suggestions for using the list :

Add notes on the list if there are items you want to expand to make more distinctions, or garments you want to add.

Cross off all the items which you never or very rarely wear.
Cross them off thickly so you can’t read the words.

Use the left margin to write in these numbers.
For the remaining items :
do you wear them daily – mark with a 4
do you wear them weekly – mark with a 2

Anything worn less often – mark with a 1 if it’s essential even in a minimum wardrobe.
Otherwise leave it out.

The 4, 2, 1 tell you how many of these you need, minimum.

Have you got a clothes ‘signature’ – something you always wear or would like to wear ? Do you usually wear one type of garment, or perhaps one colour, or a type of fabric, or a type of trim. Or your signature might be a style element, perhaps a type of collar or pocket.

Put a special star by your ‘signature’ 😀
If you like to wear a ‘signature’, this is the first item to pay extra attention to, and expand beyond the smallest practical number.

A separate part of the plan :
Make sure you have an outfit for any rare event that may happen without much warning.
For example I’m retired and only wear casual clothes. But I make sure I have one outfit for a very formal daytime event such as a funeral. And one outfit for a very formal evening event such as a black tie dinner or concert. (We do have those here, and they’re in buildings with minimal heating.)

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And that’s your own personal minimum wardrobe plan, the fewest clothes to cover your needs.

Have you got those numbers of items ?

Better than nothing.

Are they flattering and in your style, items that you love ?

Do they make outfits ?
Or preferably co-ordinates – do all 4 items go with all 4 items in another group ? such as all tops go with all or most bottoms, all or most layers ?

What does that tell you about your priorities for adding to your wardrobe ?

What colours, fabrics, styles would be best for adding outfits ?

Are they items you would enjoy sewing yourself ?

Are you going to buy or sew ?

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For me it did make a difference to make a written version.
I’m surprised how quickly it focussed attention on what I need.
But I am a ‘seeing things written in front of me’ person.

You might like to make separate lists for summer and winter.
Or for work clothes separate from casual clothes.
Or for special evenings. Or for pool/ beach.
Or halve the numbers for a travel wardrobe.

Um, do you need separate lists for what you actually wear now, and what you would like to wear. . .

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I crossed out over half the things on the list.

Hmm, my favourite layering pullover tops and shirt jackets aren’t even mentioned in most wardrobe plans. At work it was always a turtle-neck cashmere sweater, or unusual blouses and watches. They don’t get much of a mention either.

Everyone’s needs will be individual and special. The numbers and types of clothes you need are very different for a person who lives in tees and jeans compared to someone who moves between gym, boardroom, opera. That’s why most published wardrobe plans are disappointing. Of course it’s marvellous if we find one that works for us. But I usually feel they’re devised for someone who has a different lifestyle, different personal style, different shape, different colouring. . .

Some wardrobe proposals are specific about styles and colours. Others are more general. The ones closest to my needs are Eileen Fisher’s capsules (many posts here), and the Sewing Workshop layering wardrobe (here’s my post on that). Many people with more classic taste love Tim Gunn’s 10 essential elements. (I haven’t seen his book.)

Here’s an example of how to be flexible with other people’s ideas. I can adapt Tim Gunn’s list to my own needs quite easily :

Trench Coat [mine has a button-in warm lining]
Jacket / blazer [no black or tailoring for me]
Bonus trendy item [for me a layering tunic or shirt jacket]
Sweatsuit Alternative top – comfortable fabric [for me a thick sweater or fleece]

Dress Pants
Jeans [chinos for me]
Sweatsuit Alternative bottom – comfortable fabric [cords for me]

Classic Shirt [several]
Any Occasion Top /cashmere sweater

plus not for me :
Day Dress
Basic Black Dress
Instead I’d add an essential padded vest in winter.

Someone in a hot climate who loves dresses would make very different changes to this basic list 😀 Perhaps :

Trench Coat [light rainwear or a trench styled jacket]
Jacket / blazer [light evening layer]

Jeans [crops or shorts, in light fabric]
Sweatsuit Alternative bottom – comfortable fabric [skirt]

Classic Shirt [blouse]
Any Occasion Top
Sweatsuit Alternative top – comfortable fabric [camisole or halter top]

Day Dress
Basic Black Dress [black only if it makes you look your best]
Bonus trendy item [dress]
Dress pants [replace with workwear dress]

These things are aids, not set in stone !

Do a search for ‘wardrobe basics’ to find many more possibilities. If you search for ‘wardrobe plan’ you get all the entries for all wardrobe contests at Stitchers Guild and Pattern Review – inspirational for style but not a wide range of garment types !

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How about the same planning for accessories :

hats, caps, head coverings
gloves, mittens
scarves, snoods, neck rings
pantyhose, tights, stockings
flat shoes
heeled shoes
purses, handbags
totes, baskets, backpacks, phone and laptop cases
eyeglasses, sunglasses
pins, brooches
special accessories for children, hobbies, sports, work

Here’s an accessories.pdf

What do you absolutely have to carry with you ? What is the most effective way to carry them all ? (extra pockets in clothes ?)

Have you got a ‘signature’ accessory ?
Some of you may want to list many different types of shoes or bags or hats 😀

How well do your accessories co-ordinate with your clothes ? can you make outfits including shoes, plus bags, scarves or whatever else you wear and carry ?

Do you ever go straight from work to a dressy evening out ? You might think out accessories to achieve this, as part of your wardrobe plan.

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And here’s an underwear and nightwear list :

camisoles, tanks, shells
full length slips/ petticoats
waist length slips/ petticoats
briefs, panties, etc.
‘long john’ tops and bottoms
night gowns
pyjama tops
pyjama bottoms
bed jackets
bed socks

Here’s a lingerie.pdf

Make sure you’ve got everything you need to wear under your main outfits. Are any of your clothes transparent ? Underwear needs to co-ordinate too. What do you not mind showing ?

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Of course when you’re filling your wardrobe gaps, it’s best if the new items go with at least two items you’ve already got. Make sure you end up with wearable outfits. For many people, co-ordinates are better still, but often a goal to work towards rather than something achievable quickly.

When you start it can be discouraging to realise how far you are from your best. Remember Princess Diana took several years to transform from frumpy to her own style. She certainly didn’t get it right every time.

Have a Happy Holiday weekend getting a clear idea of what you like and need.
What are your priorities ?
Choose beautiful flattering patterns and fabrics and start sewing.

Make Sewing and Wearing A Pleasure 😀

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Links available April 2011

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11 Comments on “Your personal basic wardrobe plan”

  1. RuthieK Says:

    Wow! What a post, I am going to have to come back later to download and process everything as its pretty comprehensive.

    • sewingplums Says:

      Thanks Ruthie – hope it contributes to your special new life 😀

  2. Vicki Wingo Grant Says:

    What a terrific resource you have developed! Thank you for sharing!

  3. Theresa in Tucson Says:

    I echo Ruthie, Wow! I’ve just printed up the pdfs. Vicki posted your link over on Stitcher’s Guild so I now have anothe blog to follow. Great wadrobe planning help.

  4. Marie Says:

    thanks for the PDF’s. Love your blog and your thoughtful insights into wardrobing and the sewing of your own wardrobe.

  5. Molly Says:

    thank you so much for all of this very helpful information. i love to sew and strongly dislike shopping for clothing these days. but, how to create something that will actually be put to good use is a real pickle to find oneself in. these lists are fantastic! btw your blog is also wonderful.

  6. Kelley Says:

    I LOVE reading anything I can get my hands on about wardrobe planning. Thanks for this post. It’s SUPER helpful and interesting.

  7. Chris Says:

    EXCELLENT post!
    …and thanks for the List PDF – I printed it out…

  8. Chris Says:

    I’m working on it right now – OMG! what an eye opener…!
    Thank you so much!

  9. Eva Says:

    Great overview! Very good lists and suggestions. Thank you!

  10. Elaine Miles Says:

    Very helpful information. Going to plan my wardrobe better. Thank you.

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