Nancy Nix-Rice : 12 carefully chosen garments : the Core

This year Nancy Nix-Rice is publishing an excellent series on optimising your clothes and accessories.

This summer she suggested a basic mix-and-match wardrobe of 12 items, combined into nearly 100 outfits.

Of course I thought it would be fun to look for patterns ! Though Nancy’s choices are such simple basics, if you have a pattern collection you probably have similar.

Nancy uses a ‘Core 4’ of basic clothes : under-layer and over-layer, skirt and pants.
She starts her wardrobe building with 2 of these Cores.

– – –

Step One : Core 4 in your best dark neutral : two tops
(Lesson 21)

Nancy starts with a basic group in your best dark neutral. She suggests your hair colour (Lesson 8).

In her Core there are two types of top, under-layer and over-layer. She suggests people with different styles might like :
– a T-shirt and hoodie.
– a tank and a linen shirt.
– a silk blouse and a tailored jacket.

The design of the over-layer is important. It :
– has a centre front opening which can be worn open or closed.
– ideally can be worn alone (perhaps with a camisole).
So you can get 3 different looks from one garment :
– worn alone.
– worn closed but not all the way up to the neck, so the under-layer shows at the neckline.
– worn open over the under-layer. (Nancy has a whole piece on the slimming effect of this look.)

Remember an over-layer needs to be large enough to wear comfortably over your under-layers. So it needs at least 1 to 2 inches more ease at the underarm.

All Nancy’s under-layers are sleeveless, but this isn’t essential. If you use under-layers with sleeves, the over-layer needs to have a larger armhole and sleeve.

The specific garments Nancy chooses are both knits in the same fabric :
– a sleeveless shell with jewel or scoop neckline.
– a short sleeved v-neck cardigan.

There are surprisingly few sweater set patterns which meet both over-layer ‘rules’. Many cardigans have too low and loose a neckline to be wearable alone. Kwik Sew 2759 is shown with the cardigan alone.


What are your ’go-to’ under- and over-layer styles ? I’m in the ‘short-sleeved top and shirt-jacket’ group. For a casual wardrobe you may like tee and hoodie. For a working wardrobe, you may want blouse and jacket.

– – –

First Core 4 in dark neutral : skirt

To complete your Core 4 of dark neutral items, you need 2 bottoms. Nancy chooses skirt and pants, but says you may prefer :
– a short slim skirt and a longer flowing one.
– dress pants and casual pants.
– shorts and capris.

Nancy chooses a straight skirt with a couple of knife pleats from hip level, so it looks like a six-gore skirt. There isn’t a current Big4 pattern like this. Easy to achieve if you know a little about pattern making.

Cynthia Guffey has several skirt patterns with front pleats. Her pleats open lower and the pleats fold in a different direction but they could easily be adapted. This is s-4002.


There are several Big 4 patterns for multiple pleats, such as Butterick 4686.  These often have unpressed pleats, as short sassy styles.


There are many skirt patterns which add flare below hip level.  This gives a different silhouette. Simplicity 2451 was one of Pattern Review’s most popular patterns in 2010.


This first skirt is the basic skirt of your wardrobe. So choose your go-to skirt style. Do you prefer straight, a-line, flared ? thigh, knee, calf length ?

– – –

First Core 4 in dark neutral : pants

Nancy’s first pants are a classic tailored style. A good starting point could be Palmer-Pletsch McCall’s 5239 for Misses sizes, McCall’s 5537 for Women’s sizes.
These include fit guidance, and three levels of sewing difficulty.


What is your go-to pants style ? elastic or fitted waist ? natural or low waist ? waistband or faced waist ? front or back zip ? narrow, wide or shaped legs ?

– – –

Step Two : tops for a second Core 4 in your best light neutral
(Lesson 22)

Your second Core is in your best light neutral. Perhaps related to your skin colour. Co-ordination is easiest if your two key colours are related : dark and light brown, dark and light blue, dark and light green, etc. Or closer if you don’t look good in high contrast. (More on colours later.)

To start this second core, add another under-layer and over-layer. Nancy chooses :
– a sleeveless knit shell with v-neck and twist trim.
– a woven fabric short sleeved notched collar unlined jacket.

Under-layer : There are many twist front patterns for knits and wovens. Most have sleeves. Raise the underarm if you want to make a sleeveless shell from a sleeved version.

An under-layer needs a twist that’s not bulky under a closed over-layer. And a v-neck that’s not too deep to show when the over-layer is closed.
Perhaps Jalie 2788 for knits (leave off the frill).


Any added style element makes co-ordination more difficult. Instead you could use another simple top with different neckline – boat, scoop, wide V ?

Over-layer : a short sleeved notched collar unlined jacket.
Many patterns for blazers. The easiest unlined one perhaps is the short sleeved version of the 2-hour jacket, Butterick 4138.


Hmm this one-button jacket isn’t ideal as it can’t be worn alone. Better a pattern which closes up to bust level.

– – –

Step Three : bottoms for your light neutral Core 4
(Lesson 23)

For her second skirt, Nancy chooses another pleated style, this time with box pleats from a lower level. You could adapt Simplicity 4881. Longer skirts are current, but you could make it shorter and leave out the extra seams and pleats.


What would be a slight variant on your favourite skirt style ? Or another skirt style you would love to include ? Or just change fabric type ?

It’s easiest to co-ordinate if all garments of the same type have the same silhouette, see my post. This isn’t essential. But if you choose one straight and one flared skirt, for example, they may not combine equally well with the tops.

Nancy doesn’t describe her second pants style. Use a classic pattern again. Or casual elastic waist pants.

– – –

Your favourite background colours

For easiest co-ordination, Nancy Nix-Rice says it’s best to start with all 4 items of a core, or pairs of (top + bottom) or (under-layer + over-layer), in colours that are closely similar.

Nancy uses a darker and a lighter neutral for these 8 garments. But neutrals may not warm your heart. Imogen Lamport has a good section on colour personality. Perhaps your preferred wardrobe building background colours are ‘basics’ like plum, teal, peach, aqua, rather than neutrals. A ‘basic’ for one person may be an ‘accent’ for another !

(P.S. Imogen Lamport now has a video on choosing neutrals.)

Nancy mentions some problems when you use high contrast colours. Some stylists don’t use high contrast for this reason, see Imogen Lamport’s videos. No need to use high contrast if low contrast looks better on you.

The Second Core items are lighter, but don’t need to be exactly the same colour (though Nancy shows clothes that are). Add interest by varying the colour slightly. Or use another colour for some pieces. Different but compatible shades. Easiest extra colour is one related to your neutrals, such as rust with dark brown and camel. To follow Nancy’s scheme, choose colours close enough to keep your ‘Color Columns’. And background shades. Nancy adds accent colours later !

– – –

Your own core items

Of course we haven’t got to follow Nancy’s suggestions exactly ! but use them for inspiration. So what is your core wardrobe group ?

Judith Rasband in ‘Wardrobe Strategies for Women’ has a smallest ‘cluster’ of 5 items : add another under-layer top.

Or make a slightly different group of 8, also with many combinations. A Nordstrom brochure on how to wear a blazer shows :
dark fabric : jacket, skirt, pants, wrap dress.
light fabric : top, skirt, pants.
evening fabric : tunic.

What are your own core basics ? dresses not pants ? tunic and vest as well as jacket ?

– – –

Your own style

Nancy has chosen the most classic of classics for her examples. Not for everyone.
Do you prefer softer/ more relaxed/ sporty/ striking clothes ?
I’ve already written much about personal style, summarised in recent posts on choices and modern personal styles.

– – –


So far I’ve mentioned 8 of Nancy’s 12 wardrobe items. Read Nancy’s advice on combining and styling these. She makes 24 different looks from these 8 garments.

Nancy’s core wardrobe has two groups of basics : one group darker and one group lighter. Background colours rather than attention grabbing accents. Plus accessories which link the two colours by including both.

And everything co-ordinates with everything else. Easiest to achieve this with :
– few silhouettes.
– few fabrics.
– few added style elements.
– a small range of colours.

These background basics are very simple.  Not exciting statement clothes. YouLookFab has a piece on using classics as the background for other pieces. I have a post on the power of the boring.

Cheer up 😀 Nancy goes on to add colour and print to the background basics. My next post in this group is planned on that.

– – –

Patterns and links available September 2011

– – –

Other posts in this group :
Accent colour and print
Adding extras
More thoughts
And related post :
Two-piece dresses

= = =

Explore posts in the same categories: co-ordinates, Nancy Nix-Rice, wardrobe planning

8 Comments on “Nancy Nix-Rice : 12 carefully chosen garments : the Core”

  1. Nancy Says:

    Another great post! I picked up Burda 8503 when it was on sale last week. It is listed as a blouse, but looks more like a jacket. I think it would make a great layering piece, especially for here in Florida.

    • sewingplums Says:

      Thanks Nancy, much better than my suggestion ! Just the thing – two collars, two sleeves, add pockets, change the look by changing the fabric. Burda 8503. Just allow enough ease at underarm and armhole to layer.

  2. RuthieK Says:

    Even though I am not following Nancy’s plan to the letter I have been incorporating many elements of her approach into my wardrobe. Thank you for your analysis.

  3. sdBev Says:

    Excellent interpretion of NNR’s print for the sewist

  4. Mary Says:

    Thank you so much for your analysis and application of Nancy’s work. I have been reading her newsletters, and incorporating some ideas. Your post makes so much MORE sense to me as you have added in the pattern choices. Thanks for making my work easier 🙂

  5. Nancy Says:

    I haven been thinking more and more about core wardrobes. I had to laugh when I found out that Carlisle was singing the praises of the core wardrobe. Of course, they were singing the praises of the time saving benefits since their clients are pretty high-end.

    FYI, I ofter visit the New York Social Diary for fashion inspiration. Carlisle advertises on the site all the time and I like that they show high-end clothes on models who are not 14 years old, 6′ tall and anorexic!

    Here is a link to their article:

  6. Thanks for the links! This is a really great post

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