Building a Wardrobe :: The Basics

This post is part of a series I'm currently exploring - how to build a wardrobe. I'm slowly learning how to curate the perfect closet to transition from my 20s to 30s and taking you guys on the journey with me. You can catch up here.

When I started my wardrobe journey, I was 21. Fresh out of college, starting my first job in a newsroom. My college wardrobe consisted mostly of sweatpants and things I'd collected throughout High School, none of which were appropriate for the "real world". So I started collecting my grown up wardrobe a few pieces at a time.

Most of my work wardrobe came from The Limited, and my weekend wear consisted mostly of Target items or things I'd fished out of a clearance box at Express. About a year into my career, I was promoted to an on-air position and suddenly felt the need to wear something different every single day. My producer and I began a weekly ritual of 2-hour lunch breaks at the mall accompanied by $100 shopping sprees at the newly added (and enormous) Forever 21. That's how I started building a wardrobe of complete and utter randomness. Whether it was something bright and exciting, or just too cheap to pass up, I was stuffing my closet full of whatever crap I could get my hands on.

I'll fast forward through the rest of this journey, but I also had two retail jobs during my early 20s - which meant even more random crap in my wardrobe. At one point, I was hanging items on my balcony of my apartment for extra space. And yet, with a closet full of all sorts of things, I still often found myself with nothing to wear.

So what's the deal? Why am I telling you this? It's all a background to share with you the most important part of wardrobe building - BASICS MATTER. I had to learn this the hard way, but now that I understand it, my buying process has changed.

As someone who loves flashy items, bright colors, and big trends, I amassed a collection of really cool clothes...that really didn't go together. I was frustrated with the fact that I could put on a skirt, wear it around my house in only a bra, give up, and just put on jeans and a t-shirt. None of these pieces WENT together. It was frustrating.

The concept of starting a wardrobe with basics is pretty simple, though - you'll have a closet full of things that go with everything. It's the same concept behind packing. You need to pack a lot of pieces that all go with each other, then sprinkle some fun pieces throughout to give your wardrobe interest.

Think about it. I used to find an amazing shirt, buy it, and then build an entire outfit around it. Not from my closet, but by buying other things until the outfit was complete. Thus, I had an entire closet full of "outfits", but not necessarily full of things that all went together. The first time my eyes were opened to this was my first 30 for 30 challenge. I realized I didn't know how to put clothes together AT ALL if I hadn't bought them in a complete set.

I've since learned a lot. One of the huge reasons I'm working on filling out my closet with basics (based on the Five Piece French Wardrobe) is so I can have fun with my clothes after I've finished. If I have the perfect black pants, skinny jeans, black skirt, and leather pants, I can buy an amazing statement jacket and know it'll go with any of those items.

So before you yell, "But AJ! Basics are boringgggg!", give me a second to rebuttal. A black tank can be basic but still have cool mesh cutouts at the neck. A simple blazer could have a cool detail like an asymmetrical zipper or a bow on the back. A grey tee might have a peplum instead of a slouchy V. The key to buying basics is to find things that YOU love, not that you think you're supposed to love. Of course I have a plain grey tank, a simple white button up, and plain black ankle pants in my closet. But I don't limit myself to just one of each item on the list - I also have a white lace peplum tee, a pair of ankle pants with a shiny tuxedo stripe, and a button up with an embellished collar. The key is to find pieces that go with a lot, but that still have interesting details and personality. That's what'll keep your wardrobe from feeling monotonous.

While I'm currently building a basics wardrobe, I'm still purchasing fun items at the same time. If you don't have the budget for this, you can certainly find ways to fit some of your statement pieces in your wardrobe with your new clean palate. Also try adding bold accessories, like a floral scarf or bright belt to liven things up. Once you've built a nice collection of basics, you'll be able to concentrate on filling it in with "sizzle" pieces.

A few other thoughts on basics : fit is key. Never accept anything less than "I look awesome and love this" when you see yourself in the dressing room mirror. Don't be afraid to consult with a tailor if you have a hard time finding what you want. The other thing you should keep in mind, of course, is quality. While you'll probably have to replace your basics from time to time, you want them to last for years, not just months.

Quality doesn't always mean expense, though. I found one of my favorite black silk tanks (From ABS Platinum!) for $5 at Marshall's. It was probably originally around $80, very well made, and hangs nicely - I just found it at an end of season clearance and got lucky. There will always be tons of options for basics, and you'll always be able to wait for a sale. Take your time and build something you'll be proud of. And don't get too caught up in labels, either. Stores like Everlane have well made blouses and tees for a fraction of the price of designer labels. I enjoy trying new brands and buying nice things, but I try not to make that the sole focus - ie, I only bought this because it was Prada. If it doesn't look good on you, who cares who made it? You won't wear it.

There are plenty of resources for basics every woman needs, but as I mentioned earlier, I like the French Wardrobe Basics as a good place to start. Modify any list you like to your needs and specifications, and have fun with it!

Next up in the series :: buying the sizzle pieces.