Wardrobe 101

Building Basics

Happy day, kind reader!

This is a backtracking kind of post… Sometimes I get so excited about an idea, that I start out before thinking things all the way through. (Anyone else out there with that problem?) This happened recently when I started a series of posts about Style Staples, those pieces I look for in a client’s wardrobe to take her style from clothes-covering-nakedness to outfit, and realized I kept referring to Building Basics… But hadn’t written about them. Whooops! So here goes! Like the name says, Building Basics are the building blocks, or foundation, of your wardrobe. What should you know about Building Basics?

The Big Four

The Big Four are not clothing items at all, but are the factors that determine your personal Building Basics (versus mine). The Building Basics you choose for the foundation of your wardrobe are completely dependent upon your personality and values, lifestyle and budget. This is one of the reasons I so struggle with Must-Have lists you see all over the blogosphere. I have my Must-Haves, but mine won’t be the same as yours., because my life isn’t the same as yours! One woman’s Building Basics might include sleek sheath dresses, a pantsuit, pencil skirts and pumps, while another woman’s basics will be jeans, shorts, knit tops and sweaters and Keds. I do like, and sometimes use, Must-Have lists as a springboard for thought and discussion about the big four: personality, values, lifestyle, and budget.

Traits of Building Basics

When I go into client’s closets, it is pretty easy to pick out their Building Basics (BB’s). Most often, the BB’s will be (1) neutrals or subdued colors. They might be colored neutrals like wine, eggplant, forest green, or deep teal. Rather than wild prints or patterns, Building Basics are (2) usually solids or subtle prints (look solid from a distance).  The lines and design of a BB are (3) plain, with little detail or interest. That doesn’t mean boring or uninteresting! They are simple pieces, with simple lines that don’t jump out and say “Look at me!” That’s what makes them a great foundation. You can wear them over and over again, without anyone remarking that you are wearing those trousers for the third time this week. No one notices them… But they hold a wardrobe together. If you have a closet full of Wardrobe Wonders (that post coming soon), but not enough BB’s to tie them together, you can end up with a closet full of clothing, and nothing to wear. Last, but certainly not least, Building Basics span the seasons, (with variation). If you are a capsule wardrobe person, the BB’s carry over from season to season. Some capsule wardrobe gurus call them Year-Round-Basics. Not in our summers! My Levi’s are too hot for our Georgia summers, but a pair of jean shorts fills the same role as my jeans during those steamy months. The grey tee of spring and summer might become the grey pullover sweater for fall and winter. They fulfill the same purpose, but tailored to the weather.

What Are the Building Basics?

When I talk about Building Basics, I mean Tops, Toppers, Bottoms, and Shoes. Here’s an example of my Building Basics. Not particularly interesting looking on their own, and certainly neutral. I choose blue, grey, and white since my coloring is cool, and neutrals with a cool undertone are more flattering for my complexion. Notice that they don’t all match. There are lots of shades of blue, white, and grey! (My long jacket is bordering on warm, but I make it work…)

Tops are everything from tees, to blouses, and sweaters that can been worn alone. Tanks and camis fall in this category, too, but only if they are worn as a top, and not simply as underwear.

Toppers  are jackets, cardigans, blazers, overshirts, and the like. These are worn over another layer, and can be removed without leaving yourself open to an indecent exposure charge! Coats and jackets worn only as outerwear aren’t toppers for wardrobe planning purposes. Outerwear is a necessity, but I don’t factor them in for mixing and matching to create outfits. The line between outerwear and toppers is very fluid. I wear my jean jacket as a topper and as outerwear, but someone else might only wear it as outerwear. Most of my toppers cross the topper/outerwear line all year long.

Bottoms are just that. Things you wear to cover your bottom! Jeans, trousers, shorts, skirts, skorts, culottes, capris, pedal pushers, and whatever else I may have left out…

What about Dresses? If you are a structure person who likes everything neat and tidy, you might wonder where to put dresses. I love them, but many women wouldn’t wear one to their own funeral. Dresses are a Building Basic for me, but they don’t make BB status for everyone!

Shoes seems simple enough, right? Shoes, boots, sandals, all those things you wear to protect your feet. Loafers, pumps, ballet flats, Building Basics shoes tend to be more practical than your average Jimmy Choo’s. I do not consider athletic shoes (shoes worn for sports) a building basic unless you happen to be a personal trainer.

The basics themselves don’t make a very interesting outfit, but they are the glue that holds a wardrobe together, and are the perfect backdrop for those Style Staples and Wardrobe Wonders that really express our personality. There’s not much of interest to a chambray shirt and jeans by themselves, but add some fun shoes, a scarf wrapped around the wrist, a necklace and earrings, and “Presto”–an outfit!

So how about you? What are your go-to Building Basics? What colors are your neutrals? Do you feel like your Building Basics, Style Staples, and Wardrobe Wonders are in the right proportions for you? Could you use more of one? Which? I love to hear from you… Let’s start a conversation in the comments below!

Stylishly yours,

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