Great style starts with great wardrobe basics.
Well-fitting, high-quality basics give you flexibility and versatility. They also allow you to focus on developing true style instead of getting swept up and distracted by constantly changing trends.
Think of your closet as a pantry, and imagine that you’re a chef looking to make a delicious pizza.
Sure, you can add toppings further down the line to make it a uniquely YOU pie. But if you don’t have a great crust, delicious sauce, and the perfect cheese, it won’t taste that good, no matter what you throw on top.
If you’re ready to have a cohesive, always stylish wardrobe, start here. We’re breaking down the three essentials every woman and man should have in their closet. These pieces work for everyone, no matter your body type, profession, or the weather.
Keep reading to find out what they are, why we chose them, and for exclusive product recommendations straight from a personal stylist.
Table of Contents
Basic Wardrobe Essentials: Woman’s Edition
For women’s basic workwear wardrobe, we recommend investing in an elevated blouse, quality denim, and a blazer with a little extra flare.
With each of these pieces, follow these three rules:
- Start with core colors. Core colors are black, navy blue, grey, and white. We recommend always stocking up on these hues first because they go with just about all other patterns, colors, and dress codes.
- Don’t compromise on fit. One of the biggest mistakes people make is to settle for “good enough” when it comes to fit. But if you don’t like how something sits on your body or how it makes you feel, you’re not going to wear it. Seek out brands with phenomenal fit (like the ones we’ve selected below) and don’t be afraid to work with a tailor.
- Invest in quality over quantity. Elevating your wardrobe basics means trading out fast fashion quick fixes for well-made, long-lasting pieces that you can wear for years to come.
These simple rules are all part of our NLW Style System. They’re the key to having the wardrobe of your dreams without the stress.
With that, let’s take a closer look at each of these women’s wardrobe basics.
1. A Chic Blouse
Product by Sandro, shop here.
Looking polished and put together can be as simple as wearing the right blouse.
A lot of us are going out more and more. We all have special events, date nights, and other occasions where we want to feel a little extra special.
Having a sophisticated blouse is a great way to do this without the fuss of a fancy dress or suit.
We like to think of blouses as the big sister to another women’s wardrobe must-have: the basic Tee. It’s dressier than a T-shirt, but both easily pair with denim, trousers, and skirts.
Plus, you can transition a blouse through multiple seasons the same way you would a Tee.
Add on a cardigan or coat for chillier temps, or opt for airier fabrics and silhouettes in the summer.
You can choose any blouse that suits your style. Just make sure you have your core colors first before you go for statement pieces.
We chose this silk blossom print shirt from Sandro because it stays in the core color family while adding a pop of personality through print.
2. Dressed-up Denim
Product by Paige, shop here.
Another basic wardrobe essential for women is a pair of jeans. Denim used to be a big no-no in many offices.
But these days jeans are a basic business casual wardrobe must. You just have to know what to look for.
If you want a denim pant that’s easy to dress up or down, reach for a dark wash rather than medium or light. Dark denim reads as more formal, so it’s easier to wear in a work setting.
Not sure what silhouette to pick? For our clients, we prefer wide-leg jeans.
Wide-legs and relaxed cuts offer a more contemporary look than skinny jeans. They read as more effortless, and they’re more comfortable to wear.
Wide legs offer something to love for all these body types. They can lengthen your silhouette, define your waist, or skim your curves.
A great example of this is this pair from Paige. The high-rise fit, sophisticated navy blue, and soft denim fabrication make this a year-round go-to.
Wear it with sandals or open-toed heels during the summer, or pop on an ankle boot for winter and fall.
3. A Blazer with a Twist
Product by Rag & Bone, shop here.
If you have a basic workwear wardrobe already, you probably have a blazer. Something standard, no-nonsense that works for corporate attire, or an important meeting.
Now, it’s time to level up.
We’re not saying you need to go for crazy colors or patterns. Instead, grab blazers with a subtle “X factor.” This might mean trying out texture or seeking out unique details like leather or metal accents.
Adding a blazer with a twist to your closet shows off your style savvy and shows off your personality. This is your chance to spice things up without going overboard.
Take the Rag & Bone blazer linked above, for example. Instead of the standard smooth finish most blazers have, this one is corduroy. On top of that, we’ve picked out an option in white.
Because while white is a core color, it’s anything but boring. Workwear tends to skew dark and a crisp, bright white acts as an instant refresh.
Wear this over a turtleneck during the winter for a modern ensemble, or transition into the warmer months with a blouse and breathable cotton pants.
Basic Men’s Wardrobe Essentials
Guys, it’s your turn.
For a basic business casual wardrobe, we recommend men have a polo, non-denim pants, and a classic Tee.
Just like women’s wardrobe basics, men’s wardrobe essentials should also follow the NLW style system.
Prioritizing core colors, impeccable fit, and high quality with each of these three pieces keeps your closet versatile and timeless.
Keep scrolling to see why we love these three items and what products are worth shopping.
1. The Perfect Polo
Product by Theory, shop here.
If you still think of polos as something you only wear on a driving range, it’s time to change your mindset.
Not only are polos business casual, but they’re also a must for most men’s closets.
This is because they’re the perfect blend between formal and off-duty. Since they’re knit, they’re not as dressy as a button-up. But the collared neckline puts them a notch above your standard Tee.
In fact, you can think of a polo as the big brother to a men’s tee. Or, the male equivalent to the all-purpose women’s blouse.
You can wear a well-fitted, core-color polo with just about any dress code. Make it more formal with a dress shoe and slacks or more laid-back with sneakers.
Looking to add a polo to your roster?
Opt for this marled grey one from Theory.
Our stylists love this brand for its range of sizes, great fits, and long-lasting fabrication. This style is a modal blend that’s touchably soft, breathable, and easy-care.
2. Pants That Aren’t Denim
Product by Peter Millar, shop here.
While we’ve noticed that women struggle to find the perfect pair of jeans, we’ve seen that men struggle shopping for non-denim pants. Especially for a pair that isn’t black or dark.
In the same way that we recommend that women try out a white blazer to brighten up their wardrobe, we also recommend men play with colors outside of black or navy.
For example, gray is a fantastic middle ground.
You’ll stand out from the sea of black trousers with a pair of fog-grey pants like these from Peter Millar.
Instead of denim, these pants have a sateen finish which adds a touch of sophistication.
On top of that, we like that these pants have more of a straight-leg fit. They’re not baggy or sloppy looking but they’re also not too tight or fitted. Because of this, this fit works for all dress codes and most body types.
3. A Clean, Classic Tee
Product by Boss, shop here.
Rounding out our list of wardrobe basics is the classic cotton Tee.
This is a true foundational piece. You can wear it year-round with different pants and layering pieces.
Try it with a zip-up cardigan in the fall and spring. Or wear it with loafers and tucked into trousers for warm days.
The secret to making your T-shirt work 365 days a year is to opt for natural fibers like cotton. That way you have a breathable piece that’s easy to layer or wear on its own to suit the weather.
Here, we suggest trying out this solid cotton shirt from Boss. The rich navy blue color looks more formal than a white tee while feeling more approachable than a black shirt.
Now that you know what basic wardrobe essentials you need and why, you’re a step closer to style success.
If you’re ready to transform your closet and the way you shop, apply for Next Level Wardrobe’s styling services for men and women. Our team has over 20 years of experience in the fashion industry. They’ll teach you how to make your wardrobe work for you and your goals.