wardrobe essentials

[Image: M&Co]

We’ve all seen those lists of so-called “wardrobe essentials”, right? They’re the items we’re told every woman should own – and they’re always full of things we don’t want, don’t need, and don’t think every other woman in the entire world wants or needs either.

OK, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration. We do agree with some of the items that always seem to crop up on those lists, but there are three in particular that we always take issue with. Here are the three “wardrobe essentials” we DON’T think you all need to own. Feel free to add your suggestions, too…

wardrobe essentials: white shirt

[Shirt: Delia's]

1. A crisp white shirt

They’re always described as “crisp”, those white shirts, aren’t they? They’re also always described as the number one (or thereabouts) wardrobe essential for women, and we want to call foul on that, because seriously, not every woman NEEDS a white shirt, “crisp” or otherwise. Don’t get us wrong, white shirts are great… IF you have a job interview, are working as a waitress, or have some other reasonably formal setting to wear them in. They’re also great worn casually… IF they fit perfectly. And let’s face it: they never do, do they? They’re always either so loose they could be mistaken for maternity wear, or so tight that they gape at the chest. They’re either so short they pop out of your waistband if you so much as sneeze, or so long you feel like you’re wearing a diaper if you try to tuck them. Then there’s the tucking issue itself. To tuck, or not to tuck, that is the question? Untucked can look sloppy, unless you’re lucky enough to have found that perfect fit. Tucked, on the other hand, can make you feel like you’re about to appear in court – as the defendant.

Not every woman NEEDS a white shirt. Some do, of course. Some of you have jobs or lifestyles which demand the wearing of a white shirt, and others among you just like the look of them. But the rest of us? We don’t need one. We can cope perfectly well without one: especially when you consider how many other options there are out there…

Replace it with…

Any kind of smart top will fill in for that white shirt you don’t have/need/want. Blouses are great: they create the same kind of look as a shirt, but are generally softer and more fluid in shape, which makes them easier to wear. If that doesn’t appeal either, a structured shell top, or silky boat neck will also work just as well. And they don’t have to be white, either. it’s a good idea to have a smart top in a fairly neutral colour, just in case you DO have to attend an interview or something, but there are so many “neutrals” to choose from that you don’t HAVE to stick to white, especially not if it doesn’t suit you: pick a colour that flatters with you and will go with the rest of the wardrobe and don’t worry if it doesn’t happen to be white.

Wardrobe essentials: little black dress

[Dress: Warehouse]

A little black dress

Not everyone needs a black dress in their wardrobe, little or otherwise. As with the white shirt above, we’d say that yes, it’s a good idea to own some kind of formal dress: the type you can dress up with heels and accessories for evening, or dress down with boots and scarves for daytime. Our quibble here is with the notion that it HAS to be black. No, it doesn’t. (Or not unless you’re attending some kind of event which specifies that black dresses are mandatory, obviously.) The fact is, not everyone looks good in black. Some of us look positively deathly in it, in fact. And why force yourself to wear a colour that makes you look like the living dead? Exactly.

Replace it with…

Pick a colour. We would say “any colour”, but you’re aiming for versatility here, so you’re going to want to choose a colour that will go with everything, and which will be appropriate in almost any situation: neon yellow, for instance, would be a no-go here, because you probably wouldn’t wear it to a funeral, say, or your child’s parent-teacher meeting. There are plenty of versatile, non-black options out there, though. Navy. Dark green. Plum. The list goes on. Pick a colour that flatters your complexion, works with your wardrobe, and won’t easily look out of place. That’s the colour to buy your “little dress” in. It may be black, it may not be: no one will come round to check.

Wardrobe essentials: wrap dress

[Dress: Diane Von Furstenberg]

A wrap dress

We have no idea why this is so often quoted as a “must have” item for everyone. Wrap dresses? Seriously? Many sections of the fashion media would have you believe that wrap dresses look good on everyone. They are wrong. Some of us look terrible in wrap dresses. On some body shapes, wrap dresses never really “wrap”. The top will always gape open. The V neckline will be far too low, forcing you to either show your underwear to the world or wear something underneath. Sometimes they look frumpy. Sometimes they don’t, of course: just as some women don’t suit this style of dress, others look like they were born to wear them. This is the point, though: we completely disagree with this idea that there is one single dress shape that suits every single body shape. There isn’t. If there was, we’d all be wearing exactly the same dress, and all looking equally fantastic in it. Doesn’t really work that way, does it?

Replace it with…

While there isn’t one, magic dress shape that suits everyone, regardless of shape or personal style, there IS a dress shape out there that suits YOUR shape and style. You just have to work out what it is. It might be a pencil dress, or a skater dress. It might be a shirt-dress, or a tea dress. Hell, it might even be a wrap-dress. Better to work out what it is, and make THAT your wardrobe essential, though, that to work on the “one dress suits all”

Of course, we’re not saying these items aren’t essential for ANYONE. We’re just saying they’re not essential for EVERYONE, contrary to popular belief. And it’s always better to find the items that are essential for YOU than to simply check them off a list, and end up wearing clothes that would be better suited to someone else.

Which so-called “essentials” can YOU live without?


  1. And why should one own dresses at all? What are they good for if you live in the country and can not wear heels or shoes with thin soles at all? Why should a dress be superior to a two-piece or a suit? I think of “Le Dress” as of a Holy Cow, essentially useless and overrated.

  2. Nude heels- Everywhere I turn, people are saying I need nude heels. I don’t own a pair. First of all, every nude I’ve ever found was too dark for my fish belly white feet. Second of all, I’d look like a freakin’ barefoot Barbie in nude heels. You don’t need them. What they mean is a pair of shoes that’ll go with EVERYTHING you own. For most people that’s the band-aid colors of nude heels that are offered. For me, it’s my knee high black boots.
    A trench coat- To be fair, trench coats do look good on most women and are fairly universally loved. I’ve never found one that didn’t swallow me whole. A classic trench coat (double breasted, etc) is my worst enemy, because it hides my shape. I tend to go for a long leather jacket where most women would reach for the trench: less material and more fitted. Point being, the trench is not everyone’s friend. Find the style that is your friend for foul weather.

    • I actually almost included trench coats on this: I absolutely LOVE them, but because we don’t have distinct seasons here, we rarely get appropriate weather for them – we go from summer (too warm for me to want to wear a coat) directly to winter (way too cold for just a trench – you need plenty of padding!) with nothing much in between. I actually own loads of trench coats because I like the look of them so much, but they don’t get nearly as much use as I’d like: I could easily live without them, sadly…

      • Same here. Fall is where the temperature bounces from a high of 100*F to a high of 50*f with seemingly wild abandon, and it lasts a matter of weeks. Because we get so much wind and wild shifts (today is supposed to be a high in the 90s and a low in the low 50s), leather and Gore Tex are just better suited here.

  3. Oh, I so agree with you about each item you mention, but most of all about the WHITE SHIRT. I’ve been to numerous job interviews and conducted numerous interviews (I used to work as a recruiter for middle and top positions) and I’ve NEVER felt the need to wear a white shirt!
    I think you can look perfectly businesslike AND feminine in a dress – which doesn’t have to be black or a wrap style either. And I’m not fond at all of white clothes – they can get dirty so easily or start looking yellowish and instead of looking “crisp” you run the risk of looking like a slob. Or maybe it’s just me :D.

    • Bleach is my friend with the white shirts I own, otherwise, they never would make it past the first wear. I’ve never worn white on an interview though. Too plain and not enough personality with a white button up, suit, and black shoes. They’ll remember the turquoise shirt more, but I’m still extraordinarily professional looking.

  4. YES white shirts ugh!! i owned one many years back and every time i wore it, which was once or twice, i felt like a waitress… there are so much more interesting and nice looking things to choose from in smart clothes, so no thank you for me. that goes for smart, straight pants as well, but i guess that’s mostly because of my skirt/dress-obsession.

    also i agree on wrap dresses. no no no. i would look horrible in one. and it makes me always giggle when i’m watching f.ex trinny and susannah, that they EVERY TIME dress the ladies in wrap dresses or shirts. essential indeed, haha. but i guess it really goes for many different body types, certainly not all though!

  5. I am so with you on the white shirt. I don’t look particularly good in white (it makes my face look ruddy) and I’m large chested so they always fit awkwardly.

    I think the basic problem with any wardrobe essentials list is that they assume we all have the same lifestyle. When I worked in an office pencil skirts were a key part of my everyday wardrobe. Now I work with kids and pencil skirts are quite impractical for leading reading groups on the floor.

    You also touched on how they assume there are universal cuts. I look great in wrap dresses, you look great in trench coats. I’m sure there are women who look great in both but we aren’t them.

    • Exactly! These lists always seem to be geared towards office work. For many of us who work with food, kids, animals, the outdoors, medicine, and a number of other jobs, these things aren’t practical or even appropriate, and quite honestly I wouldn’t want to look like I’m sticking to a corporate dress code on my off days…even a stylish one.

  6. Another agreement here, particularly on the white shirts as they wash me out. I prefer good quality jersey tops, like those from Jaeger, for anything where I need to be smartly dressed. And I don’t own a wrap or black dress either – the wraps I’ve tried gape open, and I’m short so the V neck almost comes down to my stomach! As you rightly point out, there are so many other options.

  7. I never knew that wrap dresses were considered a must have, cause they hardly seem stylish to me. They almost never suit any body shape and for some reason often remind me of a bathrobe.

    • Actually they look better on my figure than most anything I’ve ever found. I’m an hourglass with a full 10 inch difference between my bust, waist and hips. Typically I look for skirt/blouse combinations but sometimes they look frumpish…dresses look so much nicer when I do get a chance to wear them. I have to admit that I typically wear suits to work..dresses are a rare treat for me. But I’ve never heard they were a “must” wardrobe item.

  8. A blazer. Most of the time I feel stuffy and corporate in a blazer, they’re never warm enough to replace a sweater or jacket, they’re like the white shirt in that they never seem to fit quite right, and in general I just dislike layering. If I must layer, I love soft fitted cardigans.

    • And I love blazers and couldn’t dress without them. I wear them almost all the time, casual ones in bouclé and corduroy and corporate ones when I need them. I think I feel so well in them because I have no boobs worth mentioning and square, hanger-thin shoulders. I don’t even own a cardigan because there is nothing on me to give them shape. So it is all a matter of physique, and it is far more complicated than the simplicistic pear-apple-hourglas-whatever-scheme.

  9. Everybody owns this Longchamp bag, for my taste they re horroooorrrrr..I would never walk with them! I don´t like them! NOt at all!

  10. I would also add to the list a (short) leather jacket. I did fall for this one though, because I love how (some) dresses look with a leather jacket on top. But then I realized that if it’s cold enough to need a leather jacket, than I’d really rather wear a jacket that covers my ass too :D.

  11. Wardrobe essentials lists in general strike me the same way as I think the OMGITSDESIGNER people strike you — I feel like they’re targeted at people who haven’t really got a good sense of their own style so they’re willing to do what they’re told. A lot of these lists are filled with bland, plain clothing in neutral colours, not because these are the most fashionable or flattering things you could wear, but because they’re hard to screw up. (That’s not to say that some of these essentials don’t look good on some people, btw.)

  12. white shirts make one seem like wearing a uniform. the wearers usually come across as lacking taste and personality, so they’re sticking to the safest option.

    also, wrap dresses make everyone seem late middle-aged, in my opinion.

    • Totally agree on white shirts. The only ones I’ve ever owned were my school uniform, and then later I had one as part of my work uniform. My work uniform didn’t have to consist of a white shirt, I just had to wear stuff from the officewear section of the clothes shop I was working in, but I chose a white shirt one season because hey, they’re a wardrobe essential right? Ten years later it is still in my wardrobe ‘just in case’, despite the fact that I never wear it and would never wear anything that bland to a job interview / anywhere. I’m sure they look non-bland on some people with the right accesories etc. etc. but no, I have absolutely no call for one – in fact after reading this I might finally feel able to chuck it out!

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