Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Can Chanel Guide Us to a Workable Casual Wardrobe?

One of the most popular posts I've ever written was asking if Coco Chanel was right when she told us that a woman only needs two suits to be well dressed.  (find it here)  I'm often asked how this idea translates for those among us who wear mostly casual clothing, and who don't really have any use for a suit.  So these are my thoughts:

First off - the equivalent of the black suit - a cardigan, capris, pants, and a dress:

4-piece "suit equivalent": cardigan, capris, pants, dress
Cardigan, capris, pants- Dorothy Perkins, dress – Alice & You

and then a similar approach in beige - another cardigan, linen pants, a pair of shorts and another dress:
casual "suit equivalent": cardigan, pants, shorts and dress
all linen pieces - L.L.Bean

First add-on is a couple of "twin-sets" in accent colors.  But only one cardigan, and a linen shirt to take the place of the 2nd sweater, and relax the feeling:
two accent color "twinsets" in red and blue
Tank top – Dorothy Perkins, cardigan – L.K.Bennett, linen tank – L.L.Bean, linen shirt- L.L.Bean

A few very plain tops:
four neutral summer tops in black and white
all tops - Target

Some tops that combine the 2 neutral colors:

four accent tops in black and beige neutrals
Cardigan – Liviana Conti, tee shirt – Raquel Allegra, tunic- Only, animal tank – Hobbs

And some other essential garments that round this capsule up to 24 pieces.  A dressy pair of pants, another pair of shorts, a cool shirt and a denim skirt.  Of course, if you never wear dresses or shorts, more shirts and shorts will be your choices.
four fundamental garments: black pants, black shorts, black and beige top, beige skirt
Black silk slouch pants- Isabel Marant, black shorts – Elle, sleeveless shirt – Morgan, denim skirt – Morgan

I could get a lot of mileage from this wardrobe for warm weather- everything from very casual to appropriate for an office or a meeting.

A Chanel-inspired wardrobe in black and beige with blue and red accents

A few outfits...

sixteen black and beige outfits with blue and red accents

Dorothy Perkins(US)


  1. What a great post, Janice, for suggesting how to build a work wardrobe from scratch! Much more flexible and contemporary than the two-suit building block model. This should be handed out along with diplomas on college graduation day!

  2. Formula wardrobing makes everything so easy. Find (or develop) the formula that works for you, and it's literally filling in the blanks. :)

  3. These are my favourite kind of posts - thank you!

  4. Such a fun read. I love these posts!

  5. speak to me of linen. Cool, comfortable, wrinkles badly.

    How do you wear a linen shirt without looking sloppy?


    1. You just wear it in the South, on a summer day with high humidity--humidity high enough to dampen out the wrinkles as soon as they appear. :)

    2. Also, you don't buy it too big and boxy thinking that will discourage wrinkles. Then you just look like an unmade bed. Wrinkles in linen don't look sloppy, it's the size and cut.

  6. Did I ever ask you if you were planning on writing a book?
    These posts are so wonderful that they take the guesswork out of wardrobe planning.
    I only wish that I had read these years ago....I can imagine how much money I could have saved.

  7. This is very inspiring. I have pared my wardrobe way down over the last 18 months and am continually surprised how much mileage I continue to get out of my clothes. I work in a law firm that is not very dressy, so most of my beloved Eileen Fisher separates do pull double duty depending on the accessories.

  8. Even tho I am not a *linen* kind of gal, I love the sub of the shirt for the cardie.

  9. What about shoes and accessories? What do you suggest?

  10. "Luxury must be comfortable, otherwise it is not luxury" Hooray for Coco!
    I prefer structured cardigans to give me a suit-like look. So set in sleeves, richer materials, and maybe a ruffle, peplum, or some other touch to take it from plain cardigan to work appropriate. And always, always, always neutrals for the big items. Color pops are OK, but too much color on a major piece of clothing with a casual cut screams "fun".

  11. Two suits, no way! Even if I wore suits for work, I'd die inside if I had that little choice in outfits. Your capsule looks a lot more reasonable.

  12. I really like this wardrobe template. Great choices!

  13. Great practical and attractive wardrobe suggestions here. It all got me wondering, however, how would Coco Chanel do this same exercise today? What kind of "suits" would she suggest and what would be the extras? Janice, I wish you would take this on just for fun--and do it with a Chanel budget and style!

  14. The first box and the two tanks (black and white) would take me everywhere. Today I have on a black tank, black pants and a long navy cardigan with ballet flats.

    Just a fantastic year-round wardrobe with all your nice extras.

  15. Here we are still quoting Coco Chanel and longing to emulate her simplicity, while the current Chanel pieces... am I the only one who finds them tacky? Ah, but those 'real Chanel' silk jerseys and crepes! I would love to have 4-5 pieces of that era.

  16. I'd really enjoy to see one of these summer capsule wardrobes, built around only full length jeans and trousers, with a pair of shorts for the weekend. Working in a casual office, and as a non dress or skirt gal, I'm curious what a capsule with these parameters would look like.

    1. Me too! I work at a college and wear jeans year round. I'm wondering if navy should be one of the neutral colors? I wanted to buy different color jeans to mix it up but I hate skinny jeans.