October 15, 2021
Maybe it’s because I’m home almost all the time. Maybe it’s because almost all of us have been home most of the time for MONTHS AND MONTHS…
But I’m looking at the essentials of a wardrobe. The core; the base; the springboard for all of the bright, memorable, snazzy things that we really love to wear…
And thus, I’m back to thinking about The Common Wardrobe – those 12 garments that I realized almost all of my co-workers owned, about 20 years ago.
These garments haven’t gone out of style because they really aren’t ever in style. They’re available everywhere, at almost any price, and in styles that suit a lot of us.
And if you have these in your closet, you can get dressed. In an emergency, you can pack. You won’t be a big influencer on Instagram with these, but I don’t know that most of us have that as a life goal…
When I first saw all of these garments, on the backs of my international co-workers, they were generally worn with something VERY amazing accenting the whole ensemble. Stunning shoes (nowhere else in life have I seen more shoes from Miu Miu!), snazzy socks, hand-painted leather jackets, hand-knit sweaters etc.
But at the base of these outfits of amazement and wonder, I saw the core of classic neutral clothes!
That said, in the real world of NOT advertising “creative types,” these clothes give you plenty of options for what to wear. For those among us who don’t long to turn heads, all of these outfits below are fine. Toss in some jewelry, a scarf, a nice 2nd layer or outerwear, and you’re good to go:
So this wardrobe is a fine guideline for a lot of us if we’re struggling to remember what the easiest core of a wardrobe might include. But what if we want to make this more personal – more suited to our personal tastes and preferences?
Hmm… I think the first thing to do is make sure you know WHY you want to adapt this (or any other wardrobe) to your own needs. Do you want a core of basic neutral clothes upon which you can build your wardrobe? Are you looking to establish a base for your statement garments?
In that case, this is a good place to start!
Then, make sure you can articulate what it is about this wardrobe that you do NOT want to include. Are there particular garments that don’t work well for you because of the cut? The color? Something else?
For me, I looked at these twelve pieces for quite a while, and then realized that I could substitute 4 things – 33% of the wardrobe – while staying with the overall goal of things, and then have a perfect Common Wardrobe for me.
- If I have a black short-sleeved tee, I don’t really need a long-sleeved one also. What I would REALLY prefer is another 2nd layer in black…
- I’m not mad about the idea of a light blue shirt. I could substitute a pink shirt, but what I would really want is something in black and white – preferable striped!
- Similarly, a grey tee shirt isn’t my favorite. Yet again, I’m going to want a stripe! While normal women don’t consider stripes to be really basic, for me they’re essential. There is NOT a week that I don’t have at least 2 striped tops in the laundry…
- And lastly, as much as the idea of a pair of khakis interests me, I really want a skirt. Really really really. I find wearing tights to be quite comfortable…
So, after this “piece by piece” thinking about the original Common Wardrobe, I built my own personal one!
Black cashmere turtleneck – Lands’ End; v-neck cashmere sweater – Banana Republic; black cashmere cardigan – Lands’ End; denim shirt – L.L.Bean; white shirt – Lands’ End; striped shirt – Express; striped tee shirt – Caslon; black and white short-sleeved tee shirts – Lands’ End; jeans – L.L.Bean; pleated skirt – Shirtaporter; black knit pants – L.L.Bean
So this all looks (at least to my biased eyes!) quite nice, but will it do what it’s designed to do? Functionality is always the way that you can determine if you’re accomplishing what you’ve set out to do. The whole point of these exercises is to give us all workable wardrobes…
Clearly I would have a ton of outfit options from this bundle of clothes – I could fling these into a suitcase, along with 3 pairs of shoes (short boots, loafers, ballet flats) and tear off around the world. But what about being able to leverage my more “non-neutral” clothes?
Let’s take a look at a few of my favorite things, or reasonable cousins thereof. And while I don’t own the scarf, I could be tempted…
Heather grape cashmere sweater – J.Crew; peacock silk scarf – Yen Ting Cho; blue cardigan – Benetton; plaid flannel shirt – Lands’ End; pearl and onyx necklace – Narayani; floral shirt – Lands’ End; earrings – Samuel B.
I know you’re not actually stunned to see that I can easily wear my bright (well, bright for me!) sweaters, as well as my patterned shirts, with my chosen wardrobe core:
Is anybody else struggling to get themselves organized for the upcoming change of season? Or is it just a function of the combination of my new apartment and my family projects?
p.s. Five years ago, our heroine had TWO HOURS warning to get downtown and ready to attend a fund-raiser!
p.p.s. If anything here is weird, funky, or just plain unworkable, please let me know. The internet in our apartment (and I suspect our entire building) has been disagreeable to the point of making me beat my head on the desk…
Had issues getting on earlier this morning- server down? But happy to see it now! I’m struggling as it’s been so dang cold. We are expecting a colder, wetter fall/winter this year. I’m blowing right by my long sleeved shirts/jackets and going straight to sweaters. Have to get out the bins this weekend. AND clear out the closet of items which are not conducive to layering. My autumn clothes are going to be passed by. I have most of a core wardrobe, a few substitutions for what works for me, but I put this all together years ago when I first found you! Thanks so much!
This is beautiful. I especially love the combination of the floral blouse with the skirt and earrings. The genius of this is how functional and polished we can be with these clean and simple lines and a handful of well-chosen accessories or “wappage” pieces. Have you ever noticed that many of the designers who create the elaborate runway looks dress very simply themselves?
Thanks again for a wonderful post.
This looks very useful! Good timing, too–things are getting colder here (southern Ontario), and I think it’s time to pull some warmer clothes to the front.
I have ALWAYS loved your core wardrobe posts. i think it’s what drew me first, and a concept i actually revisit when i feel like i have nothing to wear. I went so far as to write down the exercise that you just did. I hate button downs, for instance, but i have a soft neutral blouses. I don’t wear solid black pants (why? dunno, they just don’t get picked), but i have a pair that has a subtle pattern on them. etc. and i find that picking outfits is easier. which is the whole point!
Your common wardrobe also appeals to me more than the first. Would love to see a few really spectacular show stoppers with these common wardrobes. I bought a pair of red pointy toe ankle boots at the beginning of this winter with the purpose of putting some pizazz into my day. They go with black, navy and brights so easy to just add that sumthin sumthin that gives you a smile when you look down. If you are ever feeling the need for compliments wear red boots.
Julie in Melbourne
Thought-provoking! With cooler weather setting in, I’ve been putting away the summer stuff and taking stock. I have realized several things that I can now generalize about my own wardrobe: (1) I live in jeans/casual pants and a T, usually 3/4 or long sleeved (2) I often wear a 2nd top layer. This year I’ve added 3 plaid flannel shirts – why did I ever not have them? They’re great. Other frequent top layers: fleece vest or cardigan. I even have a fleece blazer for when it’s cold but I want to be a bit more dressy! (3) there’s nothing wrong with having a mostly casual wardrobe; I have a mostly casual life. So I treat my dressy clothes as something separate, and don’t have many.
When arranging my closet, I put my expected set of Fall/Winter stuff all together. Things that didn’t make the cut are off to the side. If I don’t pull any of them to wear over the next 2 months, I’m likely to pass them on to someone else’s closet. And this feels great!
Mmep, this sounds very close to my wardrobe. I think I am going to steal the fleece blazer idea. I have seen them at lands end, but have hesitated, worrying about fit.
Sally in St Paul says
I can’t speak to the current sweater fleece blazers, but I have an older (thrifted) fleece blazer from Lands End that looks more dressed up but has the warmth and comfort of a fleece, and I LOVE it.
Sally, thanks for the info!
For those who are plus sized: the catalog WomanWithin has a ‘microfleece cardigan’ that is, basically, an unconstructed shawl-collared blazer sort of thing. It runs a bit big. It’s excellently warm and can look Very Serious.
Janice – you read my mind! I have been rereading prior posts on the common core wardrobe this week in an effort to get myself organized for the fall/winter season. Living in Michigan (much like Chicago) we have 4 distinct seasons. So for the current weather change – I would swap short sleeves for long sleeves on the T Shirts. I would choose a striped long sleeve for the black T shirt. I would swap in a flannel shirt for the china blue button down. There are 3 things I would add – 1 gray sweatshirt (not hooded) LL Bean has a brilliant one right now that is a funnel neck and super comfortable – 2 – A Cable knit sweater (because I’m obsessed with them right now for some reason) and an all purpose black dress. I have a very casual life so I’m often caught off guard when an event comes up and I need something special. By making sure I have at least one item that can be dressed up with jewelry/scarves and a pair of shoes – I’m prepared for anything. Overall, what I’m learning is I have way too many accent pieces and not the core pieces that should be there. So each season, I’m trying to add one good quality core piece and pass on a couple of my least favorite accent pieces. It’s a slow process and I get impatient sometimes but I’m making progress. You’re posts have guided me each step of the way. Thank you!
Sally in St Paul says
I like your “add one good quality core piece and pass on a couple of my least favorite accent piece” every season approach! Sure, it takes longer than a single day closet clean-out, but I bet it also gets better results.
Once the initial server issue was resolved, everything came up just fine. It was interesting to see the 4 item change take it from a common wardrobe to a Janice wardrobe. As nice as khakis are, they don’t you.a
For me, colours would be either brown/beige/taupe or shades of grey (might mix them, even) with white/cream and light pink no-trim blouses instead of the two shirts.
My size and locale have changed so things are unsettled in my clothing plans. Its still in the 80’s here, so cashmere isn’t tempting yet, though hopefully that will change soon. I so appreciate your guidelines that can deal with all such incidentals.
NATALIE K says
rex, I’m right there with you in that my wardrobe would be brown/beige/mushroom for me!! with cream/ecru for me!!
Your common core concept has been extremely helpful to me as I’ve begun launching my four kids into the wide world this past year. I added a couple of dresses for my daughter, and jackets and ties for my sons, and of course there’s always tweaking to to for individual tastes and needs.
I’d love to see this concept expanded to shoes and outerwear. You hinted at the shoes in your post today.
Ditto on the shoes and outerwear!
I also prefer your common wardrobe to the first and it’s a good example of how to make the common wardrobe work for you. I’m having trouble getting my fall/winter wardrobe together. Here in Southern California we’re still experiencing some very warm days. I realize that many of my sleeveless tops are year round because I just add a cardigan when the weather cools off. I may do the switch by just keeping one pair of capris out for hot days. I would like to try the system that some of your readers use where they create a capsule wardrobe for 2 or3 months. I do that for December and wear my red and plaid items everyday. The key is being able to find things, that’s where I need help.
This was timely for me too as I’m waiting for when the clocks go back at the end of October before getting out my winter clothes and putting on the central heating. Luckily in the SW England we are having a warm autumn so far and my transitional pieces are holding out okay for the moment.
I’ve always struggled with the 12 piece common wardrobe as I don’t like stiff formal button down shirts in any colour, nor khaki trousers and I’ve moved entirely away from black. I know you have a whole archived section on the common wardrobe and its variations, but I would love to see a new series using different neutrals and styles with the addition of a small accent capsule using 2021/22 Pantone colours.
“A new series using different neutrals and styles with the addition of a small accent capsule using 2021/22 Pantone colours.” Wonderful Suggestion!
“I don’t like stiff formal button down shirts in any colour,” nor do I include anything white in my closet. I second the request!
I struggle with the fit of button down shirts – a good substitute for those would be helpful.I have also moved mostly away from black due to my fair coloring and older age. I substitute gray for those pieces. Agree – would love to see the series revisited with current color options!
NATALIE K says
tk, I’m not one for button down shirts either except to wear a denim or flannel unbuttoned over a long-sleeve tee around the house. I’ve pulled away from black as well and I use some navy and some charcoal in my wardrobe as well.
Beth T says
I live in South East England and my heating has been on since the 4th October! It has been lovely weather though, I do agree.
I’ve kept up a common wardrobe since you first published these and am so glad to see you revisit. I printed out all your “common wardrobe with…(color)” posts long ago and keep them in a binder in my closet for refreshes. Nearly all your ideas and wardrobes from years ago are easily worn today.
Keeping the guidelines and suggestions in the closet is a brilliant idea! I can’t believe how easy it is to pull together outfits using Janice’s guidelines. By using her counseled patience and discipline, I now find that if I add one piece to my wardrobe, it becomes at least 3 new outfits when I bring it home. Often, it’s more like 4 or 5. What could be more fun than that?
Linda M Orr says
Your amended common core is mine…I didn’t care for the grey or the light blue either. I have been looking and looking for that striped black and white shirt…but in cotton or silk, not polyester. It’s getting harder and harder to find clothing in natural fabrics. Even a lot of ‘wool’ coats are synthetic at least partially.
This is the ultimate versatile core for those of us who love black! Thank you!
I am in the process of losing a huge amount of weight, after which I will need to rebuild my wardrobe so saving this for then. I am definitely with you on striped tops – I have about six in various colours!
Me, too! 22 lbs. gone, er, 50 to go. I’ve recommended this site on weight watchers, because it’s easy to come up with the common core quite cheaply via Old Navy, or Hanes, or Target. As I move through sizes, I don’t feel so bad if I’ve paid very little. Once at goal, I’m replacing all of this with quality stuff that fits perfectly, because I’m staying at that weight! Every 20 lbs or so you change sizes, so at my rate that’s about every 4-5 months. For me, tops are the last to change, but I’ve already given away what became clown pants. It’s really hard to find large sizes in good shape at second hand stores, so somebody will benefit by my gently and briefly used basics.
Congratulations! And I like your attitude of looking forward to new outfits as you lose weight, and knowing that your donated items will be appreciated by someone else.
I am loving how you have changed your own proposed Common Core to individually suit your own preferences, which is what your columns are all about !
It has occurred to me that I really do have an extended Common Core in “ my neutral colors” of tans, browns, olive, and denim blue . A Common Core for me in one of my Autumn/ Winter neutrals would include a cardigan, patterned cardigan with the inclusion of the neutral in the pattern, a vest, a 1/4 zip pullover fleece top , a turtleneck, a long sleeve tee, and a short sleeve tee. That sets me up for any changing weather circumstances as the seasons progress . I do this for all of my core neutrals . Then varied accent colored pieces are added. Some days I feel like doing a “ suit” column and other days an inner column, and other days a mix of three values of a given neutral for a monochromatic look .
Today is probably the last hurrah of warm temps here in PA , with a high of 81. I have packed away most of my Summer clothes but kept out a few for just this week as next week the highs shall be in the 50’s and 60 ‘s . I have also rotated in my Autumnal colored soft oranges, olive green , golden yellow, mustard, darker denim blue , copper and bronze pieces . By December these shall get packed away for soft reds and teals .
On the button down shirt inclusion, it has dawned on me that I only wear those in warmer weather circumstances as a layering garment . Being short waisted, tucking them into a pant or a skirt in the cool months looks silly on me !
This article was just the right thing at the right time! I’ve been struggling to adapt because with my sensitive skin I cannot wear most sweaters. This showed me a process for deciding how to substitute and adapt. Thank you!
The common wardrobe is where I started with you so many years ago and it still serves me well. Not black and stone but navy and grey. I have an accent of peachy/pink and like another fan, I find that I have more than one wardrobe in my closet. I have an occasionally worn dressy, the farm chore sturdy, workout and casual. Also like TVF commenter, I have red boots, that bring joy every time I wear them. Because they are western boots, I keep a pair of longer, boot cut jeans in the closet too. The black turtleneck, that is a remnant of my early TVF days,is rarely worn but appreciated on the coldest days.
While I appreciate that many people wear black as a neutral, i look like death in it and so use navy blue and browns. Would love to see an alternate base color approach!
Wonderful post. I’ve been following this blog for a while, and it’s definitely seen me to a more cohesive wardrobe, but I would never put together some of the outfits you love for yourself! I am short waisted, with a distinct hourglass. I have to be very careful how I layer else I look like a frumpy schoolmarm. Button up shirts never do me any favors.
The things I have taken away from the common wardrobe exercises are things like paying attention to cut in my common wardrobe. All of my pants and skirts need the same type of waistline – high enough for tucking a shirt. All of my blouses need to fall at a place where they can tuck or not – not too long, not too short. There needs to be enough of a similarity in the first layers and second layers that they layer well when not worn loosely. When I first started the exercise, I would combine things from my closet and on the hanger they would look nice in terms of color/pattern etc, but this did not always translate to becoming on the body. Factoring how they hang on one’s form is a totally different and individualized journey!
I think if you looked around the conference table of an ad agency today, you’d have to include a hoodie in this mix. You once recommended a black zip-up hoodie to me for a post you did on a graduation weekend–and it’s been a pretty versatile cardigan. It’s part of my common core ever since.
My lifestyle & my work dress code are both very casual, so most of my clothes work for both. I haven’t formally tried to compile a core wardrobe, but it’s ended up being something like that:
Tees–solid turquoise or teal & several print tees long-sleeve or 3/4 sleeve v-neck, crewneck, mockneck/turtleneck.
Chambray shirts (I do go for pearlized buttons & Western yokes because of my casual lifestyle & because I wear turquoise jewelry & cowboy boots & my other boots at least give a nod to cowboy boots).
Several no-iron button down shirts solids, stripes, prints.
V-neck sweaters in camel & navy.
Jeans, black pants, olive pants.
Alison M Gunn says
When I first recreated my wardrobe along VF lines, I combined the Starting from Scratch with the Common wardrobe, all under the umbrella of ‘whatever’s clean.’ My colors are shades of blue and grey with a variety of accent colors (I didn’t constrain my accent colors, since I like a lot of colors that go with blue and grey). I still have items in my closet that don’t necessarily fit the overall plan, but I have a versatile wardrobe and never worry about having something to wear.
Beth T says
I’m glad that you conquered the Friday Fiends and were able to publish your post.
I always enjoy you reading your thought process as you adapt an idea. Like Alison, when I began to reorganise my wardrobe, the Common Core, Starting from Scratch, and Decluttering posts were the most helpful. Although, I have adapted them to my own clothes and seasons, I could ‘tick off’ the essentials which gave me confidence to slot in the rest.
Several things I have noticed this past two years. I prefer cotton trousers, chinos or cords to jeans. Mainly because my jeans don’t fit (2.5 stone or 35 pond weight loss was nearly all regained in the long UK lockdown), but cotton is softer and cooler than denim. I will never own a denim or cord shirt as they are too stiff and don’t suit me, though I like denim and cord jackets. I am also short-waisted and whilst I do like button down shirts, I prefer them in softer viscose or polyester (can’t afford silk) or cotton t-shirts and tops. I would also add a textured jumper to the common core, as someone else mentioned. I was never a hoodie person but I’ve created a core gym kit of navy and grey bottoms with aqua and plum tops and hoodies.
I have adapted the idea, as you have done, to create core wardrobes for key accents – blue, pink and purple – using my base neutrals of dark blues and grey. I’d like to do the same with teal but it’s a more tricky colour to find or sells out quickly. I’d also like to see outerwear or third layers for the common core.
By using different materials and textures and patterns, I can create a core wardrobe for different seasons, special events, parties or a walk in the country.
Purchases need not be expensive, if they look right. Adding a dress or skirt is a good investment, even if it only gets an airing once or twice a year. At least you can look stylish, with two hours notice!
I remember a while ago, that you were musing on the idea of doing a few posts on decluttering jewellery, scarves, bags and shoes. That would really be helpful. At least then, I might be able to select a common core of versatile items which will go with all my clothes for all eventualities.
Janice, I’m really hoping that you can create a lovely post with a wardrobe for me. You see, after 25 years of working mainly with youth and then almost 2 years at home (in a bit of an eclectic and casual wardrobe), in November I will be taking on a corporate position, with business trips to New York (never been there – I’m Canadian) and occasional dinners, where I may be expected to get up on stage. Whew, am I really going to do this?!
So far, all I have are black wool pants, black crepe culottes, a black A-line skirt, a black long sleeved wool dress, black v-neck and roll neck cashmere sweaters and a white shirt. Oh, and I do have a camel coat and black knee length boots and pumps. Usually, I wear these things with leather blazers or very arty, embroidered tops or sweaters…nothing else I own is appropriate!
So I am hoping you can help me figure out a wardrobe which could last me about 10 days and a fancy dinner or two. I would really like black and cream to be my neutrals and I was thinking wine and blush for colors. I was even wondering if I could have a French 5 piece in greyed teal or darker shade of green? Usually, I am a very colorful person, so I am thinking how to be corporate appropriate and still be able to be me. I would really like a few scarves, some unique earrings and maybe even a colored shoe or handbag – maybe for evening? Thank you for all your wonderful posts!
wow, very exciting to hear about your new employment adventure! And your proposed wardrobe sounds lovely. I hope you get the Vivienne Files treatment to help you out. – nancyo
Fabulous! I needed the little reminder that I already had clothes in the cupboard and which I still fitted into ?. They just need airing and a little update. Otherwise I’m all good. Thankyou ?
Janice, thank you for the cashmere sweaters. Have you…or anyone here…had sucesss with hand washing dry clean only cashmere or Machine washing handwash only cashmere…..and has anyone found cashmere sweaters and silk blouses for under $70?
Teri, while cashmere isn’t a part of my life style now, a few years ago I wore them. I had success in hand washing and laying flat to dry my sweaters. I used a mild soap like woolite. I don’t know if they still make it. I would really hesitate to put a cashmere sweater in the washing machine, even on delicate. As for price, I suspect that you get what you pay for, as the saying goes. I would look to lands end, especially the sales they have. As for a reasonably priced silk shirt, I fear that has gone the way of the Tasmanian Tiger. Hope this helps.
Thank you so much Sandy! That helps a lot! Thanks for the washing tip! I think I will be watching for Land’s End sales,
I wash my cashmere in my front load washer. They are placed in lingerie bags and washed individually ( unless the same colour but still separate bags) I use a product called Soak and wash on delicate in cold water. They get a mild spin. I take them out and lie flat to dry, stretching slightly. While still slightly damp I attend to any pilling. After they dry I give them a good steaming ( some have suggested ironing and I have done that too on a curling hem or rolling front of a cardigan) I hate dry cleaning and the idea of wearing those chemicals next to my skin revolts me. Also I have had expensive clothing returned smelling of BO!! There are several bloggers who discuss washing cashmere successfully. I started with an older dispensable sweater to see if machine washing worked and it did!!
Check Bloomingdales sales in January I snagged four sweaters that were originally 178.00 for 40.00 each!!! LandsEnd sales are good in early December 50% off, the quality is not as good as it was but still acceptable. Sign up for emails and you get better discounts. Look in good thrift for cashmere, Poshmark too.
Wow! Thank you so much for that goldmine of information!
Teri, I’m not sure where you’re located so perhaps there’s not a store near you, but have you tried Uniqlo? I don’t know their pricing in the US (I’m in Belgium) but cashmere sweaters here go for around 90 euro BUT for 70 in the sales. And on the European site there’s almost always some that are discounted. I know some people have trouble figuring out their size since it’s a Japanese brand, but it might be worth it for you to have a look. They have lots of colors and come in crew, v-neck, pullover, cardigan etc. I’m not sure how the quality would compare to more expensive cashmere (unfortunately, I can’t buy that!) but I’m pleased with the ones I’ve bought from them. I also don’t know the prices in the US, but since clothes are generally cheaper there I wouldn’t expect them to cost more than they do here. I’m a few days late seeing your comment, so I hope you see this response. Good luck in your search!
Oh good idea – I have a Uniqlo sweater that I really like…
Gail Finke says
Hand wash cashmere! Use a special soap for delicates, barely even squeeze it when you do, lay it flat on a towel and then roll up the towel to squeeze the water out, and then lay it flat to dry.
I have found cashmere sweaters I like for $50 at an online retailer called Quince, that also sells short-sleeved versions for $45. That’s their total price (no extra shipping) and covers returns and exchanges. They sell other more expensive ones as well, but I like these very much, and fit my budget (for me, that is a very big splurge, so it had better be worth it). I also have a nice one from Land’s End (end of season, BIG discount) for about the same price. Their cashmere is thicker, but also much expensive to start with. I find the Quince sweaters easier to wear because they are thinner and I don’t have to worry about being hot enough to sweat in them.
Everyone here is SO MUCH more careful with their cashmere – I literally just wash mine in with dark clothes, on the delicate cycle. Pull them out, hang them, iron them and wear them again. I’ve never had a problem – yet! (bangs wooden head on wooden desk for double good luck…)
Jackie Katz says
I just ordered two silk blouses from Uniqlo. They were originally $79.90 and are now marked down to $59.90. I used the link under Support the Vivienne Files, so hopefully Janice will get a commission.
Like many others I really like the common wardrobe. When I first started reading The VF those posts were among the most pored over. Now times, fashion and my person have changed a bit, so it does need tweaking, and I like the way Janice has done so. The items most in need of adjustment, to me, are the chino pants and the Oxford or pinpoint buttoned shirts. I Love chinos and Oxford shirts, but my current lifestyle and current physique do not love them. I buy them and they sit in my closet unworn. And then after a time I donate them. The cashmere I have replaced with fleece as practical for my lifestyle, but cashmere is still classic for many. I used to love the practicality of black pieces, especially in cooler weather but it doesn’t suit where I live or what I look like as much as it once did. I think the common wardrobe could definitely stand revisiting.
Gail Finke says
I have found that I like linen shirts much better than Oxford or other “crisp” cotton button shirts — it took me forever to find the right fit, only to find that they make me feel uncomfortable all day long, so I just don’t wear them. For me linen works by looking neat and professional.
And only recently have I found cashmere that I can afford and that I like. I’m a convert, ha ha. But before I had a nice black cashmere sweater, I found that cotton or merino wool gave a similar look in my price range.
Chris from Indy says
I am an accounting contractor, and my most recent client required visibility in their office. I looked at what still fit in my wardrobe and vowed to add only a few pieces to make a common wardrobe that I read about years ago here. This planned wardrobe has been a God-send.
I also decided that even though I don’t care for black on me, the black pants I own would have to do. I also pulled out some older black and white tees that aren’t my favs, but they work.
My button fronts are tunic length and don’t require tucking (thanks, menopause!)
Summer means tweaking the fabric choices a bit, and as I roll into winter, there’s no cashmere for me – substitute cotton knit turtleneck and boom. Done.
I learned also that I don’t much care if my core wardrobe isn’t in my best colors – my best colors can be added (cue the French 5 posts!!)
Thank you for providing the content that allowed me the freedom to make do with what I have! My next client will be strictly WFH – I’m grateful to know that I am covered for whatever or wherever I’m assigned!
Sally in St Paul says
Chris, thanks for sharing this interesting and practical take on core wardrobes for the office. It can be difficult, time-consuming, and expensive to start over with a core wardrobe in one’s “best” neutral, so the strategy of making a core with something like black (that is easy to find and that most of us already own) and adding in better colors with a French 5 is a good one to consider. I am always interested in hearing about approaches that aren’t a start from scratch, but rather start from where one’s wardrobe already is.
Sharon Reddick says
Hi Janice! I love your work, it is like candy for my soul to see the colors and outfits. It is art! Thank you so much. I wanted to ask you for advice. My particular problem is that I am shaped like a pear, and can’t wear classic or button down shirts. If they fit at the hip, they are way to big in the shoulders and bust. So I don’t own one and never wear them. What can you suggest to replace the versatility of the button down shirt or blouse in your basic plans? I do wear 3/4 sleeve woman shaped T’s and t-shirts if they are woman shaped. I can wear sweaters and wraps. But the Shirt in your plans is an outer layer and and under layer. How to replace that versatility is my question. Maybe I just have to have one more row of wraps and sweaters? Ideas?
Thank you for your inspirations!
Sally in St Paul says
Sharon, this is such a great question and is probably a dilemma shared by many. My perspective is that for those button-up shirts that serve two roles in Janice’s capsule, we should feel free to substitute both a top and a topper layer that work with our bodies (e.g., a knit top + cardigan or blouse + jacket) so that both roles are present in the capsule. I don’t think we get points taken off our score if we need 2 garments instead of 1 to get the job done! This would also apply for heroines who simply don’t like button-up shirts or prefer to wear them as a top or topper layer but not both.
Janice, this post is great, and I would love to see more exploration of “customizing the common wardrobe” idea since that’s where the rubber will meet the road for many of us!
I honestly would just accept that shirts don’t work for you, and that you’re going to need to (or one could say “get to”) have both bottom layer tee shirts or shells of some sort, and then 2nd layers. I used to wear twinsets in which the top layer was a very simple crewneck short-sleeved or sleeveless sweater, and the 2nd layer was a longer but “swingier” cardigan. Waterfall cardigans, I think I’ve seen them called? They are fluid, graceful, and very feminine…
The “rules” don’t work for everyone, thus, they are NOT rules, they are suggestions. Guidelines. Ideas. Eye-candy, as someone just said!
Perfectly timed as I am going through everything this weekend. I loved seeing how you personalized even the basic core and I am following your example once again. This has made it easier to release what really isn’t “me”.
NATALIE K says
Ladies, Loved reading all the comments today!! So many similar but different idea’s and questions!! I, for one, am looking forward to Janice’s answers!! I love adjusting the Core Wardrobe to my needs by replacing the black with navy/brown/camel/grey/ivory and even white in the summer!! This has worked for me. About button downs, I only wear them larger and as a over shirt but I am short-waisted so never fitted, buttoned or tucked in!! I’m with Sally from St. Paul that we don’t lose points for using two items-a top and a topper- to meet both of our needs!! Actually, I have far more than a Capsule Wardrobe and I’m quit comfortable with owning more!! That’s me!! You do you!! That being said, Janice has fantastic idea’s and starting wardrobe’s to me!!!
Gail Finke says
I love the common wardrobe posts too, and every season check to see if I’ve got my personal, seasonalized version among my garments. Every year my total wardrobe gets smaller and smaller, too, as I retire things I don’t actually wear and wear what I like best more.
I have a challenge for you! My last two jobs are FREEZING all year long. I can wear very casual clothes, but I like to be more formal than I have to be, because I am small and look younger than I am, and I want people to take me seriously. I rarely wear skirts except in winter, with tights and boots. But I almost always want a second layer. In winter I can wear sweaters alone as one layer, but in summers this isn’t practical because I’ll roast the moment I leave the office. So I’ll wear summer-weight pants and tees or short-sleeved linen shirts with light sweaters or jackets, and in winter I generally wear heavier versions of the same outfits. BUT… I am trying to find an optimal number of second layers. I tend to buy too many, and not enough first layer pieces.
In theory, I could wear the same sweater every day (another woman in my office does). But I like clothes too much to be comfortable with the same neutral sweater. When I look at your plans, they tend to be made with the assumption that one will have a few two-layer outfits, but mostly wear either one, or have the second layer to put on when you need it. If you were planning a work wardrobe for a season, and would need to wear a second layer almost every day (NOT an outdoor layer, and for me a jean jacked would be an outdoor layer), how many would you include?
Chris in Indy says
Your issue is similar to what Janice addresses above, in that maybe your wardrobe might need to add those layers to work for you.
I also prefer to wear a third layer year round and don’t care for the shirt-over- tee combo. I have 3 top layers that get me through the summer: one in my dark neutral, one in a light neutral, and one in a mid-tone. The dark neutral is a travel weight blazer, the light neutral is a lightweight duster cardigan and the mid-tone is a mid-length cardigan. Those three, with some pretty jewelry (I can’t tolerate my scarves in the summer) work with my core wardrobe all summer.
Gail Finke says
You wear the same three every day for the entire season? Just checking that I understand you. That would not be enough for me — though I could definitely do it, just as I could definitely wear the same one every day. I like more variety than that. But I tend to buy more than I actually do wear, and I’m trying to get away from that!
Sara K says
I could see myself living quite happily with the first selection, and it’s just a couple of tiny tweaks from being perfect for me.
But then, Common Wardrobe has been the backbone of my wardrobe since I first saw it. I like its timelessness and immense versatility. It is the opposite of wasteful fast fashion. They are also easy to wear (if you like the aesthetic) maintain and replace.
And then there’s the fact, that if one has these clothes hanging in her closet, she can dress in the dark if necessary, and still end up looking presentable. With right accessories and on a more photogenic person than I am, I wouldn’t wholly give up the instagram potential either. Among people who try very hard to overcome everyone else in “originality”, quiet but classy style is quite a statement (or you could choose some seriously amazing accessories) and therefore, (at least where I live), way more rare to see IRL than one might think!
As a woman of a certain age, I vow to never ever wear a turtleneck again so I would substitute another sweater with a different neckline, perhaps in place of the black long sleeved t-shirt.
But I do love the ideas in this wardrobe and the great flexibility.
Oh this was me several months ago and I sent Janice a weepy emotional email that was probably far too convoluted to create a post from. I ended up answering my own questions and dug deep into the common wardrobe customising it for myself. Swap Navy for Black and include a dress.
My scenario echo’s others above in that I was fresh to a Management Role in an Engineering Consultancy. So needed to create a new work wardrobe from my existing clothes after having 9 months off work during Covid Lockdown (Hospital stays, Weight Gain, now everything is on Zoom/Teams/WebEx).
The thinking behind the common wardrobe is invaluable as you’ll find your gaps. I have far too many gorgeous Navy merino wool Blazers/coatigans/jackets. Everyone talks about cashmere but Merino is fantastic and it’s definitely machine washable, incredibly warm and hardwearing.
I only really needed to buy some White V-neck T-Shirts which are such workhorses. I also bought a smart pair of navy wash jeans which could be dressed up and down covering that horrible thing called casual Friday. I’m slowly collecting some pale grey & charcoal grey basics. Again these will come with time.
Due to my brightly coloured hair which changes regularly I’ve added in French 5 Piece sets for my love of colour and expression. But most of these items I already own.
I have just completed a week last week of 3 days Interviewing potential team members and was a guest in a CAD Lecture for 3 days too. I also had icky project report outs to company director. Thankyou TVF as I just ensured my whites were clean and I was good to go for whatever the day held. I find as a woman who looks young that looking professional and put-together really helps sell my message that “Everything is under control. Thankyou”