If there is one thing I've learned from playing around with capsule wardrobes, it's that good staples are hard to find. There are so many options out there, but it's really hard to find affordable, durable, flattering, versatile items. For me to consider something a staple, it needs to hit all those benchmarks. It's not the sexiest topic when it comes to clothes or style, but finding pieces that hold up through washes and endure despite trends can be a challenge. This set is pretty monochromatic, but what these items lack in color, they make up for with year-round utility. I also want to mention that this is in no way a sponsored post; I just really, truly love these items.
chambray button down
There are a few specifications I look for in a good button-down. I like them to be fitted but still loose enough to not feel tight across my shoulders. I also want them to be long enough to tuck in or tie the tails in jeans of any rise. I want a wash that isn't too distressed or washed out so that it looks appropriate in more business-casual situations. There are a lot of button-downs out there these days that feel like crepe paper, and I'm not a fan of that. It should be made of a soft, relatively thick pattern that doesn’t itch or feel stiff.
After trying a lot of options, the one I purchased is this one from J. Crew and man, I wear this thing ALL the time. I've heard people saying recently that chambray is going out of style, but I don't buy it. Black, white, and denim blue are, in my book, the universal style palette. I’ve thought about buying an extra one of these in case it ever wears out, but the beauty of this chambray is that it’s sturdy and only getting more comfortable with age!
black skinny jeans
These jeans are the closest thing I've found to the ones from The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. I have long legs for someone who is only 5'7, and finding pants that are long enough especially after going through the wash can be a challenge. I like jeans to be fitted and a little stretchy but not skin-tight, especially because I sit at a desk all day and need to be comfortable. I also can't stand scratchy or itchy denim, and I hate when black jeans fade after only a few washes. I’ve been burned too many times by black jeans that looked perfect in the store but turned gray after two washes (and I don’t even put them in the dryer!).
These feel soft and cotton-like and keep their color. Somehow, they are stretchy enough to not feel loose on the rare occasion that I'm down a few pounds, but also forgiving enough to feel comfortable when I'm not feeling so slim. Hudson jeans in general tend to run long, which solves my leg length problem, and they have a cigarette-style cut that is fitting to my ankle but not tight. Like I said: Traveling Pants.
I bought mine at Nordstrom Rack, where they now appear to be sold out, but I found the same style available on Amazon here.
white 3/4-sleeve tee shirt
My biggest struggle with white t-shirts is opacity. It is surprisingly difficult to find a non-translucent white cotton top. They also tend to be pretty clingy, and I like mine to fit a little looser for more versatility and comfort. This one is made of a relatively thick, soft fabric, and it never shows wrinkles, so it’s great for traveling. It's fitted in the arm which helps it look more tailored, and the tail-like cut makes it easy to do a half tuck that doesn't look slouchy.
Hot tip: make sure not to put it in the dryer and it will last forever, or at least until your older sister steals it at Christmas (ahem).
madewell v-neck t shirts
Have you ever pulled a shirt out of the dryer to find it has suddenly grown a hole right around your belly button? Lots has been written about this issue (and no, I do NOT have carpet beetles). With these Madewell tees, I don’t have this problem. Short sleeve t-shirts these days tend to all feel like they're made of tissue paper, and they hold up just about as well, but these are pretty durable. They’re light enough to layer under sweaters, but also thick enough to be worn on their own. They cling in the right places and don’t look slumpy, but they also never feel tight, and the v-neck isn’t cut too far. I actually own this same shirt in three colors (white, black, and blush) and I wear one of them at least once a week, if not more.
black tank top
I used to be all about a black spaghetti strap camisole until I realized that a looser-fitting black tank top looks more sophisticated and is still appropriate attire when your office is a million degrees in January and you have to take off your sweater. I don’t have much to say about this top other than I love it and wear it under everything. It’s also got a shelf bra-esque flap of fabric (no elastic, just a fabric panel) that I imagine would be great if you’re someone that prefers to go bra-less.
gray maxi skirt
I’ve tried a lot of maxi skirts. Some were too sheer, some were too clingy, some were impossible to walk in... and then I found this one. I picked it up on a whim at an Old Navy outlet near my family’s home in Kittery, Maine because it was so cheap that if it wore out right away I wouldn’t have too much of a sunk cost. How cheap, you ask? Twelve dollars.
Let me say that again: TWELVE DOLLARS.
This skirt is not sheer, it has a tasteful slit to the knee to make walking easier, it has a thick elastic band hidden beneath the fabric to hold your stomach in without feeling restricting, and it’s basically a work-appropriate blanket. It does lack a little durability in that it has lost elasticity in the year since I bought it, but I just reordered the exact same one (as well as one in black) and it was STILL twelve dollars, which is a yearly cost that I think my wallet can handle.
Also, as a side note, Old Navy is just generally a good place to go for low-maintenance basics like tank tops and t-shirt dresses, as long as you don’t mind replacing them every few seasons. I tend to line-dry all of my basics to help them last longer, but if you want something you can just throw in the dryer and replace inexpensively, this is a good spot.
black leather flats
When you live in a city, uncomfortable shoes are not an option, and breaking in a new pair of flats is rarely easy and often involves a lot of blisters and rubbing. It only took me about a day of wearing these black flats to break them in, and then they magically turned into flats so comfortable that I could wear them as house slippers. I replace mine once every two years or so, but if you don’t live in a city that ruins all your favorite shoes like New York does, you could probably keep them in good condition for much longer.
You know when you're on the subway (or maybe boarding a plane, for all you non-city dwellers) and someone with an enormous backpack totally clocks you? The profile of this backpack stays slim even when the bag is full. I'm generally somewhat backpack-averse unless traveling because I find them to be kind of schleppy, but I feel comfortable carrying this one around day-to-day because of how compact it is. The canvas is thick and the straps are comfortable. The only downside I've noted is that because it's so structured, sometimes the zippers feel a little stuck, especially on the front pockets. But in general, so much love.
I’m always looking for more tips on basics-- what are your go-tos? Any recommendations?