Classic Must-Haves Myth

When you search for articles about style and stocking your wardrobe with the classic basics, you will see select pieces mentioned almost every time. Some of those “Must-Have Items” decidedly do not work for me. Today, I will debunk the myth that every woman must have these items in her wardrobe, using myself as an example to explain why they don’t work for everyone. None of us is perfect, but wearing our best choices can help to take the attention away from our least favorite bits.

1. A plain white tee.
The problem with this one is that it is usually has a round crew neckline with short sleeves, which highlights the fact that I have a roundish puffy face. A tee-shirt with a short sleeve cannot be layered because those sleeves will show through and cause lumps under the sleeves of what you wear over the tee. A better choice for me would be a low scoop neck tank in a sleek fabric that stands away from my body rather than clinging to it. Chico’s Microfiber Contemporary Tanks serve me well all year round. Unlike slub cotton or ribbed knits, which are thinner and cling to everything on the way down, these have a heft to them and skim rather than cling to every dimple and roll. I go up a size in tank tops and button-front shirts to avoid pulling across the bust. The sleeves and armholes may be too long or too big, but I usually roll up sleeves a few times, and I never take my jacket off when wearing a tank.

2. A white button-front shirt.
A collared shirt is also not my best choice. Unless I leave several top buttons open, I am closing up the neckline and creating a roundish effect. The problem with leaving a few buttons open is that my ample bust is more than likely to pop a few more of those buttons open. This means I might be striding confidently through the airport terminal with my blouse open to mid-torso without realizing it. (Yes, that happened!) A better option would be the white tank top mentioned above under the white shirt and leave it mostly open and turn up the sleeves.

3. A tan trench coat.
First, the color is totally wrong for me. Second, all those tabs, buttons, epaulets, and the double-breasted effect with a belt are all wrong for my shape. They add bulk and details where I want verticle lines and smooth, sleek, simple closures. No more than two buttons with a deep V neckline is my best option for a coat style. Black, charcoal, or deep navy are much better color options for me.

4. A little black dress.
You lost me at dress. My legs have an OK shape, but the left one looks like a roadmap. I would rather not show that off even in pantyhose. Three silky black pieces, including straight fitting pants and an understated necklace, serve me much better than a dress, and I am so much more comfortable. The only dress I own is a black tank dress, which is long with a high slit. I can dress it up or down and layer over it.

5. Ballet Flats.
These shoes are just wrong for me, from the shape of the round toes to the very flat soles. A fellow once told me that I would be walking on my ankles if my feet were any smaller. I need a shoe with more visual weight than a ballet flat to balance my feet with my body.

6. Knee High-Boots.
Not with these wide calves! I prefer a short bootie style or an over-the-knee style with an accommodating wide elastic band at the back.

7. Khaki Trousers.
I have bought many pairs of khaki pants, but they never look or feel right on my body. Straight fitting pants are the only options that work with my shape. Pleats in front are a disastrous look for me. A good pair of straight leg white jeans is a much better color, fabric, and style option.

We went out to dinner on Friday evening, and I wore a long extender tank under a sparkly top (both by Clara Sunwoo) with slim-fitting black pants (by Lior Paris). These three items were gifts from A reversible animal print ruana was layered over the tops. The gold clutch and the ruana were gifts from Chico’s. The statement rhinestone earrings are by Ralph Lauren via Dillard’s.

We spent a long blissful weekend sitting in front of the fire, reading, and having homemade vegetable soup for lunch. I hope you had a safe and happy New Year’s celebration as well. Cheers! Happy 2018!

  1. Hope you have a very happy and healthy 2018. I spent most of Christmas rethinking my wardrobe after reading your blog! All my mistakes are off to the charity shop tomorrow…..
    Thanks for all your help.

  2. I wish you a very happy and healthy 2018.
    Many thanks for your very helpful blog, I’m reorganising my wardrobe as a result! Such a shame I’m in the Uk and although I could order from the US I think returning any goods would be a pfaff.
    But I’m working on replacing my many mistakes with UK products

  3. Thank you Susan. I thought I was the only one that found the recommended basics did not work for me. You talk so much sense, and your advice is easy to follow.
    I now feel free to ditch these dinosaurs from my wardrobe.
    Trusting that you and Mr Mickey have a great year.

  4. This is sooooo true! I have finally arrived at the point where I just shake my head when I see these “must-have” articles. The white blouse has never worked for me!

  5. This just makes total sense! One formula does not suit all. Maybe if you are 5ft 10 and a size 2….
    For the rest of us mere mortals, find what works for you and use that as your basic wardrobe.

  6. Best of wishes and appreciation for your expertise!
    Thank you for sharing your method for looking beautiful.
    Happy New Year

  7. I think all the classic items you list need to be adapted and can be adapted for each person. I live in Southern CA and there is no way a button front long sleeve white shirt is a classic for me. Short sleeve or sleeveless is just more suitable to our climate and flat laying or collarless necks are more flattering for me. It’s all about making it work for you, not taking each suggestion as a hard a fast rule.

  8. Thank you Susan. I’ve learned, and continue to learn, so much from you. So often now when I go out, even just to run errands, I get compliments on what I’m wearing and that’s in large part due to things I’ve learned from you on how to put myself together. Thank you and Happy New Year!

  9. I have never felt comfortable in a short white tee or a white collared blouse. Same for the khaki coat and pants. It is nice to know I am on the right track in avoiding these “must have” basics. Thank you for your Blog I enjoy it very much.

  10. This is a bit of a landmark moment for me – my first post on your blog. First a Happy and healthy New Year to you and your family. I started reading your blog last summer and pretty much read all the way through Fifty not Frumpy before graduating to Susan after sixty. Now I look forward to every new post. Your tips are fantastic and have given me much food for thought about my style and my wardrobe. Unfortunately, like Jos above, I live in the UK and I have yet to find a reliable source of the useful items as the Covered Perfectly tops. I wish we could have just one of your fabulous shops over here! I will just have to keep searching 🙂

  11. Wow this speaks to me for the most part. I try on khaki trench coats and hate them, even though they are supposed to be so essential. The color doesn’t do it for me. I usually have a pair of khaki pants each season – but I find I don’t wear them. But I do get tired of Chico’s tank tops and like some necklines on tshirts – like boat or scoop necks – that don’t show a lot of my 60 plus year old cleavage. And you must not have big shoulders as I have never even tried a poncho or ruana as nothing like that has ever been flattering on me! Thanks for this new years post!

  12. Happy New Year to you and Mr. Mickey! I have enjoyed your blogs so much over the years and wanted to thank you for all the work and love you put into them. On today’s post, I totally agree with you that not all “wardrobe basics” suit everyone. I am tall and slim but never wear white button-down shirts, khaki pants, OTK boots or traditional trench coats. Different strokes for different folks and I love your posts because you are always clear to point out that your fashion rules are those that work for your particular body shape and coloring and may not suit others. Thanks Susan!

  13. Absolutely love the tank dress outfit on you. Thank you for all of the wonderful advice. Happy New Year!

  14. I agree that the classic “basics” don’t suit everyone (me included) but I think (as you’ve shown) the list of basic pieces is valuable as a means of curating basics for a wardrobe that covers all your needs. As you’ve done it is helpful to find your own version of a t-shirt, trench coat, LBD etc. but make sure you have a version of those items in your closet as they are really the foundational pieces that support your wardrobe! And finding them in your right color and style will make all the difference!

  15. I am not a fan of the “must have” lists, most of which are wrong for me for the reason they are wrong for you. You will never see me in a beige trench or khaki pants. Audrey Hepburn, sure, but I do better with clothes that skim like your line does. Thanks for your wise counsel during the year. This is the year that I am in a very long and extremely helpful leg brace and your posts helped me figure out how to manage the clothes-liking feature of my personality.

  16. I’m not sure I’m understanding. The white shirt/blouse — so are you saying that the ruffles are
    better for larger bust? Love reading all these great ideas. I so agree with the khaki pants and coats. I have tried to wear khaki pants and just can’t do it.

    1. No, I was just showing you some examples of white shirts that we are often told we need in our wardrobes. I need a low V-neck style. Anything with ruffles will make your top look larger, so I never wear ruffles.

  17. Happy New Year, Susan! I enjoy your thoughtful posts. I’m joining the over-60 crowd on February 9th, and you’ve given me good ideas Happy, healthy 2018!

  18. I agree with every one of your points. I’m often shocked and annoyed at the so-called fashion experts on tv and in magazines who actually get paid and get it sooo wrong. Thanks.

  19. I honestly have never met a woman who looks god in anything khaki. Men fine but women look awful. Same for most round neck tees. These are just not flattering on the female form. I do love dresses though. Nothing makes me feel happier and more feminine than a fun Lilly Pulitzer dress and strappy sandals in the summer heat of south Louisiana.

  20. Great post! I agree. I’m only 5 foot (135 lbs) and most of your suggestions are spot on for me. Thank you!
    Happy New Year!


  21. Happy New Year! I enjoy reading your blog. I am 5’4’ and petite. I just love your scarves but often feel they over power me. I am sure you have mentioned this before but how tall are you? You look so tall and elegant in your blog.

  22. I know this is off the subject but in thinking about your lifestyle where you mainly eat two meals a day, how do you handle dinner invitations? I am wondering how this would work.

  23. Spot on, as usual. I could never figure out why white blouses don’t look great on me. Now I don’t have too! I do have a classic Burberry trench but it’s black, and all those adornments are much less conspicuous. I like khaki-colored pants but I make sure the style is just right (flat front and no details); the material may be denim or linen. I have succumbed to a few pairs of ballet flats but they aren’t my favorites as a little bit of a heel feels better. From you, this past year I have learned about Shapeez, which has changed my life, and have learned to love short boots (I now have several pairs). Keep up the great work Susan. We SO appreciate your advice and elegance. Happy New Year from a fellow 60-something!

  24. I don’t own any of the “essentials” on that list either. I choose what is comfortable and looks good on me. My wardrobe has greatly changed since I turned 70 and assumed the same shape as Spongebob Squarepants!

  25. I so agree that “must haves” are very individual, for reasons that include body shape, height, coloring, climate, lifestyle and personality.

    I own zero white shirts or tees (too hard to keep clean with sunblock, dislike woven fabrics with no stretch, dislike long sleeves and prefer three-quarter length), zero tan anything (ghastly, unforgiving colour with my complexion), lots of black but almost no dresses of any kind, zero khakis (pear shape — bad idea) and lots of ballet flats that I can’t wear, due to a heel spur. As for knee-high boots, love them, but they are hard to find in the right height for me. Most end at mid-calf, which I don’t like at all.

    Don’t even get me started on the “must-have” purses and handbags. I have been known to throw a fit when such lists include items that cost as much as my son’s college tuition. Not happening, ever.

  26. Oh I just loved laughing aloud at “you lost me at dress.” I had a good chuckle at the airport story too. The way you know what flatters you best has really been teaching me to study photos I’m in (not many, but I’m using the ones I’m in to see what works.) Thank you for helping us all see we can be our most elegant, confident selves the better we analyze what works on us instead of adhering to rules that don’t apply to us any longer, or never did. Happy 2018!

  27. How you find the time to write such great blogs, I don’t know, but I thank you for it.

    You look stunning, as always. I must say that for my body type, I still like to wear dresses that hit right below the knee. With hose, of course. Wrinkled knees are not attractive, though the leg shape is still pretty good.

    I also wear ballet flats, but I am a 7.5 shoe size.

    It’s so interesting to learn these pointers, and to understand the difference in what looks good on certain body types. You are so good at explaining things and educating me.

    Happy New Year!

  28. Agree with you on every point, even our beloved namesake mimic…the LBD! Sometimes I think we just need permission from someone respected to let us do what is perfect for us. We strive to do the same for our client’s homes. Like fashion, there are simply too many choices to not be able to create what works. Nice start of the year post. – Laurel

  29. Wow! Your blog has helped me so much. I must admit that I had to work and study my clothing and what goes with what. I am not in the obvious price range as you, however I am able to find clothing in the discount stores that seem to fit the bill. I remember one of your recent blogs: look at expensive items knowing that you can’t afford them, and then duplicate.

    You are fabulous!!!

    Happy New Year

  30. Great advice about the “must have lists.” This is so liberating for me. I have spent many a shopping trip looking for the basics the professionals say I should own. “They” said it and so it must be true. I never felt that I was looking my best in these items for many of the same reasons you talked about. I don’t own anything on that list any more since I have been following you. Thanks.

  31. Hello Susan, I have searched Chico’s site and even put in a search for their Microfibre Contempory Tank Tops and they do not show up. How can I find them? Thanks Jennifer

  32. BRILLIANT! I have raged against the “little white tee” for years, having a round face and full bust myself. Also, being short-waisted, a trench coat is not my friend. Salute to you for debunking the “everyone must have/wear” idea! You always look wonderful, Susan. Happy New Year.

    1. Hi Susan and Happy New Year. I love your leopard ruana and surprised that you can wear that color so close to your face. Most traditional leopard prints are too warm coloring for me. I do have a leopard dress but it is not the coloring you usually see. It is done in black, grey and a little touch of royal blue. Tell us how you compensate wearing that when it’s not your best colors?

      1. This leopard print has no gold in it. There is just a redish brown, black and soft gray colors, all of which I can wear. If it had the typical gold, cream, tan colors I would not wear it near my face.

  33. I love this post! For so long I have read wardrobe and style advice pieces and bristled at the “must-haves.” Most of them don’t work for me and the suggestions you make for alternatives are far more appropriate for my style and body shape. Thank you.

  34. I can’t thank you enough for this post! So many of these must-haves look horrible on me! Thanks for affirming my choice to “just say no”!

  35. I, actually, look good in a white man’s shirt and I’m a 40D. But I have to sew snaps in between the buttons to avoid the popping out thing. The other must haves don’t suit me either.

  36. Interesting post Susan. I don’t follow the “must have” lists, but 4 of these items have been staples in my wardrobe for as long as I can remember. My trench coats have always been black or white rather than tan and I love white shirts, but they have to have a unique or interesting detail. Most of the dresses I’ve owned have been a version of the LBD and knee high boots are a must have in our cold weather. I’m not a fan of crew neck white tees though (not flattering for my face shape and long-ish neck) and ballet flats are just not comfortable (too flat) and I don’t like the colour khaki, so would never buy khaki trousers. I guess the point is to find what suits your body and fits your personality and make your own “must have” version.

  37. Thank you so very much for your honest realistic advice. I have fallen for many of the ‘essential’ basic pieces, completely ignoring the fact that they really don’t work on my body! Your advice and examples are wonderful!

    Much appreciate the ‘permission’ to turn my thinking around….my body is fine, it’s the clothing article that doesn’t belong. Nothing wrong with my body, nor the clothing. It’s just they don’t belong together!

    Keep up your superior work! Thank you!,

  38. I have gotten khakis from Lands End and LL Bean, because both have smooth front pants. I once thought I needed the pleats to accommodate my belly pouch but found the smooth front is much more slimming if the proper size is worn. As for ballet flats, I love the look but won’t wear them myself because I hate seeing toe cleavage. I definitely need a higher vamp. And due to muscular calves, tall boots are out also.

  39. Love connecting with your thoughts! I just discovered you on Pinterest! …Following your blog now.

    I have so many beautiful pieces in my closet; it’s nice to have someone to inspire me to put them together in fresh, new ways!

    62 years young here! I came “out of the closet” 2 1/2 years ago with my ✨Gifts!✨ Turning 60 was a blessing!

    Happy New Year!

  40. Happy New Year, Susan. Looking forward to reading your posts in 2018. I always wondered why you didn’t wear khakis. Thought they would be a great neutral for you.

  41. I thought there was something “wrong” with me since I didn’t look good in white, khaki, knee high boots, or trench coats. Thank you for giving me permission to take a pass on these items (and anything else that simply doesn’t suit me).

  42. Hello Susan, I am so glad you commented on the must haves. I too struggle with the classic pieces that are always mentioned. I have purchased many chino style pants, white blouses, trench coats. The clothes always looked off on me. I will try the button downs with a tank. Skip the pants, and trenches and ballet flats. I still have a few dresses, but not my go too either. Thank you for this article on the classic must have myth. Love the blog.

  43. Great Summation – it’s important to KNOW and then WEAR what looks good on YOU, not the latest “it” item or classic must haves – thanks for always reminding us of this fact!

  44. Susan, I love your tips and your style! I’m 56 and was having a hard time figuring out a wardrobe that worked for me but still looked sexy and stylish, you have it all figured out! I love the necklace you are wearing with the tank dress and jacket. Is it available anywhere to purchase?

  45. Hi Susan

    You seem to be a pretty amazing women, I turn 65 on January 13th of this year and I ran across your blog. I was searching for common ground for me to help me grow as the woman I want to be
    I have an amazing family but I seem to loose myself in taken care of them.
    I thank you for all the helpful tips you shared with womens like me
    God Bless You

  46. I realize it is March, but I just found this post now. I am so glad I did. I just read a blog from a different person who was extolling the virtues of the very things you, Susan, have busted as myths. I love how you have figured out who you are and what works for you. Your ideas as so transferable as skills, and it is inspirational for we readers to find our own way too, not buy somebody else’s checklist. I don’t want a tan trench coat! You are so real. I feel there is a real person there, not someone so up on themselves, so into fashion as a purpose, but rather wardrobe to facilitate a good life. Always well dressed, always gracious, always ready to embrace a walk by the river or a trip to the bank or dinner at the inn.

  47. Thank you how refreshing! As I read all your info I have found out those same things do not work for me either. More & more I read your tips & apply them to my wardrobe & am feeling much more comfortable thanks to you. I appreciate everything you post.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

I share tips and inspiration for using what you already have in contemporary ways. Defining words include effortless, classic, refined, discreet, and elegant. My style is chic, minimal, and timeless with a bit of edge.