The Basics

Are you a fan of the basics? They are the classic neutral pieces that you can wear with nearly everything in your wardrobe. The items may be different for every woman, but we all need a core wardrobe of solid pieces to wear with everything else in our collection.

We’ve been going for lots of long drives on sunny weekend days. There are so many beautiful places to visit within a two-hour drive in any direction from Johnson City, TN. On Saturday, we enjoyed driving through the Lamar Alexander Rocky Fork State Park.

Knowing that I would be sitting in the car for a few hours, and the temperatures were going to be mostly in the seventies, I wore soft dark denim jeans with a smooth wide waistband and my favorite camisole with a white cotton sweater. These are among my best basic pieces since I can style them with almost every other wardrobe element.

“What do I need to include in my basics wardrobe?” is a question that has come many times. The answers may be different for you, but I’ll list some of my must-have pieces by color to give you perspective.

When adding to your basics or core wardrobe pieces, the points to consider include color, fabric weight, texture, structure, silhouette, and attitude.

Basic Black Items – A well-made blazer, business or evening pants to wear with heels. One flattering black dress in a simple style to accessorize and wear in different ways for different occasions: a cashmere cardigan and a V-neck cashmere sweater, a shaped coat for all events, a one-piece swimsuit.

Navy Blue Items – A pair of dark trousers for all occasions; an elegant well-cut blazer, a cashmere V-neck sweater, and a cardigan. A fitted coat with decorative buttons for more casual looks, a cotton knit three-quarter sleeve top, dark denim jeans.

White Items – Great fitting high waist ankle jeans – the same in full length to the top of the foot. (I wear mostly white jeans since they are not see-through.) A white cotton cardigan – a white dressy blouse – a white cotton casual shirt – a white cami or tank that doesn’t cling.

Favorite Accessories – Black and also nude low block-heeled loafers, always with a visible arch. Low black boots. Nude pumps and sandals to wear with all my white jeans and the same in black for the evening. Handbags with personality and colors to add some zing to my mostly neutral wardrobe. Oversized dark glasses, silk scarves, hats, unusual long necklaces, bold rings, and bracelets.

The shoes are a couple of years old, and the tote is no longer available. Current shoes are here and here, and a similar tote is here.

Similar items from my look include: CamisoleCardiganJeansBraceletWatchRingEarrings

Shopping links in my posts may allow me to earn a small commission at no additional cost to you.

  1. Los consejos más básicos, son los más importantes.
    Como en un buen edificio, ahora podemos agregar artículos más interesantes.
    Gracias de nuevo
    Tus fotos son muy relajantes

  2. Very informative! Thank you! A post on your statement pieces used these basics would be of interest also. Your posts are always so thoughtfully well written.

  3. Wow, I truly like this look as it is coordinated and one I’d wear, so will copy and paste to my “collection” of things I like that you wear and how you accessories these outfits along with comments. Very casual but classy. But then you look good in almost everything you wear.

    Loved the pictures as we plan a trip in Oct to the area and may be able to see a few of the ones you have mentioned.

    Thanks for your advice, style and pictures. Always a pleasure to read your blogs as I seem to glean something with each one as well as different clothes to try and where to find them.

    Hope you continue to share for a very long time.

    Clara from Iowa

      1. I agree with a lady that posted below this. You did a do this/not this post not too long ago. The 1/3 – 2/3 rule is a great idea. Finding your best color palette – warm or cool toned skin. Which colors are warm or cool. Your skin care regimen for each season, the hair care products you use, manicure supplies (if you do it yourself).
        I think Mr. Mickey’s life story would be a topic of interest to your readers. Of course, he may not want that out in cyberspace. Little snippets that you have shared (his Mickey Mouse collection, military service) were interesting.
        A tour of Johnson City. Is there a business in town that you would like to highlight? If they ship, your readers may find a new site to peruse. These ideas popped into my head. Maybe one or two may be helpful to you. Susan, thank you for all you do for your readers.

  4. Oh, Susan! I need to hear it over and over again. It is so easy for years of unfortunate buying to grab me again. Each day you continue to keep me on track with not only my wardrobe, but my health habits. Every time I move away from healthy eating your column reminds me that every bite tastes the same and that your every day eating is eating less and nutritiously and allows for an occasional splurge. It is your example that helps me remember, I don’t have to eat the whole thing! Some repetition is not a bad thing in your blog.

  5. No need for you to worry about running out of things to share!! While I have been following you I have gone from business, back to education for 2 years and now retired. I appreciate ideas being written about again with perhaps a bit of new info or not and links to similar pieces! We are all in transitions and see with new eyes!! And you have new fans that still need lots of basic info.
    Maybe show yourself in some outfit that is not right in a screen that is right side by side and explain why one is better than another.
    Rule of thirds is always good to review. I find in the winter my short third is on top and in summer with capris and longer top I switch!
    You are appreciated!’

  6. Susan, you will never run out of relevant things to say because you have great insight. We often try something on and know we don’t like it on but don’t know why. You explain the why. You save us a lot of wasted time and money. I have found that if I just go in a shop hoping something will interest me, that is when I make mistakes. You have taught us to practice intentional shopping. Thank you for sharing with us.

  7. I think this might be my favorite post from you for all time !! I lack creativity and simply love having “ a list “ Thank you !,

  8. As I work to edit my wardrobe and find the basics that work best for me this post and your blog in general are a big help and inspiration. I appreciate you sharing your insights as it is done in a way that makes it possible to relate it to my own situation. My lifestyle seems to be getting increasingly casual and your blog is helping me to find a casual style while maintaining a bit of polish and elegance. Many Thanks!!

  9. I would love some pointers for how to dress our men/husbands in age appropriate classic style. And how about an occasional book report on books you’ve enjoyed?

  10. Dear Susan. I hope you are confident, from all of the comments above, that we – your fans – love to hear from you and think that everything you have to share is relevant. We appreciate you so much!
    Personally, I love seeing the photos you take while on your outings with Mr. Mickey. What a gorgeous area you live in!
    You are a blessing!

  11. Susan, don’t ever worry about running out of ideas to share. Especially for those of us who are slow learners, we learn something each time you post. Haha. I have a V-neck Eileen Fisher black dress that I am trying to think of ways to accessorizing. I have a short neck and have to be careful about wearing a scarf hoovering the neck. Black is not my best color near the face, so how would you lighten/brighten it up near the face with jewelry? Also it has cap sleeves, so what to cover the arms especially in the summer. It is knee length, and I was thinking a reptile printed sandal would add interest. Thank you so much. Pat

  12. Great post! Repetition is the key to taking it from my head to living it!! I doubt that I am alone on that, Susan, especially if we are of a different body shape or coloring. Then there is that added step for us of using the principles you give us and translating, to work for each of us. Repetition is good. Your blog is the best: beautiful scenery, healthy eating, simple food prep, reading and web site recommendations, retail sources and more in addition to outings with Mr Mickey and fashion knowledge and tips! Simplifying as we age is the key I believe to still enjoying life. I hope you enjoy blogging as much as we enjoy reading your blog!

  13. This is so helpful. I’m always too busy to figure this out and end up
    Buying various items that I like but that never work
    Together and Therefore have very few complete outfits with accessories that will pull an outfit together nicely. Thanks for this!

  14. We are all blessed to have you in our lives. Your insight and guidance have certainly helped me. You are my inspiration. Thank you so much.

  15. Susan,
    You are a breath of fresh and inspiring ideas during these challenging times! I read and reread so many of your posts. We all change and have a different perspective as time passes and I love all of your insights and shared experiences.

    I am a shoe-a-holic and I can’t help myself. I have been studying the best shape for my foot and saying good-bye to my high high high heels. So if you’re looking for a subject, I would enjoy a shoe episode.

    Be well, best wishes to Mr. Mickey …. and Write On!

  16. As always Susan, a lovely casual outfit. You sparkle in white and darker blues. Sharing day trips in your area always brings back wonderful memories of visiting my mother’s family in Hendersonville NC. We drive through Tennessee on our way back to Canada from Florida. It is beautiful, rugged and very rural. You are lucky to live in such a scenic spot.
    A question-what is a visible arch on a shoe?
    -how to choose the right lipstick colour (this drives me crazy!)
    -dealing with elderly parents who live on their own & still drive (mine are in 80’s & 90’s)
    -how to camouflage a tummy
    -examples with the rule of thirds

    1. A visible arch is the opposite of a sole that is flat on the ground all the way across. If the shoe has even a small block heel, there is a little space between the heel and the ball of your foot. I have a few pairs of sandals that are completely flat, and they are hard to walk in. They also make my feet look too small for my legs.

  17. Now that you both are retired or maybe you are semi retired you can take trips during the week. We love taking road trips during the week and staying home on weekends to leave restaurants and roads to those who only can do things on weekends. Restaurants aren’t nearly as busy. Or are shops. Altho we have both come to agree there is very little we need at this stage in our lives and probably less that we want. Love seeing your photos of scenery and food! My male friend actually lives next door so it’s very convenient for us to jump in the car and go.

  18. Love the list! Repeats are great reminders. Every now and then you give tips on how to appear taller and how to make the legs seem longer. Would you consider including tips for those of us who are taller than average? I am 5’11” and don’t want my legs to look any longer. I wear mainly flat shoes with an obvious arch. Do ankle length jeans make a tall woman look as though she couldn’t find a pair long enough?

  19. I love this look on you. Thank you for the list. It will help me as I go through a too full closet and as I shop.
    One of the things that sets you apart from other blogs is that they try on and show lots of new clothes. You share what you actually wear. I love this about you,
    Keep it up, please.

  20. Thank you so much for this guide. Just beginning to redo wardrobe, didn’t know where to start. Great articles and Mr. Mickey great photos

    It’s extremely helpful that we can see the clothes on you. Thank you.


  21. I agree with the previous comments. I am able to use your guidelines and tips in stores that work with my more modest budget. I would welcome suggestions on where to shop for unusual fashion jewelry. I love and appreciate the beauty of the jewelry you often wear but it’s just not an option for me. Thank you.

  22. I so appreciate your column, Susan, and it is a wonderful teaching tool. As a petite person (5′ 1″), I have yet to find a ruana that doesn’t overwhelm me. They are “one size fits all” , they droop too far down the arm and over the body, and bold prints make things even worse. I have found that petite figures benefit from the more precise look of tailored shoulders and a hemline that hits “just right.” I have given away every one I was ever tempted into buying because they always end up wearing me instead of the other way around.

    1. Thank you for the comment, Cheryl. You are correct in your observations. The petite woman should avoid things that are not well fitted and also prints or patterns larger than her fist.

  23. Susan, I find all of your posts helpful! I love the ideas on where to visit near Johnson City and the surrounding areas. I also really enjoy your suggestions for healthy eating and how you spend your days, your hobbies and lifestyle snippets. I learn a lot from your closet organization and how you seem to easily let go of things that no longer work for you even if they are still in good shape. You really do inspire all of us to build and maintain a wardrobe that works for our actual lifestyle today. I would enjoy having you take a current outfit idea that’s on Pinterest and showing how you would recreate it with items in your closet. Your knowledge of proportion is really helpful and accurate. Even though I am home now most of the time, I still dress and do my hair and makeup just because it makes me feel better! Have a great week and know we are appreciative!

  24. Hi Susan, your recent posts on why you began to Blog and this post on the basics are so interesting and very helpful. Love your blog. It blesses my day! Janet Herbert

  25. I love all your heels and I think they make your outfits. But, I am sorry to say I can no longer wear heels and would love to see a cross between heels and a flat. Doesn’t such a shoe exist? Love your blog!

    1. I used to wear three or four-inch heels all day as a retail manager, so for me, a two-inch block or wedge heel is a compromise. The key to getting a similar look is to wear shoes that are sleek looking on the foot. Think sportscar instead of mini-van.

  26. This was very helpful and I’m going to keep this list. I need to find your post about the rule of 1/3rds and read it again. Typically I stay with solid colors, I don’t like busy prints or paisley, however, I do like the nautical look. Do you think hotizonal strips in a top, say blue and white or black and white add weight? Appreciate your input and have been enjoying adding jewerly back into my wardrobe to accessorize even for casual events. Thank you for all of your helpful tips, time and effort.

    1. I love tops with narrow stripes in navy and white or black and white. The key to wearing them well is that they need to fit loosely. The best one I had was from the men’s department. When the striped shirts fit snuggly, and you wear them without a jacket, they can make you look larger than you are.

  27. I, too, like basic pieces and keep replacing them. It makes getting dressed and looking good so much easier.
    Thank you for your common sense approach to fashion.

  28. Love your style. Im only 5’2 and hippy. Can i wea tops long to cover rear?? Love french kande too

    Where can I find tanks that are not clingy?

    1. Sometimes wearing a long top showcases your rear more than it covers it. A loose-fitting top that skims over your waistline but stops before the widest part of your hip is usually the best option. I buy the Microfiber tanks from Chico’s in a larger size so that they don’t cling.

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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.