The Wardrobe Basics

Great style is all about finding the right wardrobe staples and accessories that look good on you and make you feel confident. If you dip your toe in a trend, you don’t need to spend much. For example, I found this embroidered balloon sleeve tee at Banana Republic Factory earlier. It is sold out now, but if I recall correctly, it was less than thirty dollars on sale.

The woven sleeves are embroidered with cutouts, and the wrist is elasticized, making it easy to push them up. The body is made from cotton knit material.

Thankfully, my sister is well enough to spend the morning helping my parents, so I wore the tee out to lunch for a much-needed day off. Adding one trendy piece to my classic basics that I’ve worn countless times made the look more modern. The white straight-leg high waist jeans are from Talbots here. The shoes are by Sam Edelman here.

Several folks asked to see the back of my hair now that I’ve let it grow. My stylist is April Atkins at Van Kye Salon on W Oakland Ave. (423) 350-0747.

Mr. Mickey and I enjoyed a delightful afternoon in Bristol, having lunch and shopping in several antique stores. We had a delicious meal with excellent service at our favorite table by the window at Vivian’s Table. The fabulous Bristol Hotel was ranked #10 in the USA by Travel + Leisure 2020. After a few hours of looking at antiques, we were ready to relax and have a cocktail at the hotel’s rooftop bar Lumac. The panoramic view of downtown Bristol and the distant mountain ranges is stunning.

Many of you have asked for a list of basics. Naturally, this list will be different for each person based on your taste and lifestyle. For example, I don’t wear skirts and rarely wear dresses, so they are not essential for me. However, below is the list of garments I invest in and intend to wear many times over the next three (or more) years.

White jeans
Medium blue jeans
Dark blue jeans
Black jeans – I opt for black, dark blue, or white jeans that look more polished than light blue denim. (I recently donated most of my light blue jeans.)

Black slacks
White slacks

Tanks, Tees, Shirts, and Blouses – white, navy, black, gray, plum.

Cashmere or fine knit cotton sweaters and cardigans – black, gray, navy, plum.

Denim – shirts and jackets
Blazers – navy, gray, black, red
Casual jackets – black, red, blue

If you buy something through my links, I may earn a small commission at no cost to you.

  1. Love this look on you and so glad you were able to have a time off for yourself with your sister helping out with your parents. As usual, you look great. The shorter top make your legs look soooo long. I’m sure that is part of the reason for your choice. Your flat tummy makes it more attractive than those of us who still have a slight pudge in that area but we can dream of looking as slim and keep slimming down as you happen to be now. You give us the incentive to try harder. Having your list of “basics” certainly helps to deal with our closet “make-over” as well as purchasing new items. It is also a reminder for us as well.
    One of my favorite items you wear now and then is the scarf with a pretty blue in it as it brings out your eyes and makes you sparkle, look younger and softer. (I may have mentioned that before, grin).
    Have a safe, super fantastic time for the rest of this Labor Day holiday.
    Clara from Iowa

  2. Beautiful view from the rooftop. Your list of basic staples is very similar to mine only in different colors. Limiting my color palette to my best colors is very freeing. Just about everything goes with everything else and I don’t buy anything outside of that palette. I still have to maintain a small work wardrobe in addition but since I only work part time it’s not extensive.

  3. Susan, I am so glad to hear that your sister is better. Caregiving can be physically and emotionally exhausting, even when we do it with such a generous heart like you have done. I was my mother’s main caregiver for the five years as she slowly slipped into Alzheimers and eventually went into assisted living. So I was especially happy to see you had a much deserved day out.
    Thank you for your list of basics. My colors are a bit different as I know I look best in brighter warm colors, somewhat to my chagrin! I draw the line at orange, though.

  4. Susan,

    I enjoy your posts and you always look so put together. I struggle with color. I had my colors done back in the day and according to the BeautiControl consultant I have warm skin tone. I have a rosy complexion, green/grey eyes and grey hair. I’d love some color suggestions that would be appropriate for my skin tone.

    Thank you

    1. Look for colors with a yellow or golden undertone. Navy, for example, can have a brownish hue for warm skin tones, but it can also have a clear deep blue tone that looks better on people with cool coloring.

  5. Susan,
    Glad to hear your family is recovering. Your blog is such a standout among the many that seem to just encourage trying every trend out there without too much thought or planning. Your wardrobe is well curated. It’s so interesting to me that by having the basic elements in just a few of the correct colors and beautiful accessories, it can create such cohesive outfits. Our colors are similar and I will carry this list with me when shopping. Wishing continued good health to your family.

  6. So glad you were able to get a break with Mr. Mickey! One thing I don’t like on Pinterest is that there is no “like” to hit! Thank you for continuing to share your helpful ideas!

  7. Hi Susan

    I wear warm tone colors but it is difficult to find dark top and slacks that are the same tone so I end up wearing black which is not my color

    My hair is almost totally white now so I keep ivory away from my face

    Any suggestions?
    Barb Atwell

  8. Sorrry to hear about your Dad’s bout with CVOID.
    I’m waiting for appointments to open up so I can get my “next” booster before starting in on Fall. At this point I’m just plain tired of all of this!

    The quality of knitwear has been on a major decline over the past couple of years. I read your post about L.L.Bean with interest because they are a retailer who continues to sell higher quality cottons. It’s no good to get discounted tops that pill and fall apart after a few wearing, I’d rather pay a bit more and have something that will wear well. It pains me a little to buy a $40 cotton top, but it’s better than buying 3 $20 ones that don’t last!

    Will this be the last appearance for your white jeans until next Summer?

  9. You look stunning as always! Thanks for this great list of basics. Just wanted to say that I love the way your hair looks. So attractive!

  10. Like some others here have mentioned, love your hairstyle. Like it at this length & it looked good before shorter but it is especially flattering now. Your new top is very becoming & feminine. Nice that you & Mr. Mickey could enjoy a break. Hope your father continues to improve. That rooftop deck looks delightful & how beautiful to have those views.

  11. So good to see you’re able to escape for a fun day. You look so happy and perfectly pretty! I want to go to that rooftop bar !

  12. Susan,
    As always you look so lovely. I enjoy your blog immensely and was so sorry to hear of your father’s illness and am.praying for his contibued improvement.
    I have gray/white hair and blue eyes. My skin has a fair amount of red in it. My makeup is minimal now. I noticed your baby blues always look so clear. Would you mind sharing what eye shadow you are currentlyusing along with liner and any special tips.
    Thank you,

    1. I fill in my brows with a gray pencil (here) and use two eyeshadow colors COCOA (SEMI-MATTE) here and STORM (SEMI-MATTE) here. Keep the shadow in a minimal area above your lashes and blend it well. Do not extend the eyeliner or shadow beyond where the last lash grows since it accentuates any downturn. I use a black eyeliner here smudged into and slightly above the lashline and on the upper waterline only. Black mascara here used only on the top lashes completes the eye makeup routine. I don’t put anything on the lower waterline or lashes.

  13. I love you classy and elegant style. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. What type outfits would you suggest for smart casual office attire? Jeans are allowed only on Fridays.

    1. Slacks, a skirt, and a blouse or sweater can be the foundation for your office attire. Add scarves and other accessories to complete your looks. A good leather tote to hold all your essentials and a small crossbody bag keeps everything looking neat and pulled together. This young blogger shows lots of great-looking suggestions for workwear.

  14. Thank you for this list! It will be so helpful building my wardrobe. I love your style. It’s classic and that’s what I like to wear also

  15. Thank you for the list of basics. I am always trying to pare down my wardrobe and your advice and styles work well for me. Remember to take time for yourself!

  16. SUSAN

    Thank you for the wonderful post. As usual, you are stunningly gorgeous, as you always are. These images evoke warm memories of the area where I grew up, not far from it in the North Carolina mountains. Here is wishing you a wonderful holiday. Thank you for brightening mine.

  17. I always look forward to your invaluable posts. By using your styling tips, I no longer waste money on clothes that quickly go out of fashion. By having fewer items, I feel less stress when dressing and am able to coordinate pieces quickly.
    Glad you had a brief break from caregiving duties. I hope your father is comfortable and improving…. What a blessing to be part of a loving and supportive family.

  18. Susan,
    Would you consider another “closet tour” since you’ve downsized ? The organization, the layout and how many of said items. Are you spread out in a few closets (like some of us are ) ? Are both winter and summer wardrobes present at all times or do you switch out seasonally?
    Thank you for considering this post.

    1. Hi, Nancy. You might have missed the tour I shared of my current closet situation. It is here. This morning, I visited my climate-controlled storage unit to remove some of the most summery items and switch them out for the lightest weight fall items and closed-toe shoes.

  19. Some great tips ,Susan. I’m going to take a look at my closet. I don’t wear half of what I have there. I like your hair too bad I don’t live in that area anymore. I’m looking for a good stylist.
    Good to hear you were able to have some time off. Hope things are improving.

    Thanks for the beautiful pictures from the rooftop. Pretty place!

  20. Susan,
    The black blouse is a nice find. Black and white are always classy. I love your shoes and agree that heels are comfortable. I can wear 2-3 inch heels without a problem. They make me feel like the final touch has been added to my special outings.
    I’m glad your father is home and you have your sister now that she’s recovered.
    My closet is in great shape because of all your help.
    Thank you.

  21. Hi Susan
    So sorry to hear about your father’s illness & that your sister has Covid-19. We lost a beloved family member from Covid-19 a few months ago. Was shocking since he was in good health otherwise. I am glad you are growing your hair longer.

    Blessings, Judith

  22. Dear Susan – I would like to thank you for one of your earlier posts in which you encouraged us all to get our mammograms, etc done in a timely manner. Two of my sisters had breast cancer, so the thought of getting a mammogram fills me with dread ( like waiting for the other shoe to drop) and I usually put it off for months. However after reading your post, in which you encouraged us quite sensibly to get these tests done, I kept thinking , “Well, if Susan does this so can I.” I put on my big girl panties and had the mammogram ( which turned out fine). After following your posts for quite some time, I feel like I am receiving emails from a dear friend. Thank you for your advice and encouragement!

  23. Thank you for the list of your basics.. I have followed you and have seen your basics but you always look as though you have a closet full but I can now understand how you mix your wardrobe. Now that your Dad is home taking time with Mr Mickey and yourself is healing.. Al the best to you and your family and, of course, Mr Mickey

  24. I so look forward to every one of your posts. I have tried the Beautycounter products and find them awesome! Thank you for the recommendation, I am still in the process of clearing out my wardrobe as I have lost over 40 pounds over the past two years and now I am back to my usual sizes. Thank goodness I kept some of the classic pieces that I can wear now with confidence. Thank you so much fir your posts.

  25. Hi Susan!
    So glad you had a day off and were able to have an enjoyable date with Mr. Mickey. It’s good to hear that your sister is well enough now to help with the care of your parents. You are lucky to have such a devoted family.

    I think your hair is beautiful. It perfectly frames your face and the back is perfect and lays nicely.
    Of course the black & white ensemble is stunning and looks comfortable and chic. Thank you for the pictures of places you go. Every location looks so inviting! It’s been extremely hot here in Southern California and we are longing for cooler temperatures.

    Take care and have a wonderful Labor Day!

    Best regards,

  26. I am so glad to have found your website! I am 62 and have never known how to dress like I should. Seriously no clue. You are helping to change that! Thank you!

  27. Hi Susan,
    I am in the process of building my retirement wardrobe and need some advice on what to wear for my shape. I am 61, 5′ 1″, large busted (36G) and tend to carry my weight in my stomach and hips. I am also small boned and avoid large flowy items. My work wardrobe consistented if column dressing with a jacket.This look served me well for over 30 years. Now, I work from home and my wardrobe is much more relaxed.
    I need your advice on recommendations as how to dress for my shape. Being large busted I tend to shy away from lighter colors for tops. In jeans I am at a quandry because we live in NC where it is very warm and humid so I have to take that into account. I have looked online but it seems like everything is target for a much younger demographic. I do not dress trendy and feel that scarves over power me. I shy away from dresses and skirts because of the veins in my legs. I would appreciate any help. I know I can dress better than jeans and a tee shirt.
    Thank you,

    1. Hi, Kelly. Stick to simple designs in tops in darker colors and loose-fitting, comfortable pants. I hope these and the other tips on my website help you create a retirement wardrobe that serves you well.

  28. Dear Susan,
    I really appreciate your list of basics. We live in England and have planned a big family holiday to Orlando and the parks for two weeks, from 20 October to 5 November. This is a big celebration for our 50th Anniversary We have arranged our accommodation and transport for ourselves, son, daughter, son-in-law plus two young granddaughters aged 6 and 3. I know you gave hints on what to pack when on holiday however two weeks is a long time even with laundry facilities. I have taken your advice before on previous short holidays and they work perfectly.

    So possibility of storms means a rain jacket is needed. Otherwise I believe the weather will be comfortable. I only wear jeans and trousers due to my mobility issues, ie I loose my balance easily and can fall so skirts/dresses are out.
    I llike your selection above. Are white trousers/jeans ok in late fall? I can only wear flat shoes but luckily there is a good selection here. As for the parks I would opt for comfortable trainers. I also have cool skin tones and have some nice silver jewllery. Any other advice?

    Kind regards.
    Aileen Goodwin

    1. I hope you have a wonderful time with your family on the trip. Happy Anniversary!

      I wear white jeans year round on sunny days. You will be well dressed throughout your trip if you take garments in colors and fabrics to mix, match, and layer as needed.

  29. hello Susan. You are so pretty. I am my Mom’s caregiver now and I surely do not look as put together as you. You continue to inspire me! I love your hair too. Stay well and I hope your father is feeling better.

  30. I noticed that you have a beautiful ring on your left hand and a smaller one behind the large rock.
    Are you now married to Mr. Mickey. You both always look fabulous and happy smiles. I hope I’m
    Right. If not than, ENJOY LIFE.

  31. Thanks for the helpful list! Enjoy getting your updates.
    PS I am a gerontologist, so I have some feeling for your privilege/responsibilities with your parents. Glad to see you have some time off and that you realize the importance of selfcare. If you are not part of a caregivers’ support group, you will likely be able to find one online. It can be a great help. Blessings. Anne

  32. I think I am in the minority but I like your hair shorter. It is beautiful now but think the shorter length was very flattering for you.

  33. What a fabulous haircut!!! It is very flattering!
    Thank you for the wardrobe tips. Can you suggest a similar list for those of us who are bottom heavy and have autumn coloring? Your advice is much appreciated.

    1. Hi, Eileen. Smooth-fitting dark colors on the bottom and tops that end above the widest part of your hips will be most flattering for you. Also, colors with a golden undertone will be your best option. Shades of brown, navy, olive, khaki, burgundy, ivory, and brick red are all colors you can wear well.

  34. Hello Susan,

    Greetings from Massachusetts!!!

    Thank you for sharing your “list” of wardrobe item essentials. I love lists, takes the guess work out! Thanks for making my life simpler.

    Please know I’m sending healing prayers to your dad and all your family.


  35. Thank you for continuing to share your stying tips for us as we age and change. After retirement I’ve found I need a lot less of everything.

  36. Thank you so much for this post. I’m always lost when it comes to shopping and my wardrobe is…let’s say very eclectic but no functional. This list is GOLD! Now I can shop at ease with this great guide. Please keep posting, I love your posts and they are incredibly helpful.

  37. Love your posts and style–so practical and classy. You helped me develop my capsule for a Mediterranean cruise I’m going in one week–bucket list event! I lost my husband of 53 years in April and this trip came up for me with gal friends. I’m not even taking a dress because I never enjoy wearing them-Dress pants and tops instead. Thank you.

    p.s. You new hair style is lovely.

    1. The weight of the fabric should determine if you can wear the garment in winter, not the color. For example, I wear my white jeans all year round on sunny days because splashing back from wet streets permanently stains the back hemline of your pants.

  38. Hi Susan

    I know that your life is pretty hectic at the moment as you help your father back to health. When life returns to normal can you please advise on necklines and tailoring to hide a slight hunch at the base of the back of the neck? Cause partly genetic and partly work related – too many years hunched over a keyboard. Am finding ballet classes helpful with posture. In the meantime any fashion advice you can give would be most welcome.

    Thank you


    1. Collared shirts, scarves, or jackets will draw attention away from the hump. Also, ensure your skirts, jackets, and shirts do not ride up at the back hemline. Small shoulder pads can also help.

  39. Happy Birthday Susan! I follow your blog and purchased few items in the past, most recently I noticed your beautiful silver tone bracelet – I would very much appreciate a link to the source where you purchased it?
    Thank you for the beautiful blog!

  40. Hi Susan, I have been following you for a long time. I absolutely love your style! And your healthy eating advice has been wonderful. Thank you for that. I have also been wanting to ask your advice for that same very long time! Here is my quandry…. I am 72, 5’9″, overweight. BUT I have recently lost 25 lbs with 50 more to go. I carry my weight in my bust and middle. I was always thin until menopause and cancer and meds messed me up. Also, I am letting my hair go gray/white/whatever. I grew up a Strawberry Blonde, been dying my hair a light auburn for the last 20 years or so. I am so over the hair dye, the chemicals, the time, the money. I like the dye job for about 2 weeks, then it fades to orange. Then I hate it. I am done! (Hair stylist told me it would be an ugly color but as my husband says, she has a vested interest in me continuing to spend $$$ on hair color).
    I just pulled out fall clothes ( I now live outside Charleston SC) and I hate everything I have. I have always gravitated to greens and blues, royal, periwinkle etc because of blue eyes and red hair. And freckles. And I tend to buy black, even though it doesn’t flatter me. The clothes I have are just a hodgepodge mess of whatever I could find on sale in my size. Nothing goes. PLease help me build a basic wardrobe for my coloring. I am only 3 months into the no-dye process. I guess my skin is warm toned due to red hair and freckles. When my hair gets to its now natural color gray or white, will I still be warmed toned? Many years ago I had a ColorMeBeautiful consult, was considered to be Autumn back then.
    I am retired and don’t get out much so I don’t need a lot. And don’t want to invest a lot in these larger sizes (1X) as I am trying so very hard to lose the weight. IF I could just figure out the right colors to buy, I could start over with a few better quality basics.
    Thank you for hopefully taking the time to read this and helping . I am so desperate to feel better about myself

    1. Hi June, thank you for your comments and questions. I’ve heard from many women who said almost the same things. First, narrow your palette to only three colors that work well together and look best on you without considering your hair color. Next, look for very simple things like tanks, plain tees, and a good pair of jeans (or the bottom of your choice) that fits you well now. Think of these elements as pieces of a puzzle. What do you have already that will work with the three new items? Finally, pack away all the things that don’t fit your body or style. Six months from now, you can donate all those items if you haven’t thought about them or had to remove them from the box. Then, build on the new pieces as you find what you like. Make sure any new items work well with your smaller palate and that they make you feel like the best version of yourself. Don’t settle for less.

  41. Susan, thank you so very much for your reply. I am so honored that you took time to help me. I have since gone through my closet this morning. Two big bags for the charity shops! I tried everything on and modeled for my husband. Got rid of most of the print tops, sticking to solids now. We decided that blues and greens, some black and white are most complimentary NOW with my hair color as it is. It has faded to more of a strawberry blonde, expect it will be more beige after my haircut next week. haha. I know most stylists suggest a more neutral wardrobe but white and cream/ beiges wash me out. So color it is. For now. Thank you again. I have gained so much from reading your blogs. My best to you and your loved ones. We have family in Kingsport, planning to come for the fall colors , hopefully in late October. Love that area.

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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.