7 Basics That Are the Secret Behind All of My Interesting Outfits

May 16, 2021 at 06:00AM

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I rather like the phrase “bread and butter,” specifically when it relates to an item of everyday or ordinary value. For example, you could say that fashion “basics” are the bread and butter of your average wardrobe—the hard-working building blocks that allow other, more statement-making items to truly shine. The toast to your beans and the spaghetti to your Bolognese, if you will. If this isn’t resounding praise for the humble carb, then I don’t know what is. 

As with any unsung hero, the fashion basic has spent much of its life in the shadows of its flashier siblings, yet over the last 12 months, as many of us settled into WFH life, it has been offered a rare moment in the spotlight. Indeed, the prevailing minimalist aesthetic has meant that, really, the more simplistic the outfit the greater the kudos. (We can thank The Row for that.) If this were The X Factor, this would be the moment that Joe Bloggs shuffles on stage and proceeds to belt out Aretha Franklin to a standing ovation. A star is born.

While there are a number of basics that take pride of place in the fashion hall of fame—think classic jeans and white T-shirts—I believe that they can, and should, be adapted to each individual’s needs. In my own wardrobe, they act as the glue to my sometimes disparate purchases. A ruffled silken blouse is brought down to earth with a pair of white dungarees. A pair of flamboyantly fluted trousers is balanced by classic loafers. Just like any successful and equal partnership, their strengths emerge when they learn to embrace their differences. The basic is in no way a support act; rather it is right at the centre of the action.

Anyone who is a regular Who What Wear reader will know that I am a vintage fanatic, and while I will always champion the preloved cause, I also believe that to make our shopping habits more sustainable, we must also change the way we approach our preexisting clothes. By making your basics the centres of gravity, from a fashion perspective, you allow everything else to fall into place around them and, in turn, help create a cohesive whole. The result? A capsule that operates like a well-oiled machine and doesn’t rely on “newness” to feel fresh. 

This week, I’ve spent some time thinking about which items constitute my own basics capsule, and in the end, I came up with seven pieces that never let me down. I’ve styled each one to show you how these style workhorses are essential to creating vibrant outfits that bring both joy and personality to our fashion lives. From denim and tailoring to shoes and T-shirts, scroll down to see the true bread and butter of my wardrobe. 

I’m afraid all other summer sandals have been ruined for me ever since I bought my Birkenstocks. I honestly lived in them last summer during lockdown, and I know I can throw them on with any outfit at a moment’s notice. Here, I’ve styled them with my favourite Staud summer dress and Depop-bought Nanushka base layer. They’re the perfect foil to summer’s extroverted colour and print. 


A jumpsuit might not be a typical inclusion in a basics roundup, but for me, it’s an item that I turn to year in and year out. I particularly find that dungarees are the perfect way to frame the (many) statement blouses that are sitting in my wardrobe, and this pair from Seventy + Mochi has the perfect kick-flare fit that flatters my beloved Alohas two-tone boots. 

I would hazard a guess that around 90% of the population owns at least one pair of jeans, and for me, they’re probably the one item I wear more than any other. Of course, jeans trends come and go, but where possible, try to identify the cuts and colours that make you feel your best, regardless of whether they’re “on-trend” or not, as this will ensure they stand the test of time. I personally prefer a looser fit, as I find them to be the most harmonious with the rest of my wardrobe, and this pair from sustainable denim brand Boyish ticks all the boxes. 

I have to say, sad though it may sound, wearing tailoring is one of the things I’ve missed most about “normal” working life. There’s something so satisfying about the crisp lines of a pair of tailored trousers that just makes me feel able to tackle the day head-on. My preferred fit is high-waisted and wide-legged, as seen in this Who What Wear pair, which perfectly complements the cropped proportions of Batsheva’s gingham blouse. However, you also can’t go wrong with a slim-fit black pair, which looks very chic with loafers and brogues. 

I have always been a fan of flat shoes. I remember buying my first pair of patent brogues from Topshop as a teenager and wearing them until they were falling apart at the seams. I bought the above pair from Jigsaw over five years ago, and they have lasted incredibly well. Their throw-on-and-go, nonchalant appeal never gets old. While they look good with casual separates, I think they work best with polished personality pieces, such as this fab pair of ruffled trousers from Uterqüe. 

Another beloved member of the tailoring crew is the blazer. Whether oversize, belted, colourful or classic, this has carried me through many a job interview, weekend walk and work meeting over the years, and its versatility shows no sign of wavering. I’m a big fan of this iteration from Bouguessa, as it’s colourful in a way that doesn’t feel intimidating, and it offers just the right amount of oversize appeal to any outfit. 

Ah, white T-shirts. Where would I be without you? I’m afraid I’m quite boring when it comes to selecting white tees, as a few years ago I found my perfect iteration in the form of Arket’s basic crew-neck. Just the right amount of fitted across the shoulders and loose on the hips, it’s fair to say I wear these at least twice a week all year round. They are the ultimate base layer to all my favourite colourful vintage jackets and look great tucked into jeans. I’ve styled here with a smart skirt and heeled boots, a pairing I plan on wearing the moment I go back to the office. 

Up Next: How to Find the Best Vintage Pieces, According to a Secondhand Expert

Author Joy Montgomery | Whowhatwear
Selected by CWC

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