Fashion 101: Your 10 Piece Foundation Wardrobe

August 26th, 2008

We’ve gotten a lot of questions from recent college grads (and some not-so-recent college grads) about building a wardrobe from the ground up.  The situation?  You already have jeans, tees, and plenty of weekend wear.  But the foundations of a chic wardrobe?  Maybe you need some help.  You’ve come to the right place.  Here’s a 10 piece skeleton wardrobe from which to build upon:

The Business Suit
Classic Blazer and Trouser
Classic Blazer and Trouser | $198 and $98, respectively, at Banana Republic

School’s over, and you’re off to work.  Keep a pant suit or a skirt suit around for interviews - and buy multiples if your office is business formal.  

The Perfect White Button Down Shirt

Solid Kelly Shirt
Solid Kelly Shirt | $54 at J Crew

Fit is key for any garment, but it’s especially important for your foundation wardrobe.  Start your button-down shirt collection with a crisp white shirt, and then build out your shirt wardrobe with patterns and colors.

The Going Out Top
Solid Silk Elizabeth Halter
Solid Silk Elizabeth Halter | $88 at J Crew

The ideal top is a stunner that can seamlessly travel from work to cocktails.

The Knee Length Skirt
Pencil Perfect Skirt
Pencil Perfect Skirt | $69.50 at Martin + Osa

An a-line skirt is universally flattering, but feel free to choose one that works for your figure, your personality, and your lifestyle.  I personally have a collection of pencil skirts hanging in my closet.  I love the hourglass shape they create, especially since I’m shaped like a boy.

The Perfect Fit Trousers
The Perfect Trouser
The Perfect Trouser | $54.50 at Gap

How do you know that the fit is perfect?  It should be fitted but not tight at the waist, and it should drape nicely, with a slight flare from knee to foot.  Have your trousers hemmed to a length that works with leg-lengthening heels.

The Go To Evening Dress
Sleeveless Origami Knit Dress
Sleeveless Origami Knit Dress | $150 at Banana Republic

Because you never know when an emergency party situation will come up.  Keep a great evening dress in the back of your closet for spur of the moment dress up occasions.

The Go To Day Dress
European Collection Wrap Dress
European Collection Wrap Dress | $78 at Gap

Because a dress is a great alternative to jeans and a cute tee for weekends, and dresses spice up your work wardrobe.  Need some inspiration?  Try a shirtdress, a wrap dress, or a sweaterdress.

The Wear Everywhere Sweater
Tartine Cardigan
Tartine Cardigan | $88 at J Crew

Perfect for breezy mornings and cool evenings–and for times when the AC is turned up too high at work.

The Tailored Blazer
Two Button Cotton Blazer
Two Button Cotton Blazer | $104 (sale) at Martin + Osa

A simple, sophisticated look?  Pair your tailored blazer with your crisp white shirt and jeans.  Substitute a tee or polo under the tailored blazer for a younger, more playful look.

The Trenchcoat

Classic Puff Sleeve Trenchcoat
Classic Puff Sleeve Trenchcoat | $150 at Banana Republic

The trench is my go-to coat–so much so that I have a trench collection.  The trench is so versatile and yet so chic.  And it works for all of those times when a blazer isn’t just right.

What are your go-to wardrobe pieces?  Tell us, what else would you recommend to build out your foundation wardrobe?

Entry Filed under: Shopping Guide,Women

10 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Diana  |  August 26th, 2008 at 5:19 am

    I have been waiting for a post like this FOR AGES!! THank you SO MUCH!

  • 2. JC  |  August 26th, 2008 at 8:42 am

    Hi! Recent grad here. This is a great list!

    I just looked in my closet the other day and realized that everything I own is black, white, grey, or blue.

    I think keeping things simple in terms of palette has helped me a lot, because it’s easier to mix and match, and I can go crazy with accessories without looking like I’m playing dress-up.

    Other essentials I’d add to the list:
    – plain white t-shirts, black t-shirts … ditch the graphic tees!
    – opaque tights
    – black flats
    – black pumps

  • 3. Trisha  |  August 26th, 2008 at 9:45 am

    Glad you like the list!

    JC – my closet is pretty simple color-wise as well. I own a lot of blacks, whites, greys, and navys, and I sprinkle in color with greens, yellows, oranges, and reds.

    And yes, you can’t ever have enough plain white (and black) tees!

  • 4. Kathleen  |  August 26th, 2008 at 11:31 am

    I would add some basic pieces of jewelry to the list for accessorizing, such as white/yellow gold hoops and pearl or diamond/cubic zirconia studs. I would also add some basic work bags like a black or brown leather tote/handbag for fall/winter and khaki/white canvas totes for spring/summer.

    I think it’d also be helpful to see a list of recommended work shoes some time in the future! I wouldn’t be surprised to see flats and loafers on that list.

  • 5. Lenya Jones  |  August 26th, 2008 at 4:52 pm

    OMG! Best post ever! So many people don’t know how to dress for work. Thanks so much. I will be posting this on my blog today.


  • 6. Trisha  |  August 26th, 2008 at 8:45 pm

    Thanks, Lenya :)

    Kathleen – wonderful picks for accessories to spice up this foundation wardrobe. And thanks for the story idea – will have to do a work shoes roundup article :)

  • 7. Minnesotamom  |  August 29th, 2008 at 8:45 pm

    Thanks–great post! I have most of these, but not all. Time to grow up my wardrobe!

  • 8. Mary  |  September 3rd, 2008 at 4:29 pm

    Thank you so much! I just started a job (graduated in June woo!) and realized that so much of my closet is not appropriate for work. I’m also on a strict budget, so I really appreciate that you kept the list short.

  • 9. Trisha  |  September 4th, 2008 at 1:33 am

    Congrats on starting your first post-college job, Mary. Glad this list helped!

  • 10. Dani  |  October 10th, 2010 at 7:18 am

    Thanks for this list. I’m also a recent grad at a new job! I have a question – can I wear black flat shoes with my pencil and knee length skirts? I work in a super casual environment office, but still want to look put together. It would be nice to stick to comfortable shoes too. Thanks!

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