How to build a wardrobe from scratch: Everything you need to know about crafting the ultimate chic wardrobe and the perfect foundation for stylish outfits.
I bet I know how you feel about your wardrobe.
It’s like when you’re cooking a new recipe and you make what you think is a small mistake, but somehow that mistake turns into another mistake, and another. And by the time it is done, it looks nothing like your Pinterest worthy recipe goals.
Your wardrobe is probably a hot mess. Full of previous attempts at being a different person, jumping on fads that you never fully fleshed out, or just a collection of hodgepodge pieces your don’t know how to pair together.
So whether you need a wardrobe refresh because you just can’t walk back those mistakes, your body has changed, or lifestyle evolutions, I am going to walk you through how to build a wardrobe from scratch.
I’m going to warn you that it will not be an overnight process. And if you try to make it an overnight process you will undoubtedly end up with an even bigger mess than what you started with.
Now, if you’ve read my blog before you know I LOVE to try new fashion trends. So this post is not endorsing a capsule wardrobe per se. Instead, it is about building a sustainable foundation for your closet and wardrobe that you can expand from.
Do you struggle with fashion and your closet is an overwhelming mess? Check out my Craft the Closet of Your Dreams Playbook to curate a closet you love and find the style you were always meant to have.
How long will it take to build my wardrobe from scratch?
This partially depends on your budget and dedication to completing this journey. But I say it can easily be done over 6 months if you spend wisely and slowly build your wardrobe foundation. But most likely, it will take a year, as it is easiest to shop for items when you are within that season and can appropriately access your wardrobes must-have pieces.
It is important to buy quality items and items that will last. So we will be focusing on more classic iterations and wardrobe staples for the sake of this post. When you have a strong closet foundation you can implement trends and stylish accessories very easily.
What should I not do when building a wardrobe from scratch?
1. Don’t impulse buy
It is really easy to see something on an influencer, or in a store window and think “oh I NEED that”. Resist the temptation. This is the equivalent of a hot and heavy crush and it WILL pass.
2. Avoid sale shopping
This ties into the rule above, but shopping sales is not really your best friend. And you’re probably wondering what I have against saving money… But, that’s not it. The problem with shopping sales (especially big ones like Black Friday or Amazon Prime Day or god forbid the Net-a-porter annual event) is that your logic goes out the window. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve bought something simply because it was on sale. When you are confronted with a good price, our brain somehow finds a way to justify that we like that item, or even need that item.
It usually leads to impulse purchases. The only time you can shop a sale is when you already have a tried and tested item. So if you have a favorite cashmere sweater and it has treated you well and continues to be a good staple, and a new colorway is on sale- then, you can go for it.
But for actual wardrobe building, avoid sales.
3. Oversaturating yourself with inspiration
It is great to have a Pinterest board or photo album of inspiration images. But constantly obsessing over an influencer’s vast closet and seemingly endless budget for expensive items, will not help you build a wardrobe that is right for you.
Part of the reason you are reading this post is that you go into your closet and think “I have nothing to wear” or “nothing looks good on me!”. We want to avoid feeling that despair, and we want to instead find our own voice through style.
Stop comparing yourself to others, and find your own unique way of speaking to the world through fashion and you will find so much more contentment and happiness in life. Take it from me, I’ve been there.
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How do I start building my chic wardrobe?
Follow these steps to build a chic wardrobe.
1. Stop rushing the Process. Finding clothes that make you FEEL good and express yourself is not as easy as buying a nice black sweater on sale.
Instead, make sure any item you buy passes these questions with flying colors:
- Is it a quality item? Will it last?
- Will it be a good building block for my wardrobe? (the checklist at the end of this post will help you confirm this)
- Does it “feel” like me? Finding staples that are a good representation of your style and voice is key to having a successful wardrobe.
- Can I wear it more than once?
- Is it comfortable?
2. Hone your personal style
Dressing for who you are and who you want to be is a huge leap in your fashion journey. Understanding that your fashion is one of your strongest voices and the easiest way to influence peoples impression of you, is your first mindset shift.
The first thing you should do is to figure out how to define your personal style. I have a free personal style quiz, here (no email sign up required!). And a step by step guide on defining your unique style, here.
And here are a few extra resources for you:
But, if you’re really serious about finding your style and crafting a closet that works for it, you need the Craft The Closet of Your Dreams Playbook.
3. Buy the right sizes
You’re probably thinking, isn’t that a given. But, come on… How many times have you bought a pair of jeans (probably on sale) at the size you wish you were or used to be… You justify it to yourself that it will be good motivation for you to go to the gym.
But the reality is, wearing clothes that don’t fit is just depressing and will make you more hesitant to find joy in your closet and style.
Instead, you will be confronted with the depressing fact that those jeans still don’t’ fit and you’ll see that reminder every time you walk into your closet.
Numbers on jeans and shirts, is exactly that, a meaningless number. Get over your uncomfortable relationship with sizing and you will find so much more joy in your clothes. Whether you are a size zero or a size 16, it won’t make a difference if you don’t dress well.
And if you really are focusing on losing weight, toning your body, or even gaining muscle, this rule still applies. Just buy your wardrobe staples at a slower pace and adjust as you go. [ 10 tips to stay consistent with a workout routine]
If you’re still in the midst of a huge body change, or workout journey you can also opt for accessories and shoes for now. Building up these accessories is fundamental to a wardrobe and can be a great starting point.
Now, let’s get into the exact items you need to build your wardrobe
We will systematically go through each category of your closet and I will list the wardrobe staples that will be the best investment. Be sure to pin the images so you can refer back to them when you are shopping. I will also give you a wardrobe checklist you can print/download for reference when you are shopping.
And, if you’re interested in capsule wardrobes- you can find the ones I’ve developed here. It’s a great place to start to streamline and organize your growing wardrobe.
Start with a color palette
Having a base set of colors that you are drawn to is the start of honing your perfect wardrobe. Start narrowing down colors you are naturally drawn to and wear frequently. The above image is a guide if you are stuck. Now, this doesn’t mean that if neon yellow doesn’t make it into your color palette that you can never, ever wear it. Rather, this is a jumping-off point.
Most people will have a color palette that has a set of base neutrals, one or two pop colors, and a favorite “neutral” print.
However, I suggest you scroll through your Instagram and peruse your closet to find what you have naturally gravitated to over the years.
Easy Neutral colors to focus on: White, Black, Navy, Gray, and Tan
Pop colors to try: Red, Pink or Blue (usually a brighter saturation)
Easy neutral prints to try: Stripes, Plaids, and leopard print.
Ok, now do I need to worry about what season I am or what colors look best with my skin tone?
Obviously skin tone and undertones are important when choosing the right shade and color palette.
But, I personally don’t subscribe to the hard and fast rules of the “what season am i” quiz. It’s a bit of fluff and a very, very basic guide if you really struggle with colors.
If you’d like to try it for yourself you can follow this link and find out exactly what season you are.
However, I find it can be limiting and not really very accurate.
Instead of saying I have warm undertones in my skin so I can’t wear gold jewelry, I would rather focus on finding the right type of gold jewelry that works with my pale red undertones.
How do I figure out what colors I can wear then?
You try them on. It may sound simple but you have been dressing for decades at this point and probably already gravitate towards certain colors.
But, if you’re still unsure on how to find “your” shades of each color try these tips:
- Get honest feedback. We all have one friend (usually a Sagittarius or Scorpio) who will be honest with us. They will tell you that that neon pink is not doing you any favors or that you look like Wednesday Addams with all that black. Take the feedback and evaluate it on your own terms. But, hearing what a trusted friend has to say is helpful.
- Take pictures and evaluate your past fashion choices. The easiest way I can see if a color works for me is not just trying it on and looking in the mirror. That is only the first step. By that point, I usually can lean towards a yes or no but a picture or video usually confirms it for me. Something about being able to see the outfit back and evaluate the strengths and weaknesses gives one an outside/hindsight perspective. So try the outfit on, take a video and picture, and then an hour later watch them back. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you can confirm whether or not each color or silhouette is a match. Be sure you have good lighting and a full-length mirror for this.
- Evaluate your best looks, according to you. Ultimately this is about YOUR style and what you want to express to your world. So stop listening to any expert who says you can’t wear purple or you can’t wear gold jewelry. Go into your closet and see which pieces bring you the fondest memories and the best feelings. Evaluate which items you felt best in, and try to find the common thread. This can help you narrow down colors you gravitate towards and it can also help you find the silhouettes that you feel your best in.
Here are all the pieces you should invest in (slowly) when building a wardrobe from scratch:
Here are all the tops you need:
Fitted Tee: White Tee, Black Tee, Gray Tee
You’ll want some versatility with your t-shirts as they are a great building block for outfits. I find crew necks the most versatile.
Crew Neck Sweater
The crew neck sweater is an easy fashion staple that is perfect for transitional weather and is pretty much fool-proof for outfit building.
I used to think turtlenecks were outdated but boy was I wrong. The turtleneck is a classic and chic item that can be worn on its own or as a layering piece.
Denim or Chambray Shirt
A denim shirt is an easy win. And if you want to take it a step further, try a double denim look. [ how to rock double denim, it’s not hard!]
White Button-up Shirt
Depending on your style you can decide what fit you like. I’ve found I veer more towards Parisian, or oversized shirts and a classic men’s button-down is my favorite. [ how to wear menswear pieces as a woman]
Having one slightly oversized tee is a building block that will help you out immensely. We all love Parisian fashion and one of their wardrobe staples is an oversized tee. I highly recommend you buy on and play around with styling it. [14 ways to wear a white tee]
You need a graphic tee (graphic to be decided by your taste and preferences). Whether it is a great retro band tee or a tee with a message- having a graphic tee adds instant flavor to an outfit. [ graphic sweatshirt outfit ideas that are super chic]
A chic blouse in your preferred style is essential. You can find a boxier silhouette blouse if an ultra-feminine blouse is outside your style wheelhouse.
Here are the bottoms you need:
Disclaimer: Jeans are a very personal experience for most people. You probably have strong opinions on what jeans you like and what jeans work for you body. Pay attention to that, and stick with what works for you. This is just a general guideline and you can tweak it to fit your style if necessary.
Skinny Leg Black Jean: This is a classic pair of jeans. It is is a great foundational item because of its’ versatile style options.
High waist “mom” jeans: I love a good mom-jean and the flexibility and ease it provides. I think having a great high rise jean is essential. It’s flattering and chic, and my favorite iteration of this jean is in a medium wash.
Straight leg jeans: Straight leg jeans are trendy currently, but they are also able to withstand the test of time. Investing in a light wash straight leg jean will undoubtedly serve you well over the years.
Silk skirt: A silk skirt is so chic and easy to wear. It can be dressed up with a blouse or worn more casually with low top sneakers and a tank top. Versatility is key when building a wardrobe from scratch
Denim skirt: Depending on your style, you may want a mini skirt, a midi skirt, or even a full-length denim skirt. The denim skirt is a classic wardrobe staple, be sure to pick which length works for your style.
Wide leg trousers: These are instantly chic and elongate your legs. They work with every body-shape and are great for the office and business casual settings.
Leggings: A great pair of leggings is an essential wardrobe building block. Check out this post for unique ways to wear leggings as pants.
Outerwear You Need:
Trench Coat: This is a given, everyone looks good in a trench coat.
Camel Coat: A camel wool coat is a gift that just keeps giving. Find one you like and you’ll keep it forever.
Leather Jacket: a leather jacket is one of the most flexible layering pieces. It transitions across many styles and you can pick one that suits your needs. The lighter the leather the more feminine it will be, so keep that in mind when purchasing.
Denim Jacket: I love a denim jacket and once you find one that fits your style it will be your go-to transitional jacket.
Blazer: Blazers are essential.
Oversized blazer: The oversized blazer cut is especially popular right now, but french women have been rocking them for decades and looking ultra-chic. I think it’s a definite wardrobe staple. [how to master the oversized blazer]
Cardigan: You need an easy layering piece and the cardigan is exactly that.
Parka: Depending on your climate I believe the parka is an essential piece. There are winter days that need that extra warmth and rain/snow/wind protection. Invest in a nice parka and it will last you years. And keep you warm.
Wardrobe Dress Essentials
The dress silhouette will depend largely on your personal shape and style. So again, I suggest you go through your old photos and closet and see which dresses you just can’t live without.
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Slip Dress; Slip dresses are one of the easiest dresses to wear. They look expensive and can go from a daytime look with sneakers to an evening look with heels. [ how to wear a slip dress in real life]
Knit Dress; A knit dress is a fashion staple that is perfect for transitional weather and transitioning through your day. The knit dress is extremely versatile. If a fitted knit dress isn’t your style, you can also try a looser sweater dress.
The LBD: Givenchy and Audrey Hepburn made the little black dress a thing, and it is not died down in popularity. Why? Because it’s classic and stands the test of time. Find a black dress that makes you feel amazing and it will serve you well for years to come.
A-line dress: Everyone needs a good a-line dress in their closet. It’s a staple in the summertime. A-line dresses look great in a floral pattern as well.
Shirt dress; A good shirt dress is an excellent layering piece and great for business casual settings. It’s put together, yet stylish.
Shoes you need in your Wardrobe
A classic pair of heeled boots: Usually ankle height works best. Make sure the heel is comfortable for you to walk in.
A neutral pump: While this is not my personal favorite shoe, it is a necessary staple and it will get a lot of wear over the years.
Classic sneaker; A great classic sneaker will get you far in your style journey.
Classic flat: Depending on your personal preference you may want a pointy toe or something more similar to a ballet flat. But this is a must-have for your day to day outfit styling.
Knee-high boots: Knee-high boots are very fashionable and add extra oomph to your outfit.
simple strap sandal: You need a go-to sandal for summer months. I suggest opting for a comfortable, simple strap sandal to be your baseline for the coming years. You can always add trendier options in there with time, but this sandal is a good foundational piece.
Combat boots: Depending on your style you may shudder at the thought of this but combat boots have served me well over the years and they are actually a very classic shoe.
Essential Wardrobe Accessories
I personally think accessories are the easiest to play around with and stylize an outfit. So even if you are trend averse, you can still find ways to incorporate trendy pieces and heighten your outfit a bit.
That being said, it is good to have a couple of necessary accessories that work with practically any outfit, so be sure to collect these items over time.
A classic watch: A simple watch is functional and chic. Pick a size and tone that you will wear often and you’ll keep it forever.
A classic pair of sunglasses: Choose a staple pair of sunglasses that fit your face well. Try not to go too big or too small with the overall shape. I love black classic ray bans. They are medium size, work with my face (and most face shapes), and never go out of style.
A pair of small hoops: A classic pair of hoops is essential in any fashion wardrobe. This is my go-to pair.
I have a lot of ear piercings and currently love the Maria Tash look for a fashionable twist. Check out this post for how to get this look for less.
Leather tote: A durable, chic tote for all your things is a must. Invest in a nice leather item and it will wear beautifully.
Wool Scarf: Adding a scarf in the wintertime is not only a great way to stay warm, but it also adds a lot to your outfit style-wise. I love an extra-long scarf so that I can really build some volume. But any good quality wool scarf will work.
Crossbody bag: Crossbody bags are always stylish and a great option for when you don’t need as much space as your leather tote provides. Opt for a neutral color and simple shape and you will keep it for years.
Here are a few classic stores to keep in mind when building a chic wardrobe:
Gap: It’s been around for this long, and their classic versions of each item will last a long time.
Jcrew: Great for simple silhouettes and blouses/shirts/tops especially.
Zara: Great for blazers and coats at affordable prices. May not last as long however.
Madewell: Fantastic jeans and great quality
Uniqlo: The ultimate place to buy basic t-shirts and casual staples
Topshop: Has a great selection of jean styles that hold up really well
& Other Stories: My favorite place to buy blazers, besides vintage shopping
Reformation: Fantastic dresses and jumpsuits
Naadam: Amazing for cashmere sweaters and sets
Veronica Beard: perfect for classic blazers
Redone: Has great classic style jeans and denim pieces.
All Saints: For-all-things leather jackets and has some great wool coats as well
Ok, that was a lot of information. Here is an easy checklist for you to save and keep track of all your fashion staples as you SLOWLY collect them.
Remember that this is not a race. Collect items you love and it will serve your closet well for years to come.