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wardrobe basics

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What do I really mean by basic wardrobe?


Considering that I don’t wear some of the things most modern women would consider basic, I feel the need to define what a basic wardrobe means to me. Finally this morning I came to my own definition.

My most basic clothing is: Something I feel comfortable in; suitable to wear for my daytime work and events; not at all difficult to coordinate; cleanable and durable; possible for me to at least walk briskly in if, say, late for a bus; and something I have worn for many years and/or can imagine wearing for many more.

The black clothing I have often fits at least some of these categories.

Here is a fine washable knit 1950s black sports top and a 1980s knee-length taffeta skirt with an elastic band at its waist. Those are probably 1970s-era U.S.-made dance shoes. Everything here fits my definition of basic. Once a friend asked if she could buy this black top from me when I was through with it—It has been 12 years and I’m afraid I lost touch with that friend but still have the top!



I have found it hard to find interesting basic vintage items looking around online. It helps to have a handful of keywords, and you might find those as you go along. Some more tips?

  • Don’t be afraid to try searching menswear for certain basics, like a fine cotton button-down shirt.
  • Consider decades you don’t regularly consider. A classic can look timeless from any era and can be of very good quality. Searching 1990s clothing suited my penchant for longer fitted black blazers.
  • Basic and classic doesn’t have to mean boring. Look for stylish and interesting elements as well as good quality.
  • Consider outfits that you can wear as separates, like a jacket and skirt suit with great cuts for going solo. 
  • Try lightening photos of black items if you can’t see the details.
  • You might have some luck looking at thrift and second-hand shops because so often these items are overlooked as being too ordinary.

I’ve learned something about myself while thinking about vintage wardrobe basics this month: I fall down every rabbit hole looking for basic items I know I need. If there is one flower or one color or one row of beading I get distracted and want to search for the more glamorous or ornamented. I end up finding everything I don’t need and few things I do need.

I did manage to find quite a few eventually. Here are some vintage basic items I am considering. These and more are on my Pinterest board, Vintage basics.


Got any good tips of your own for finding vintage basics?

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Could my basic wardrobe be more vintage?


A couple of posts ago I made a list of items I really want my closet to have. If you have followed some of my blog posts you know I don’t have much room in my closet, but I have enough room for the right things.

I’ve come to the conclusion that my wardrobe is more icing than cake.

Some of my wardrobe basics list I have in spades. I find, love and often keep vintage handbags. 


Ditto printed full skirts.


Here are three of something like six vintage white blouses, now back in service since I managed to get stains out of them.



Coats are a happy way to get through winter in a northern town like mine. Here’s a warm one and a dressy one...I ♡ my vintage coats!


Vintage day dresses and occasion-y dresses? I couldn’t live without them. 



You can see I like details, prints and color. I really kind of hate to look for, but know I need the grey knit shirt, the comfortable black pumps that aren’t boring, the black flaring skirt, the black blazer...  Can I find these more basic basics in vintage?

I imagine that basics might have been worn to the worn-out stage in the past, making a great basic a little harder to find. Perhaps vintage shops don’t consider them exciting enough to offer. Have you ever seen a rack in a vintage shop that was labeled wardrobe basics? Me neither.

Do you find vintage equivalents for your most basic clothing?


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My basic wardrobe


There are many guides to basic wardrobes, even basic vintage wardrobes. If you’d like to take a look, maybe one of these will give you ideas:

10 Staples for Every Woman’s Wardrobe from Real Simple
Back to Basics: The 14 Timeless Pieces You Shouldn’t Live Without from Who What Wear
Building a Wardrobe on a Budget: Fashion Essentials Every Frugal Girl Must Have from Frugal Beautiful
The Fashionable Mum’s Guide to Your Perfect Wardrobe from The Fashionable Mum
Back to Basics Vintage Wardrobe 101 from The Glamorous Housewife

For me the words must, should and perfect rarely go with anything I’m capable of doing! Here’s my own list of wardrobe items I feel I would not like to be without.

longish blazer jacket in black with a great cut
bright raincoat
dressy coat
winter coat

 music performance wear (black)
 LBD
house wrap dress
day dresses
occasion-y dress

clogs
great flats
black 2"-heel pumps that are comfortable and not too plain

black pants that fit great
black knit straight skirt
black knit flaring skirt
printed full skirts
Marianne paper doll, 1943, from Miss Missy Paper Dolls blog...I LOVE her wardrobe!
roomy fun bag
sunglasses
interesting medium-sized bag
 dressy clutch
black tights
patterned tights
warm mittens
all-weather gloves

grey knit shirt
black tank
white tank
white cotton button-down shirt
pretty white blouse
cashmere sweater
flattering chunky knit sweater

bathing suit
warm robe
cotton robe
silky lounge robe

The point of making a list like this is so I can replace the most necessary items in my wardrobe with vintage and 2nd-hand items when possible and when needed. That said, if on a desert island for years, what one thing would I choose?

A printed cotton day dress...vintage of course!


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Vintage resolution of the month



At the start of the year I resolved to tackle one vintage fashion challenge each month. Now we come to May:
Supplant my search for basic clothing with vintage basics. 
Vintage American Tourister bag found on Etsy
I actually don’t consider myself much of a basics person. I have quite a few vintage printed dresses, skirts and blouses, bright colors and other one-of-a-kinds. The sort of things that don’t make a tidy little suitcase full for one’s Paris trip.

Not that I’m going to Paris, but I do like to imagine that suitcase and what would be in it.





I asked my Facebook circle what three items they considered most basic in their wardrobes. About 1/3 included jeans, 1/4 t-shirts. White shirts or blouses, black pants, cardigans, and black skirts were well represented.

1968 image, uncredited
I was fascinated by some the specifics of the basics named:
“cute little brown Hush Puppy flats”
“black shrug sweaters” 
“vintage shrunken Levis for girls jean jacket” 
“red tights” 
You can almost picture the signature looks of these people!
Molla Mills...I wonder if red tights are basic for her














I looked online for wardrobe basics, various lists compiled to be the most important items for a woman to have in her closet. I see a lot of things I don’t have and I don’t care if I have. The lists online only slightly intersect my own. I don’t wear jeans even though I have nothing against them. I really don’t wear pants very often, and when I do I feel like I’m wearing a costume!

My three basics? I probably would have to pick a black blazer jacket, clogs and a bright raincoat.

What are your three most basic wardrobe items? Are they vintage, or could they be vintage?

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