“How To Dress”: 10 Essential Clothing Items All Women Should Own


I have been such a slacker on my book, “Project Dreamcatcher” and the “How To Dress” series. I am so sorry, you guys! My computer had to be reloaded from scratch with all of our data and photos and movies (thank the LORD we backed everything up) because of the Hard Drive Fiasco of 2013 and that took ages – all last week.

(And the reloading isn’t done yet, but at least now I can work on my Mac while the reloading occurs. Although weird things like right clicking don’t work. And Internet access is really iffy (because of the backing up) and WordPress keeps shutting down. Best intentions, excuse flapjacks, blah, yadda. Basically, I’m a YUTZ. BTW, can we bring back that word? I love it so.)

Kathy had some really useful questions for the “How to Dress” feature. I wanted to tackle her meatiest query, because I think it’s a great place for any woman to start when she’s building (or rebuilding) her wardrobe. And that question is:

What are the 5-10 essential clothing items all women should own?

Obviously, seasons, locations and dress codes will vary from country to country. (And even state to state, in the US.)

Here are my picks.

1. A Great Coat

I see a fantastic coat as an investment piece. Even if you wear a coat a few times a year or only when you travel somewhere cold, YOU WILL NEED A COAT IN YOUR LIFE. Obviously, for those in snowy areas, this is an easy investment to make as you will wear one every day in some months, and probably own quite a few in your lifetime.

Here are some classic styles that aren’t going anywhere any time soon.



I bought one of these many years ago before moving to London. I wore it so often I’ve replaced the lining. This model, by Max Mara, doesn’t add bulk because it’s lambs wool. It’s handsome and won’t be going out of style, well, pretty much ever.



Originally worn by sailors and Navy personnel, the Pea Coat is a durable and versatile garment that is ideal for fall or spring, when the temperature is chilly, but not arctic. There are many different lengths and colors that you can chose, depending on body type and your style. I always choose ones that end mid-thigh to balance my hips and emphasize my long legs. Ones cropped at the waist or just ending at the thigh would be great for apple shapes or petites. The above model is by Lands End.



The Classic, the Ultimate in rain gear. I’ve always wanted a Burberry, like the one above, but I’ve never had the scratch. I love London Fog as an alternative brand. My dad has a London Fog trenchcoat and a Burberry umbrella. He looks so dapper when it rains!

A note on coats: coats are one of the best items you can buy vintage. Check out estate sales, in particular. The 1940s-early 1960s were a time when many women owned beautifully made coats with the kind of craftmanship we don’t see today except with very pricey brands. At estate sales, you can pick up gorgeous Princess Coats (also A GREAT COAT) in the $30 range sometimes. Also? Check out your grandma or (if you are lucky) great-grandma’s closet.

2. An Excellent Pair of Jeans


Is there a more obsessed-about item of clothing? I think not. We all think about how we look in jeans, we all shop for jeans, we all wonder what to wear with jeans and how to pair jeans on Casual Friday. The list goes on and on and on.

Obviously, there is a huge variation in styles of jeans: skinny jeans, flared jeans, high-rise jeans and overalls (two trends from the 90s, back again). There’s all sorts of denim washes and jeans with holes are back, too.

A superior pair of jeans should fit well, make you feel good, and be versatile, taking you from Casual Friday to Date Night. I think we ALL have many pairs of jeans, but a truly fabulous pair of jeans? That is a truly special item. Here’s what I recommend to find your pair:

Try on a variety of jeans. See which style and brand fits the best for you, whether it’s Skinny, Curvy, Diva, etc. I would argue that a dark rinse denim is best for most situations. (A light denim rinse is pretty casual.) Next: have your jeans tailored for you. Yes, tailored. Take them in at the the waist if they’re too big there but fit everywhere else (common), hem the bottoms if they are too long.

Note about length! My SPECIAL pair of jeans? I exclusively wear them with heels. (Heeled half-boots or wedges or stilettos.) They are longer than any of my other jeans, which I wear with sneakers, moccassins or flats.

If you are petite and or/have slim hips: J. Crew and Rag & Bone should work well for you. Those with curves? Old Navy is the best for pears, I’ve found. Joe’s Jeans is good, too, for all around curves. Hourglasses: you lucky dogs will do well with 7 for All Mankind, classic Levi’s (like the ones above).

3. Little Black Dress


Yes, that old cliche.

Here’s the thing: we all go to special events. Cocktail parties, weddings, baptisms, Bar Mitvahs, etc. Who wants to deal with the cost and effort of buying a new dress each time? Not me.

Here’s where my little Black dress comes in. Mine is a Bebe number from a while back, before they went full Kardashian. (Ew.) It’s A-line, knee-length, with a halter top. I probably tried on 40 dresses before finding this one. I can pair it with statement jewelry, nude Prada basket heels, a hat, a delicate clutch, belt it: the list is endless with possibilities. I can wear it in the summer with pink sandals, I can wear it in the winter with a coat. It is one seriously freaking versatile item.

Things to keep in mind when shopping for a LBD: it should be made of the best fabric you can afford, it should be lined, and it should make you feel like Holly Golightly. Without the trips to the powder room, of course.

Above, Anthropologie.

4. A Crisp, Clean Button-Down White Shirt


This one is tricky. I know a lot of us who have any kind of cleavage dread button down shirts. And rightly so. However, a great white button-down is one of those classic items that can be paired in so many ways.

For example, a white button-down with jeans and a great blazer? Such a simple but stunning look. A white button-down with a black pencil skirt and a jean jacket? So Chic. A white button-down can be a truly magical garment.

I have yet to find a new one, because since I had the twins? I went from a B to a D even though my weight stayed the same, so everything else fits right. But this is my goal for fall.

Here’s where sizing gets TRICKY. There’s nothing worse than gaping buttons around the bust. Am I right? You CAN avoid this: buy bigger and get the shirt tailored and brought in at the waist (again with the tailoring!) or, you can wear the white shirt open, layered over a tank top or camisole. This would look gorgeous with layered pearls or sweet, funky gold necklaces. I used to also wear dresses OVER mine, like the picture of Miroslava Duma, above.

You can go with a classic purveyor like Brooks Brothers, or the Gap or even Talbots. (They did a makeover recently and they aren’t just for your bridge-playing grandma any more.)

5. The Pencil Skirt

Jcrew pencil skirt

I made mention of this piece of clothing already. I never, ever thought a pear shape like me would look good in a pencil skirt. BUT, with the right cut and fit, I honestly think anyone can find the right one. I did. AGAIN with the versatility: it’s a beautiful item you can pair endlessly with your wardrobe. Wear with a funky Anthro or Boden top. Dress it down with a jean jacket and cute T-shirt.

I actually have two of these: one is black, one is tan. I wear them both a lot. I had them both tailored at the waist because I bought them to fit my hips.

Above: J. Crew

So, that’s Part One! What do you think? Do you agree (so far?) Do you hate any of these? Love them? Any tips for buying these items? What am I missing?



Filed under personal style

7 responses to ““How To Dress”: 10 Essential Clothing Items All Women Should Own

  1. Andie

    Thank you! I will be watching for more on this series …. I am your target audience, ready to learn but not instinctively good at this stuff. 🙂

  2. SRB

    I would never try on a pencil skirt, but since becoming obsessed with WNTW and now you telling me too…I’m going to have too. My husband bought me a gorgeous trench for Mother’s day last year and I have yet to wear it. I keep thinking I need “somewhere”to where it, but WHY? Right? Just wear it!

  3. A hint for the gaping buttons around the bust from a very busty girl- double stick tape is your best friend. You can find it at department stores or lingerie stores. I think that the brand that I use is called Hollywood Tape? Works WONDERS.

  4. I bought an awesome black corduroy pea coat a few years ago–the problem is that is does *not* have a removable lining like my previous trench. Removable linings are a huge plus when you want to show off your duds, but don’t have serious winters. Last year I wore it once. 😦

    Bring on part two, yay!!

  5. yes to all of the above 🙂

  6. Awesome! Thank you for tackling this one. I have a lot of these items, but not all, and especially appreciate your specific take on/interpretation of each item. 🙂

  7. I recently ordered the nicest pencil skirt from One Stop Plus. It is flattering and slimming. The skirt is black so it goes with anything for any season. I also went to a local outlet and found a great coat for the winter in red. It is perfect for the holidays and Valentine’s Day. It also looks amazing with the skirt and a pair of boots! Just thinking about it right now is making me warm as I am in a tank top and shorts.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s