Monochrome essentials

With everything one color, it was a fun and surprisingly easy task to group things into essential categories. My wardrobe is more coherent than I realized. And the things that don't fit in these categories don't get worn very often.

  • button-down shirts, sleeveless and long sleeve (silk, cotton)
  • shirt dresses worn as tunics (silk, denim, cotton)
  • low-neck tees (the deep v adds some structure to outfits)
  • tunic-length tees and tanks
  • long cardigans, boxy cardigans (cotton, wool)
  • light v-neck pullovers (cotton, silk)
  • sleeveless or short-sleeve wool pullovers, often structured felted fabric
  • three jeans silhouettes: skinny, relaxed skinny, and boyfriend.
  • biker jackets (leather, denim, wool)
  • not black: white buttoned shirts and tees

I'm currently adding wide-leg jeans to the mix -- we'll see if it sticks. To go with the new jeans, I think I also need to add fitted knit tops, and maybe some grey or white options for contrast. I could also use a few more summer-weight cardigans of different shapes.

I can pick out some details that make these things feel like essentials, not just basics. The heavy wool sleeveless tops (eg, Helmut Lang felted wool funnel neck) and silk shirts are really my go-tos. My cardigans are interesting, almost architectural shapes.

This list is going to be really useful for packing!

Things that aren't represented at all, even though I own plenty of them:

  • skirts (ok, a denim skirt probably should be on the list)
  • pants that aren't jeans
  • pullover crewneck sweaters
  • grey (never wear it, except today, as it happens)
  • blazers (I LOVE my blazers but I guess I just never wear them)
  • dresses
Edit: On statements: I think my leather jacket and the structured wool tops might actually be statement items, come to think of it. Same with one or two of the shirt-dress looks. And the blazers and dresses would fit in that when I do wear them. But I think my overall look is a statement silhouette made out of essential items, rather than statement items, if that makes sense.

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  • Angie replied 7 years ago


    Yes, for you - your leather jackets, structured wool tops, and some of your tunics are statement items. Your white tops might be too. 

    You have an "essentials rich" wardrobe, which makes sense given your "all black" style and statement hair. 

  • Greyscale replied 7 years ago

    Thanks, Angie! I think I'm getting the hang of it.

    Thinking about it more, I realized that in almost all of the categories I listed, I have a few essentials and one or two related statements. So, for instance, cardigans: I have a few standards (merino boyfriend cardigan, cropped cotton cardigan). And then I have an amazing Madewell three-dimensional cardigan that looks like something from Rick Owens and always gets comments. It's a core part of my winter wardrobe but definitely a statement, not an essential. But aside from dresses, skirts, and blazers, mostly everything follows this theme. I guess that's probably true for most people (statements pieces as your most exciting versions of your core wardrobe). Regardless, listing all this really helped me understand how my wardrobe works.

    Another realization is that my wardrobe is at a really great point right now and I should stop shopping, aside from a few specific holes and summer updates.

  • kerry replied 7 years ago

    Greyscale, I agree that most categories have essentials AND statements. What I found too, by doing this exercise, is that I have items that aren't basics, essentials or statements. Does that mean they're orphans or is there another category for rarely wears?

  • Greyscale replied 7 years ago

    Well, a lot of mine are orphans! But they don't have to be. I think we have core items (statements or essentials that define our style) and then fringe items, like skirts for me (and some statements are definitely in that fringe category). Sometimes I'm just in the mood for something different, and most of my skirts integrate well into my wardrobe (like a jean skirt that can just take the place of jeans in many of my standard looks). Others really are orphans.

  • Joy replied 7 years ago

    Great job, Greyscale. Kerry, I have some of those pieces that don't seem to fit in ant catagory. My wardrobe could function without them, but I like that they provide variety during a season and stave off closet boredom. Examples might be items that are bright pink or yellow although maybe they are statements, pencil skirts with details like a bunch of back pleats, interesting seaming.

  • Irina replied 7 years ago

    Love your list! There are some items there that have been on my list forever. I'm leaving in a hurry to check Madewell site!

  • Greyscale replied 7 years ago

    Madewell's usual look is casual hipster - the sweater was an exception. But they do have a lot of great clothes.

  • Irina replied 7 years ago

    Oh, I checked :(
    I have one black cotton cardigan from COS that is oversized and slightly cropped (slightly because I'm 5'3") but would love to find one with a bit more.... eh, edge?

  • Greyscale replied 7 years ago

    Check Allsaints or Aritzia? They are both expensive and don't do many sales, but I splurged on a full-price cardigan from Aritzia and every time I wore it, I got comments. It's sold out, but link in the Find below for reference.

    I love COS in theory but I rarely find things that fit me right. It should be my perfect store, based on the aesthetic.

    Edit: I also added a Find for the heavy wool Madewell sweater I mentioned (a few seasons old, sold out long ago). And I'm considering this cotton cardigan from Aritzia as a warm-weather version though it's not quite as dramatic.

  • Irina replied 7 years ago

    Thanks, I'll check Wilfred or Aritzia next time I'm in the mall. COS is my favorite store although challenging, I'm short for their sizing. But what to do? I bought a silk t-shirt recently and got it shortened. But there are not a lot of stores that fit my esthetic and my budget.

  • Jaime replied 7 years ago

    Interesting and clarifying. Yes if it is not an essential or a statement (or underwear) what is it? 

  • rachylou replied 7 years ago

    Oh, I really have to contemplate the notion of fringe items.

  • Suz replied 7 years ago

    This is great; thanks for doing it. I like reading people's different versions and that yours is monochrome makes it unusual. 

    I also like your definition of a "fringe" item. I think those are more or less common in a wardrobe maybe depending on the degree of role switching a person needs to do. Skirts are fringe items for me, whether statement like or essential. I just don't wear them much. But if I lived in another climate, I would -- and then they'd be essentials or statements. 

  • kerry replied 7 years ago

    Fringe items!! Perfect.

  • Style Fan replied 7 years ago

    Great list.  I like the monochromatic look on you.

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