Struggling to find your personal style? Got a wardrobe full of clothes but nothing to wear? Love how other people put outfits together but unable to replicate it yourself? I have solutions for you!
Styling is one of the most personal, and most fun, parts of fashion, but it can also be incredibly intimidating. We’re surrounded by more inspiration and beautiful visuals than ever before, which can be overwhelming when trying to put together a coherent, effortless wardrobe. When I became a brand ambassador for The Natural Edition, who specialise in ethical, easy to wear essentials, I knew I wanted to talk about basics on this blog, and how important they are for building your own style.
Now don’t worry, this isn’t a post to tell you that the only way to be sustainable is to only wear neutral tones and shapeless silhouettes. In fact, this is a post to explain why, in order to have a colourful and exciting wardrobe, you need to invest in good basics first.
Balancing your wardrobe
Basics play a vital role in your wardrobe for a few reasons. Firstly, they are of course key for easy dressing. When you have a streamlined selection of flattering, fuss free items that is going to make getting ready day-to-day incredibly easy. Just mix and match your essentials endlessly, and you’re good to go for nearly any occasion. Jeans or tailored trousers can match with any combination of plain t-shirts and shirts, taking you all of 5 minutes and streamlining your everyday uniform when you need to be functional and comfortable. But, of course, not everyone wants to live in plain pieces alone, and this is where we need to get smart about how we intentionally curate our closets.
If you’ve ever stood in front of a wardrobe that’s full of exciting pieces and found you have nothing to wear, this is a sign that your wardrobe balance is off. If you’re someone (like me) who loves colour and pattern, it’s incredibly easy to buy every exciting piece you come across, especially as secondhand stores can be absolute treasure troves for these. However, if this makes up your entire closet it becomes incredibly hard to style pieces together, and you’ll find yourself continually rotating the same three outfits instead.
What you need is a rebalance. There is a way to have it all, which looks like balancing your avant-garde alongside your basics. How you define avant-garde is completely subjective to you: whether it’s based around silhouette, colour, pattern, or print, you get to decide that personally. Once you have a selection of both, you can style your variations forever. Basics can easily go together for simple days, but switch out an element for a more experimental piece and you get to be playful and stand out, without completely overwhelming the outfit.
Of course there are exceptions to this rule, and some people love to clash multiple prints and patterns in one outfit. However for most of us, this feels a little too far. So if you want to wear those bright trousers, or that patterned top, then you need to be able to offset it with more basic, functional elements of an outfit too. Match your pink trousers with a plain white top, or your bright yellow shirt with a simple pair of denim jeans (I do both of these things frequently), and you’re going to feel a lot more comfortable in your experimentation; keeping a strong sense of playfulness and standing out, but without feeling like you stick out more than you would like.
Basics are often referred to as the building blocks of a wardrobe, but that doesn’t mean you have to be confined to one particular aesthetic. They are building blocks because we need some timeless, endlessly versatile staples to help us decide which direction to go in. Think of it like art: you can create the most experimental, colourful painting you like or something completely monochrome, but either way you still need the basic colours on a palette before you can start mixing them.
So, if you want to create a more sustainable, easy to style wardrobe that works for you, what pieces are good to look out for?
Scour the internet and you’ll find many variations on which basics are the true must haves. Ultimately this has got to be personal to you and, just as I wouldn’t recommend throwing good clothes away in the name of sustainability, I also don’t think you should get pieces that don’t make sense to you just because they’re listed as an essential. For example, many people include blazers as a wardrobe essential. I don’t have one, and up until now I haven’t found myself needing one, so I feel no need to change that any time soon.
Below I’ve complied my favourite basics that I find myself returning to again and again, plus some tips on how to find the best, most sustainable options.
My favourite basics
Yes, this may be the most basic item of clothing, but it’s also the most versatile. No one works harder than the humble white tee; if you find the right one it should fit well, look effortless, and combine with literally anything. Keep it all basic with a simple pair of jeans, or wear it with your wildest pink trousers. Pair it with plain shorts in summer, or throw it under your most patterned jumpsuit, this guy is ready for anything. The Natural Edition has 100% GOTS organic cotton white t-shirts in boxy cut, crew cut, v-neck and oversized v-neck, meaning that you can even find variation within the most simple of items to find something that works exactly for you. My personal favourite is the boxy tee.
I know this seems simple, but you really do use these for different things! To me black tees feel more streamlined and professional, especially when you need to style yourself to look a little smarter, plus you don’t have to worry so much about getting them dirty. The Natural Edition carries v-neck versions in organic cotton and tencel, plus a crew t-shirt in organic cotton which is my personal favourite (it was the first thing of theirs I tried, and I’ve worn it often since!)
Good denim is an area that is most definitely worth investing in. I always get my jeans tailored and repaired whenever possible, because investing more up front in good quality denim can provide jeans that will last you a decade, rather than pairs that constantly rip after one year. I personally recommend Nudies because they offer repairs, MUD jeans for their commitment to recycling, or secondhand Levi’s. And remember, learn how to care for your denim properly. You don’t need to wash it as often as you think you do!
mixing an avante garde vintage jumper with my MUD jeans
I know I’m not the only one that loves a good stripe. While originally designed as the French naval uniform of the 1800s (did you know that each one originally had 21 lines – one for each of Napoleon’s victories?), the Breton went mainstream at the start of the 20th century and has never looked back.
While not being as plain as the other counterparts on this list, bretons are a firm fashion favourite because they literally go with anything, and somehow make every outfit look incredibly chic. I love this long sleeve breton, especially as it has an added extra detail in some shoulder buttons, which also comes as a short sleeve version too.
Most people will advise black tanks over white ones, as they can be slightly more universal and easier to dress up, however I prefer having one of both. Tanks can be great for activewear and for cool options in the summer, but they’re also perfect for layering on colder days too. You’ll be surprised how often you find yourself reaching for these, so finding an easy, breathable organic option is paramount. I have this organic option and this one, but this tencel piece can also be good for something a little more dressy.
A smart pair of trousers
Depending on your situation this might look like a pair of properly tailored work trousers, however for me I really just need a non-jeans option for situations where that’s necessary. I have an organic pair of corduroys and a pair of linen trousers that I thrifted for £4 which I opt for in summer. Both of these options are perfect for non denim days, can easily be styled up or down, and provide a bit more flexibility and stretch too.
At this point I think everyone has heard of the LBD. But beyond the storied history of this phrase, black dresses are genuinely your friend. They’re effortless and elegant without requiring much thought, and they can make just about anyone and any body type feel good. I have this tencel tank dress, which easily goes from casual to dressy with a simple shoe change (seriously, so easy), but a t-shirt or long sleeve cut can work wonders too, depending on your preferences.
A white button down shirt
There’s nothing quite like a white shirt to make you look 100% smarter with no effort, I guess there’s just something powerful about buttons and good tailoring. Opt for 100% organic cotton, and find something that is designed to fit your body in the way you prefer. Whether that’s oversized or tighter, either will give off the same mix of casual elegance if styled well. I always find myself reaching for my shirt from GRAMMAR, which I like as sits a little longer in the back. It also goes with just about everything in my wardrobe, even though it is a little more experimental in design than the most classic/basic white shirt. But hey, I’m more experimental than most, so it’s a basic for me!
I genuinely do wear my pink trousers + white shirts all the time
Long sleeved black top
I personally don’t have a white version of this, as I feel like I would always opt for black in this instance (and I have the Breton if I want something lighter), so I didn’t see the merit in having other colours. Whether it’s colder outside, you’re looking for a more streamlined aesthetic, or you’re just adding another layer, the black long sleeve is key. It goes with everything, it’s classic, and it’s effortless. I had literally been looking for a good one for about 6 months, so I’m so happy The Natural Edition finally brought this beautiful, breathable option into my life!
Others might list a denim skirt as an essential, however I generally find myself opting for trousers/shorts over skirts. I find that two pairs of really good denim shorts are all I really need for summer, and both of my pairs are secondhand versions that are made with stronger denim with minimal polyester added, rather than denim/poly blends.
I live in England, enough said. I actually thrifted a raincoat (for £4!) 6 years ago and it’s still going super strong. Sustainable brand Maium gifted me this raincoat made from recycled plastic bottles a while ago, however it was too long, as the Dutch do tend to be a lot taller than me, so I gave it to my raincoat-less boyfriend. He absolutely loves it and wears it all the time.
How to find durable, sustainable basics
Although they may be simple in design, its worth investing in solid, long lasting basics. Over time you’ll save money, avoid the faff of constantly replacing them, and free up more brain space when it comes to styling and enjoying fashion, as you’ll have this section of the wardrobe sorted long-term.
Long lasting pieces are inherently higher quality, which itself is down to the garment’s fabric and the construction. Both of these things link to sustainability in that true sustainable and ethical fashion should be made slowly, with care, and from high quality, natural materials. Good sustainable fashion is designed with longevity in mind, and made with a level of consideration that means pieces last for generations.
This means that, if we can, we should seek out sustainable brands rather than judging on price alone. High price doesn’t automatically mean high quality, it can just mean really good marketing from the brand in question. Here are some ways to truly discern quality:
Check the fabric
Synthetic fibres are derived from oil, shed microplastics into waterways, and are often used to cut costs and create lower quality garments. Plus, they don’t breathe, which is one of my top priorities when it comes to good basics. Opt for natural, sustainably sourced materials such as organic cotton, linen and hemp, ideally with certifications such as GOTS, that have been dyed with non-toxic dyes.
Also, check the density of the weave. If it’s tightly packed it’s likely to last longer, you can check this by feeling the fabric or holding it up to the light and stretching it. Even if the material is thin, that doesn’t mean it will tear easily. If the fabric is densely spun, it should still hold up over time.