10 minimalist wardrobe essentials to help build your style base

These staple wardrobe essentials will help you nail your signature style

wardrobe essentials: shown via a composite of four street style shots of women wearing key wardrobe pieces
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Wardrobe essentials are the items you need to have in your closet. They're the building blocks, the pieces that will help you simplify getting dressed and streamline your style. 

Wardrobe essentials never go out of fashion. They're the staple items that will eventually allow you to build the elusive, but much-desired capsule wardrobe. To achieve this, you'll need to go back to the beginning and source the best jeans, a simple white shirt, a classic white t-shirt—pieces that won't date and can easily be paired together, or mixed and matched with more trend-led pieces for when you want to switch up your look. 

A more minimalistic approach to fashion is great if you want to lower your carbon footprint too. Invest in wardrobe essentials from the best sustainable clothing brands and seek out high-quality items that will last, underpinning your looks for seasons to come. A smartly tailored camel coat and the best cashmere sweaters in neutral hues are just a few examples of ideal investment buys. If it's the minimalism that appeals to you and you desire for a more stripped-back approach then check out Scandinavian clothing brands as they do this style of dressing particularly well. 

Minimalist wardrobe essentials to create any look

These are the 10 wardrobe essentials that you need to ensure you're ready for any occasion. Many of these pieces are key to your wardrobe whatever the weather and while there might be some seasonal switch-outs, generally these will remain in your closet for most of the year. 

1. White T-shirt

two street style shots of women in white t-shirts

(Image credit: Getty Images)

A white t-shirt is one of the most understated fashion items you can own. A firm wardrobe essential, the white t-shirt comes in many forms, and ultimately the perfect one for your closet will be down to your body type and preference. 

Relaxed fit, crew neck iterations are great for wearing under sweaters, but if you want to retain your shape, opt for a more fitted silhouette with a good level of elastane to help with stretch and contour. V-necks are ideal for those with a fuller bust, although a deep scoop can also be really flattering. Fashionable, boxier shapes can be half-tucked into jeans and skirts for a nonchalant finish. While there are numerous high quality and designer iterations, a decent white t-shirt can be found for just a few dollars or pounds from ready-to-wear brands. 

How the experts wear it:

"A white t-shirt is the ultimate outfit building block and every wardrobe needs at least one," says w&h's acting deputy fashion editor Charlie Bell. "I tend to go for a fitted crewneck style as they are the easiest to layer and tuck in. Wear under a slip dress or dungarees for a '90s vibe or with your jeans and blazer for a casual take on tailoring.

"They also look great tucked into a printed midi skirt to give it a cool edge. It pays off to spend a bit more on your white tees as cheaper ones can get misshapen easily in the wash. Shops such as Arket, Cos and Selected Femme are good places to start. It's worth getting a couple so you always have one to hand when one is in the wash."

Fashion editor picks...

2. Classic jeans

composite street style shot of two women wearing jeans

(Image credit: Getty Images)

A great pair of jeans is a wardrobe must-have. While there are some key denim silhouettes that should be in your wardrobe, you need to work out which fit is most flattering for your shape. Universally loved, a mom jean is a high-waisted style that gives a nod to fashion, without being too trend-led. The best skinny jeans can really help to sculpt your shape, while a classic straight leg will pair well with absolutely everything. Once you have the basic jean shapes sorted, you need to think about washes. Darker washes such as black and dark indigo tend to be smarter and more versatile, while light washes are ideal for casual summer dressing. 

How the experts wear it:

"The key is to find the perfect style and fit for you," advises style editor Joely Chilcott, "and it may mean spending a little more to ensure you bag jeans that will last for years to come. As a starting point, try a pair of high-waist straight-leg jeans. They are a timeless style that is smart enough for dressier events but can easily be paired with a simple t-shirt and trainers for daywear. If you don't feel like this fit is quite right for you, then give mom shapes, skinny jeans, flares and wide-leg designs a go. It might take a bit of leg work, but we promise it will be worth it."

Fashion editor picks...

3. Oversized knits

composite of street style shots of women in knitwear

(Image credit: Getty Images)

The best sweaters are a great dressing tool to have in your arsenal. From oversized knits, to easy, block color and neutral-hued iterations, a selection of easy, wear-with-everything jumpers can see you through autumn to spring. While cashmere versions will help to regulate your body temperature and are a worthy investment—particularly in classic shades or Breton stripes—more trend-led colors and slogans can be added seasonally from more cost-effective brands. 

How the experts wear it:

"The kind of throw-on-and-go piece that will never let you down, a chunky knit in a neutral tone like black, grey or beige will more than earn its keep in your wardrobe," says w&h's former deputy fashion editor Jessica Beech. "I like to buy mine slightly cropped, to make tucking into high-waisted skirts and trousers easy."

Fashion editor picks...

4. White button-up shirt

composite of street style shot of women wearing white shirts

(Image credit: Getty Images)

The best shirts are always a worthwhile purchase. A great white shirt is ideal for everything from what to wear to an interview to more casual occasions, where it can be styled oversized and half-tucked loosely into jeans for a relaxed '90s nostalgic aesthetic. For smarter occasions, you'll want your white shirt to be a crisp cotton number, well-tailored to your frame. Those with a larger bust might find a white shirt that fits well hard to come by. Look for specialist brands that have adapted shirts for larger busts, offering this button-fronted item in more ergonomically cut styles. 

How the experts wear it:

"Crisp and clean, the white shirt has the power to make even the shabbiest outfit suddenly feel put together," says Jessica. "Go form-fitting for work, or opt for over-sized for laid-back weekends. Just don’t forget to iron."

Fashion editor picks...

5. Smart trousers

composite of street style shots of women in tailored trousers

(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you think of wardrobe essential trousers, you'd be forgiven for only thinking about jeans. But a tailored pair of smart trousers can solve a multitude of 'what to wear moments'. Transitioning you easily from casual to smart events, a smart pair of trousers can be easily styled up with one of the best blazers, or made evening-ready with a sequin top. Look for pleated fronts, suiting styles or cigarette trousers in black, navy, and/or grey as these will cross the seasons and be easy to style. 

How the experts wear it:

"Sometimes, just sometimes, your jeans just won’t do—even your black skinny ones," says Jessica. "For those occasions—think job interviews, work and fancy evening dos, a pair of high-waisted trousers are your best bet. Choose a tailored cut in a heavy (and importantly anti-crease) fabric for a premium look."

Fashion editor picks...

6. Roll neck sweater

composite of street style shots of women in roll necks

(Image credit: Getty Images)

The roll-neck sweater is an ideal layering piece making it a wardrobe essential. This streamlining piece can be worn alone as a sweater but it really comes into its own to add warmth to spring dresses and blouses that might otherwise be packed away, awaiting sunnier days. If any of your best midi dresses are hanging idly, waiting for some summer rays to make them wearable, just layer a roll neck, tights and boots underneath and suddenly your wardrobe is working that little bit harder for you. 

How the experts wear it:

"Evoking a touch of Parisian class, a roll-neck sweater will always be a stylish addition to your wardrobe," says Jessica. "A failsafe layering piece, wear with everything from silky slip skirts to your favorite jeans. Lightweight or chunky knit, the choice is yours."

Fashion editor picks...

7. Flattering coat

composite of two women wearing neutral colored tailored coats

(Image credit: Getty Images)

While a cozy puffer might be one of the be best winter coats, a structured or tailored piece of outerwear will never fail to smarten up your look. Whether you're throwing it over your best joggers for a quick dash around the shops or wearing it over an evening look, make sure to invest in a smart coat in a good fabrication. For winter you'll want to invest in wool, wool mix, or cashmere iterations, while for spring, the trusty trench coat really comes into its own. Springs answer to tailored, structured outerwear, go classic with a Burberry trench coat or invest in a straight-to-market brand in a neutral hue. This is one of fashion's most enduring looks and you can easily wear these items again and again. 

How the experts wear it:

"A quality winter coat is a smart investment," says Jessica. "Choose a classic color and shape, and you could be wearing yours for years to come. My trusty woolen camel coat is on its 6th winter as we speak..."

Fashion editor picks...