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A Small Work Wardrobe That Doesn’t Bore The Beejesus Out Of Me

I’ve been at my new job for 9 months now. And I believe I have pretty much settled on a work wardrobe. It’s not very big. Witness the list.

  • Eight pairs of pants: Two pairs of J. Crew bootleg cords, one dark brown, one black, two pairs of 7 for All Mankind jeans, one Dojo trouser cut – heels length, one Ginger flares – flat length, one pair of black J. Crew slacks, one Banana Republic gray, one Bernard Zins gray wool with blue pinstripes, one Armani khaki double-knit
  • Six tees: two Petit Bateau v-neck long-sleeved, one black, one white, one GAP long-sleeved crew neck tee, navy, three white short-sleeved tees
  • Six button-front shirts in various patterns: from J. Crew, Naracamicie, Ann Mashburn, Brooks Brothers, and Liberty of London
  • Six cashmere v-neck pullovers in various solid colors: purple, gray, black, baby blue, navy blue, and tobacco, from Brora, Madewell, Nordstrom, Eric Bompard, Land’s End, and TSE
  • Two dresses: one photoprint shift from Dries van Noten, one dove gray 50s silhouette from Lela Rose
  • One skirt, a J. Crew #2 pencil in black
  • Six jackets, ranging in weight from a wool Michael Kors peacoat, through a J. Crew Field Jacket, to a knit Armani blazer, two Etoile Isabel Marant unlined tweed numbers, and a Gryphon short trench with 3/4 sleeves
  • Seven pairs of shoes: three Beautifeel heels, (two black, one brown), one pair brown Steve Madden oxfords, one pair two-tone Gravati oxfords, one pair red-orange Sofie d’Hoore ballet flats, one pair black Earthies sandals

Add assorted jewelry, ranging from a strand of 8mm pearls to a diamond Hello Kitty pendant, to a green jade heart, and a bunch of hair doodads.

Because San Francisco has very little summer, we live in a sort of perpetual spring, some weeks being wetter than others. As a result, the wardrobe above spans 12 months. Getting dressed is very easy, as long as I muster up the energy to iron my shirts. I find I can dress all the way from barely perceptible style to very stylish indeed. This is helpful for workwear. One never knows when energy has to be diverted, from carrying off red shoes for example, to the job itself. But one wants to avoid boredom nonetheless.

What do I still think I might need? I say might need, because really, I could make do. Here are a few grace notes I’m considering.

  • This blue jacket from Toast. The Tibi I ordered was way, way, way too big. I’m waiting for Toast customer service to tell me if their sizes run big or small, whether I’m a 10 or a 12, British sizes.
  • A pair of Beautifeel heels to wear with dresses and skirts, ladylike pumps perhaps
  • Some more shirts I can wear untucked that are kind to my midlife tummy. There are days when I do not feel well-treated by my tees.
  • A hat, to wear while walking to work. Saving my forehead from sun. Perhaps a boater for trouser days, a cloche for dresses.

Do you have a similarly constrained wardrobe? Or perhaps even more minimal?

64 Responses

  1. I would love to her more about Beautifeel, which you have mentioned several times. I walk a lot for work as a journo and on hols as a tourist/local, have martyrous feet, despise wearing marshmallows, and am stumped for grownup alternatives.

    1. Maryn – I’ve posted on them before, but I will do another one soon. Maybe I will write the company and see if they have any extra info for us on why the shoes are so comfortable.

  2. I keep saying I’m moving in that direction, but I suspect it’s not really true . . . I can certainly see the value of it, at least, and I appreciate the inspiration to edit, based on your discipline. . .

  3. sounds perfect b/c it fits your life perfectly.
    that’s the thing about small wardrobes, who cares about the number if it doesn’t work, right?!

    love the thought of perpetual spring.


  4. Is that a small wardrobe? I live in NYC, where I don’t have room for anything extraneous, although I tend to have a lot of dresses (because I like them, although I know I look best in pants).

    Sounds like a very nice selection!

  5. i do not, as you know; i am a magazine editor, an avid thrift and consignment shopper, and a bit of a hoarder, so my wardrobe is all over the place. presented for your amusement, my approximation of a similar list:

    – 6 pairs of skinny jeans (genetic denim, embossed black; AG denim, black; william rast, dark blue wash; BCBG, faded black; loomstate, lavender and bright green)

    – about 6 silky, draped sleeveless tops (grey asymmetric helmut lang, bought flawed on ebay and tie-dyed at home; another grey helmut lang, bright magenta barneys coop label and tie dyed blue theory, both from barneys sample sales; black and white silk no-label, found on the giveaway table at work; a current/elliott lavender and white tie dyed tunic from refinery29’s save fashion sale

    – a gaggle of short dresses, favorites including a short kelly green stephen alan; a short teal BCBG, tie-dyed at home; a black cotton american apparel tank dress; a black cotton american apparel t-shirt dress; a grey-and-white striped madewell silk tee shirt dress; a dark grey silk rag and bone shirtdress

    – about 6 cardigans (black cotton/linen buttonless, by bask; black cotton and falling apart, french connection; oversized grey cotton jersey, american apparel; black, lace-backed and found on the giveaway table at work, lauren conrad; black wool with pearl buttons, marc by marc jacobs; black wool comme des garcons x h&m, shared with my husband)

    – a huge mess of outerwear, favorites including a faded black denim motorcycle jacket, french connection; a recycled italian wool blazer, zachary’s smile; a black wool motorcycle coat, h&m x comme des garcons (my favorite jacket of all time); a cropped red plaid see by chloe swing coat; a huge, short-sleeved red buffalo plaid built by wendy coat; a short-sleeved charcoal asymmetrical brooklyn industries coat; a bulky black moschino cheap & chic pea coat

    – a dozen pairs of vegan flats, including faux patent ballet (purple and black, constantly replaced, target); ballet covered with silver sequins, lauren conrad; strappy grey gladiators, olsenhaus; strappy rope sandals, dv by dolce vita; you get the idea

    – about a dozen large men’s watches, shared with my husband

    – an insouciant smattering of black and siamese cat hair

    and you know the jewelry.

  6. Your prior posts about your work uniforms were part of my inspiration/justification to refine my own. I’m feeling good about where my own work wardrobe is going, but would walk over hot coals to find some stylish, flattering summer-weight jackets.

    1. I have viewed the Isabel Marants. They look different ( nice ) in general, the price is ok, but I have never bought any.
      Somehow, ( to me ) they seem ” one season clothes “, the quality is not good, so in reality, they end up as quite expensive clothes.

      1. They are more trendy than classic, and their wear lifetime I expect to last about as long as the trend they exemplify.

  7. The constant climate is your friend.

    I think a hat would be great blog fodder. You can tell us how to avoid hat-hair.

    No white sweaters or jackets?

  8. I’m beginning to realize how very few things I deign to procure. Very few, indeed.

  9. I’m a UK ten if that’s any use to you, ( I’m a size bigger on top) I think that’s quite a substantial wardrobe, I do love how you have it all so organised, I loathe my everyday clothes just now, I crave a blueprint for a uniform, I wonder if this is throwback to my school days when I wore the same thing 365 days a year, well with a summer option which came in May – perfect.

  10. I LOVE that you posted this. I am inspired by women who have a sensible, classic, timeless, small wardrobe. I suspect you always look good no matter what and your comment about getting dressed easily sounds absolutely dreamy. Thanks for the inspiration!

  11. Well, we have seasons here, but I find that I wear a similarly constrained wardrobe – slacks or jeans in the winter, with sleeved tshirts and either long-sleeve button-ups or a blazer (I have a LOT of blazers in different colors, including hot pink). In the summer, it’s light-weight slacks or capris, tank tops and short sleeve, cotton button-ups over. Once in a blue moon I’ll wear a skirt ensemble or a dress, but not often – I like to be comfortable, and I like knowing that what I’m wearing looks good on me. Of course, all of my clothes are too big right now, but I simply don’t have the wherewithal to go shopping for anything new, so I’m putting up with being very baggy for the time being.

  12. Well I’m living in a pair of American Eagle long cutoffs destroyed denim bermuda shorts ahem)tho I’m sure I’m waaaay past the cut off age.

    I’m living in striped shirts from J. Crew and red Toms.


    xo Jane

  13. I think I’m appropriating this list to be my own, at least as a guide. I’d like to pare my closet down a bit, but here in upper South Carolina, we have four very distinct seasons. Of course, that is partly why I love it, but it makes dressing well a little more laborious–especially in the summer, when you’re over 50. I tend to like crisp fabrics and clean lines, but I have learned I can wear a drapey cotton cardigan over a sleeveless blouse with a pencil skirt to good effect in the office. Then once outside, I shed the cardigan and trade the flats for flip flops. The best part of this post was clicking on your Dries van Noten link and reading that whole post, which I’d somehow missed. First, I like and try to emulate your philosophy about criticism. Second, I like looking at Atlantic Pacific; I go there two or three times a year and usually scroll through a ton of pics and find a color combination or an accessory idea that is kind of energizing. But more important, I come here because I believe you really do try to be as true as you can be, even in the details of how midlife women dress. Thanks!

    1. You are welcome. It sounds to me like you are well on your way with a strategy. Also, xox:).

  14. Woo! I drank this post UP. I’m doing a wardrobe, household and life overhaul like a decluttering maniac. Thanks to hubby’s career, we keep moving every year; once I finally realized that my disordered life was reflected by the state of my relationship with my closet, I restricted my wardrobe so I could put dressing (my beloved creative outlet) on the back burner and focus on purging the rest of the household. It’s shocking how much of the pared down items I’m not even using. It’s easy to see the real wardrobe holes now, and it just keeps getting easier to find focus, clarity and calm in all other areas. Very freeing! :)

  15. I live in a four season climate, so I need clothes to cover weather from single digits to triple digits. I have 7 or 8 suits (mostly matching jacket and trousers) for each season. I love color, so multiple tops – probably close to 20 for each season, but I also wear most on weekends with khakis as well. 3 or 4 Anna Scholz dresses per season. Black, navy and bronze flats (Beautifeel and Sofft) and black, navy and nude heels – also Beautifeel and Sofft. Brown leather jacket with zip out liner, taupe raincoat with zip out liner and camel wool winter coat. 2 pair of ankle high boots- black and brown (not used this past winter due to lack of snow.) Never wear a hat, rarely gloves, but I drive, not walk to work.

    I use the same bag most days, have a great collection of replica vintage earrings from the Museum of Jewelry as well as pearl and opal studs. Pearl necklace, gold chain necklace. Not much of a scarf person, although I inherited a great collection from my mother.

    Weekends, it is mostly khakis or (rarely) jeans with the same collection of tops, shoes and accessories. I have WAY too many casual jackets/blazers. Then there is ballroom dance. . . .

  16. My work wardrobe is mayhaps a little more casual, and still evolving but it includes:

    2 pairs of jeans (skinny and bootcut)
    1 pair of slacks
    a week’s worth of dresses
    a handful of tank tops and tshirts
    4 blazers
    2 cardigans

    The blazers and cardigans are key to making the most casual outfits worklike.

  17. In my current role as suburban hausfrau, my wardrobe would not be worth listing. If I were to ever work again, I would likely favor something very similar to your wardrobe, with one exception — definitely more than one skirt. And probably less jackets. But other than that, quite similar in quantity and quality.

  18. “I’ve been at my new job for 9 months now.”

    What an opening! After that opening, I figured you’d be birthing/gestating something fully formed.

    But oh hell damn, not clothes again!

    I’m going to have to go to the bar with “midwest” for a while, we’ll be back later.

  19. Technically–I work out of the home–careing for a handicapped relative. Jeans and tees, enough to go a week if I can’t do laundry. Long sleeve, short sleeve, and sleeveless for the really hot summer days, or layering for uncertain weather. Comfy shoes for dog walking, but I need some for running to the mailbox. Going to make some cotton shirts for more layering and get some sweaters or sweatshirts (I am constantly cold unless it is really hot!).Don’t have a dress or skirt–just don’t need them since black slacks will cover most things I do.

  20. Sounds like you have it all organised for every work occasion and it works well.Very envious of your cashmere V neck collection particularly! And I would imagine that you are an 8 in Toast sizes… they do run large… basically a size 10 in UK is a 6 in USA but quite a generous 6 in Toast. Sarah X

    1. I have a 10 in Tyrwhitt that’s too small, a 12 in Liberty that’s too large, and a 12 in Brora that is just right. So, I’d be a 10 in Toast? The broad shoulders must be respected:).

  21. Talk about speaking my language…I’m relieved to hear I’m not the only one who uses the word “beejesus! Regarding the wardrobe, I think a uniform and fewer choices makes getting ready for work a no-brainer. I know my closet was a lot smaller when I worked the corporate life full time.

  22. My “working wardrobe” consists of baggy jeans, a paint stained shirt, and 25 year old work boots from J. Crew. I get tired of looking like a mess all day, but I can’t think of another solution. I’ve tried changing clothes when I get to my studio, etc. – but basically too lazy. Your wardrobe sounds perfect and I did get a few of the Brora v-neck cashmeres (based on your post and photo) to wear when I “dress up”.

    1. So – in answer to your question, yes, constrained and more minimal. And if anyone has any suggestions, would be much appreciated.

    2. Kathy, if I may, I´d say that your ” work outfit ” is just as perfect as mine. It is functional and comfy.
      We don´t need anything fancy, pop-ups added to it.
      It doesn´t mean, that we are not allowed to build ” fantasies ” for our everyday wear, or maybe occasionally buy some new pieces ( simple ) to replace the worn out ones.
      I´d suggest, that instead of focusing on the everyday wear we already have, we could save the money and instead splurge sometimes on something more unique.
      I believe you have special occasions, when you wish to really ” dress up ” ( me too- only more seldom ).
      Having a great bag or two, fine jewelry ( some of it can be worn and enjoyed daily ), a great dress or two, great shoes – what else is needed?

  23. My work wardrobe is similar, except we have 4 distinct seasons here, so I have jackets for 90 degree days and jackets for 0 degree days and everything in between. Do you have distinct casual and smart casual clothes for non-work activities, or do you re-purpose your work clothes? That is always one of my dilemmas.

    Also – if you find shirts that can be worn under jackets and are kind to the midlife tummy, please tell! This is a big challenge for me just now.

    1. I don’t repurpose the work clothes. Casual is completely separate, because I let my Sturdy soul run free on weekends.

  24. As I work from home my needs are few…chinos/tees with cardigan/sweater,most of my cashmere is Brora the best their is!!

    Your working wardrobe looks good & comfortable.Ida

  25. We live in a perpetual spring here in Seattle as well Lisa…except when it’s fall! Cardigans and scarves are de rigueur here all throughout the year…the little coat rack that I keep my scarves on is starting to look like a very colorful Cousin It!

    Today, thanks to the inspiration from fashionable lady bloggers such as yourself, I went to Anthro and bought several well thought out new garments (all tops)…and I didn’t purchase one single housewares chotsky, which is my normal splurge…very proud of myself, and I love what I got, they weren’t the silly, look amazing but will never wear clothes either…you’ve taught me well!
    xo J~

    1. I think the question of Anthro vs. J. Crew is kind of like Jackie vs. Marilyn, right? Such a good style litmus.

  26. Interesting! My work wardrobe is even smaller, I think, with 3 patterned and one solid colour skirts, 2 pants, 2 perfectly cut black tees, 2 black tanks, 1 shirt, 1 blouse, 4 dresses. 6 pairs of shoes, from sandals over higher heels to walking shoes. A trench jacket, 1 denim jacket, 1 linen blazer, 3 knit cardigans. Various scarves, gold and silver jewellery, a versatile flapper-length coloured sweetwater pearl necklace and some big semiprecious stone necklaces.

    I am never bored because what I have really suits me. I have come to like skirts and dresses a lot and find they provide more visual interest per se. Also I take care to incorporate enough pattern and structure-providing materials because I find from experience that a basics-mostly wardrobe gets boring otherwise.

  27. Yup, that’s a pretty big work wardrobe to me. At home in New Zealand with the budget and wardrobe (closet) space I only ever had about four pairs of work trousers and about four skirts. It did get warm so I had over-the-knee length trousers too. I had two or three work dresses (I did get into dresses – easy, stylish if I pick the right one and they suit me (if I pick the right one)).

    Having moved to England with just a suitcase about 6 months ago, I’ve got about 4-5 Tshirty tops that I regularly wear, two skirts, 3-4 dresses, 2 pairs of pants (trousers) which are getting too big for me as I lose weight, three cotton cardigans and a small and odd collection of jackets (basically only a cropped leather one and a jade green hip length trench).

    Shoes are a major issue – I bought about 7 pairs of heels over with me and I’ve worn one pair about twice. I walk to work most of the time, and into town for nights out. My work is quite informal and heels just aren’t appropriate even when I’m driving. My pretty shoes! So I only have about 2-3 pairs I can wear and two of them I bought here!

    It’s supposedly summer but it’s been raining most days for the last couple of months and it’s really not warm. (Jeans and a jumper(sweater) weather today).

    In summary, I kind of need more of every category of clothing. I’m really not the capsule wardrobe type – I get miserable if dressing isn’t a bit creative and new.

  28. Reading through the comments again, the thought of “perpetual spring” has captured my imagination, I’m almost moved to sit with zillow a while this morning and cruise real estate on the west coast, I’m just that uncomfortable year ’round. We here on the southeast coast barely have winter, certainly no spring, it’s perpetual tropical heat even though it’s just N. Florida. Because of the heat, my wardrobe revoves around uniforms. I wish dressing/shopping/clothing were one of my pleasures, I’d probably lift my low profile a tad.

    1. My mother and step=father researched Florida when moving back to the US from Sweden. They wound up in Santa Barbara, in a best of both worlds kind of decision. Give it a try:).

  29. A small wardrobe?
    Your work wardrobe is 99% more than ALL the clothes I have!
    I wear the same clothes day after day ( having doubles, in order to get them washed in between ), and I´m not at all bothered.
    Having the amount you have, would make me feel miserable, as I´m really trying to come along with less. Even in this country, with four different seasons.

    1. When I was home full-time I did not need so much. In my job, my role requires a certain presence.

  30. It is ridiculous how much I enjoy this post. (Commenter Claire said it best-“I drank this post UP”.)I recently spent a year in a business casual office and, after reading your list, it is clear to me I was trying to do too much with too little. Am I the only woman in the world who just never buys enough clothes? At some point, there is only so much you can do with scarves and accessories. Reading that you have 18 tops, not counting jackets, made me realize my paltry top situation was what “bored the beejesus” out of me. And living in the grey skies of Seattle, it is very, very important to add a little joy.

    So, I am going to use your enough-to-keep-it-interesting-but-not-too-much list as an attainable goal. Thank you so much for posting this! And I would also love to see this wardrobe in action.

  31. I’m late to this post but must say (given its second mention) that I am curious-because it is so different from your other accessories-about your possession of a Hello Kitty necklace. Is it your choice or was it a gift? I keep seeing them and thinking of you.

    What a modern, graceful and versatile work wardrobe.

    1. It was a present, but one I asked for. The birthday of my divorce year, a present from my best girl friend. I can’t say I’ve even deconstructed the meaning yet.

  32. I recently did an inventory of my wardrobe and I’m embarassed to admit that I currently own 40 button downs!

  33. How I envy the San Fran weather! I saw on GMA this morning that you’re area is one of the only in the country not experiencing extreme heat. We’ll hit over 100 today. I am not complaining, however, because Winter is my enemy. It just must be so lovely to have steady weather when planning not only your wardrobe but your day! To walk to work! To actually invest in a coat that is meant for “Spring” or “Fall”….we get maybe a week of each. ;)

  34. Regarding tops,have you checked out Isda & Co? They are in South Park (SF) and make some really usable things. I think you might see some tops you would like. An appallingly high percentage of my wardrobe comes from them.

  35. As someone with a Hong Kong-sized closet — no, not even a closet, but an IKEA unit plus a wooden Chinese cabinet shared with husband and baby — I think your wardrobe is not-so-small sized.
    My personal wardrobe is still limited to the fact that I have 10 lbs to go before reaching my pre-pregnancy weight and I can’t fit into any trousers. Plus, it’s hot, hot, hot here, so need for jackets.
    Here’s my clothing rotation right now:

    * 1 pair jeans
    * 2 skirts, one short denim, one long grey silk
    * 3 pairs of nude-colored shoes — flat, medium and high
    * 4 dresses. (2 LBDs, 1 knee-length silk and tailored, 1 summer maxi dress)
    * 4 cardigans — black, white, green, grey
    * various tops, mostly black

    1. Though I have to add that I’m pretty bored with this limited rotation now that I’ve been back to work for 5 months.
      Hopefully, when I stop eating so many darned carbs, I will be able to fit into more soon.

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