Style Building Basics: 15 Essential Pieces for a Killer Wardrobe

Let’s be real here: we’re college students, we’re all on a budget. Forget the “Total Frat Move” garbage–I’m a proud member of the Greek community and I don’t know one person with limitless access to cash. My next point: if you’re reading this right now, there’s a good chance you have an interest in fashion. Reconciling these two facts of life poses a problem.

What’s a girl to do when there are so many trends, so many occasions to dress up for, and so little money? Invest in the basics. I’ve compiled a list of what I believe are the building blocks of a great wardrobe–each piece on this list is easy to style and will work for multiple occasions. I probably wear at least one of these items 6 out of 7 days a week! These pieces are staples and will fill up any gaps in your wardrobe that you might feel like you have.

Want to know what items made the cut? Read on!

1. Flannel Shirt

This piece is great because it’s so versatile. Wear it with a pair of skinny cargos or worn-in jeans and sneakers for a grungy 90’s look, or belt it with your favorite pair of boots for a western outfit. The perfect flannel should be cozy enough to sleep in, thin enough to layer under a jacket, and loose enough to allow for lots of movement. Don’t spend a lot of money on a flannel–borrow one from your brother (or boyfriend) or pick one up from a thrift shop.

2. Little Black Dress

I’m sure by now you all know the importance of owning a little black dress. This go-to piece should be conservative enough to wear to a wide range of events, but still have some pizazz to it! An ideal LBD can easily be dressed up or down depending on the shoes and jewelry you wear with it. My favorite LBD is a lot like the one Lauren Conrad is rocking in this picture–it can easily transition from an office look to perfect for a night on the town with a pair of sexy stilettos and chandelier earrings. I also love how Miley Cyrus pairs patterned tights with her LBD–it adds just enough edge.

3. Perfect T-Shirts

I know, this sounds really obvious. The trick is to find a great cut, which is more difficult than it sounds. Look for t-shirts that are cut long, slightly loose, and are not too thin. Also, watch where the sleeves hit your arm. They should hit at the thinnest part of your arm, right where your tricep dips in. My all time favorites are unisex v-necks and crew cut shirts by American Apparel. When you find a cut you like, get one in every color.

4. Leather Jacket

Whether you like them motorcycle or straight cut, cropped or regular length, brown, black, or gray, a great leather jacket is a must. “Pleather” often evokes images of shiny black plastic material, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find a great looking knock-off at a bargain store. My “leather” jacket is a Forever21 find–I’ve always been so much more successful buying clothes off of their website than in their messy stores at the mall. The leather is buttery soft, and it is cut just like authentic versions I’ve tried on at high-end boutiques. A leather jacket will transform any girly, summery dress into a chic look perfect for fall. It looks equally cool with a graphic tee and your favorite pair of skinnies.

5. Pencil Skirt

Like most of the pieces listed here, this is a general item that leaves lots of room for you to pick one that meets your specific needs. I have to wear a business suit every week, so my trusty gray pencil skirt is classically-cut and stops at my knees (because I’m on the shorter side). If you don’t need one that’s a part of a business suit, look into purchasing an oh-so stylish bandage skirt. Pencil skirts are incredibly flattering and add an air of sophistication to your look. I have a leopard print and a lace-overlay skirt in addition to my classic ones, for nights when I want a little extra oomph. They look especially cool when paired with a chic jacket.

6. Striped Shirt

This list is going for versatile, and there’s not better pattern than stripes when it comes to reinvention. Wear your striped tunic with black leggings, flats, and a scarf for a European look, or tucked into a floral skirt for a trendy “model off duty” outfit. My favorite t-shirt is a striped one I picked up from the sale’s rack of the boy’s section at Urban Outfitters this summer. Emily of Cupcakes and Cashmere just might love stripes as much as I do. She frequently pairs her sailor-striped shirts with skinny cargos, jeans, and mini skirts.

7. Perfect Jeans

This is a little vague, but that’s because there are SO many different cuts of jeans and its really up to your own personal preference as to which style is your favorite. Every girl needs a pair of boot-cut jeans in their closet! These are incredibly flattering, and will never go out of style. Skinnies are great, but if we extrapolate what fashion bloggers and stylists have been wearing, wide-leg and bell bottom jeans will be the next big things. I love “boyfriend” style jeans as well! They look so cute when paired with a simple t-shirt and wedge sandals. Watch where your jeans hit as well. Kim Kardashian pulls off high-waist jeans with ease, but we all remember the Jessica Simpson fiasco. The only fashion sin worse that “mom” jeans are those insanely low cut jeans–thongs peaking out of the top of your pants is NEVER a good idea. Plus, they make your legs look stubby and leave your love handles exposed for the world to see. Gross.

8. Floral Dress

This is one of my favorite items on the list. Find a casual floral dress in colors that can work for any season–my floral dress is mauve and turquoise, so there’s no issue making it work for winter, spring summer, and fall (all you have to do is call). My style is all about contrast, so my favorite thing to wear over a floral dress is a leather or military jacket and high-heel riding boots. Transition back to spring or summer by pairing it with a denim jacket or chambray shirt and a pair of Converse.

9. Blazer

So many cuts, colors, and fabrics, yet so little time. I have 5 or 6 business-suit blazers, but the two that I most consistently reach for is my oversized “boyfriend” cut one and my casual cotton shrunken jacket. These babies literally go with everything in your closet–dresses, all types of skirts, casual and fancy dresses, jeans, and trousers. Pair it with a patterned t-shirt and jeans for a daytime outfit, or with a curve-hugging dress and stilettos for a night on the town. I’ve been lusting over a charcoal paper-thin boy-cut one I spotted at Lucca on Campus Corner earlier this week.

10. Trousers

Just like a blazer and pencil skirt, a pair of trousers is a necessity for the business world that translates well in casual situations. Purchase a classic-cut pair for the most versatility. Spend a little more on a nice pair of trousers because they will never go out of style. Banana Republic, Express, and the Gap all have great quality versions. Go business casual by pairing them with a white dress shirt and belt, or a daytime casual by rolling up the hem and pairing them with a tank top like our girl Jennifer Aniston. For a more stylish twist, pair it with a cropped jacket or frilly top like Rihanna and Lauren Conrad pictured above.

11. Military Jacket

I’ve gone a just a little crazy with this trend over the last season. There are just so many cuts and styles to choose from! I love the look of industrial workshirts–I made mine myself with a green Dickies men’s button down I bought at Walmart and patches purchased from eBay. I like wearing it belted over a t-shirt dress. I also have an army green cotton jacket, a white cropped ringleader version, and a long olive green belted trench. Military jackets are perfect with any pair of pants or shorts, but I think the most interesting way to wear them is juxtaposed with something really girly, like a floral dress or lace skirt.

12. White Dress Shirt

White button down shirts have a bit of an unfair reputation. They’re typically associated with stuffy business suits, school uniforms, or walk of shame attire. This piece, like others on this list, is a staple for both casual and dressy occasions, and can look completely different depending on how you style it. Make sure that yours is loose enough to not pull in the chest area, but fitted enough so it doesn’t look like you stole one from a boy (unless you’re going for that look). Try wearing it beneath or over your favorite dress, or tucked into a pencil skirt for business occasions. Wear it daytime casual with shorts and boots, or with jeans and flats.

13. Knit Sweater

I’ll be the first to admit that I love, LOVE my “Bill Cosby” sweaters. I buy at least 5 new ones each winter, so my collection is pretty massive at this point. I used to be into really fitted, preppy sweaters, but now I’m all about loose and lightweight versions like the one Lauren Conrad is wearing in the picture. There’s no need to hit up department stores for impossibly expensive cashmere versions–I’ve found a few of my favorite sweaters at thrift stores (don’t worry, I dry cleaned them twice before wearing them). To avoid looking like your great aunt, wear your chunky sweaters with a pair of skinnies or jeggings and a tough pair of boots.

14. Dressy Coat

So many girls have their casual winter jacket (North Face fleeces are especially popular here at OU) and completely disregard the need for a dressier one. Coats are one of my favorite things to shop for. You could literally be wearing a ratty thermal and a sports bra underneath, but no one would have any idea you’re actually dressed like a slob when your outerwear is so fabulous. I have a black wool, a red wool, and plaid peacoats, a white down snow coat, a classic trenchcoat, a 90’s-esque corduroy and fur trimmed jacket, and a furry leopard print version. If you can only afford one, its much better to err on the side of dressy–trust me, it will be just as warm and make you look spectacular even on the chilliest days.

15. Fun Extras

In my opinion, fun extras are the MOST important items in your closet (given that you actually wear them). In a sea of jeans, t-shirts, and the same 6 BCBG dresses per date party, it’s essential that you own a few signature pieces they express who you are and what your personal style is. They should be stand-out items and the focal point of the outfit you’re wearing it with. Some my my favorite “fun extras” in my closet are black liquid leggings, a fur vest, a denim vest, and multiple sequins dresses. I have a few vintage cocktail dresses that I absolutely adore–a velvet off-the shoulder dress from the 80’s passed down from my mom, and my cousin’s Betsey Johnson prom dress from the early 90’s. Don’t spend a ton of money on these items unless you’re absolutely sure that you will wear them. I know tons of girls with adventurous closets but lack the attitude and confidence it takes to actually wear these items outside of the house. Don’t waste your money or do the fabulous piece an injustice.

For more on all things trendy, visit the OU Daily‘s Life and Arts Section

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6 Responses to Style Building Basics: 15 Essential Pieces for a Killer Wardrobe

  1. Nice Post with lots of interesting tips! You have proven that fashion is not something that exists in dresses only. Fashion has to do with ideas, the way we live, what is happening.

  2. Thanks for the info its really helpful.

  3. Emmett K says:

    I love your site! You have a talent for writing and your ideas are original and interesting. I’m slowly going through your archives, i’m hooked!

  4. Marie says:

    lovely! just what i’ve been searching for

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