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The Modern Wardrobe Staples You Need to Feel Put-Together

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A 1957 ‘Shop Talk’ column from The New York Times observes, “Fashion classics, unlike their literary counterparts, are never shelved to gather dust. They go on year after year as the backbone of every woman's wardrobe.” Sixty-three years later and the sentiment still rings true — closet classics are an integral part of personal style. It's a realization that arrives at different times depending on who you are. For some individuals, the understanding that modern wardrobe staples are paramount to good style usually comes after about a decade of questionable — albeit harmless — fashion faux pas (talking to you, dangerously low-rise jeans). The light bulb turns on, putting outfits together becomes much easier, and the confidence kicks in.

One thing should be made clear: stocking your closet with modern wardrobe staples isn't akin to surrendering to a life of minimalism or the cookie-cutter neutrals-only look that's so popular on Instagram these days. Rather, focusing on cultivating a wardrobe that's full of well-crafted pieces you know you'll wear frequently is what's key. And though it may seem obvious it still warrants saying: buying less is better for the planet. Invest in your fashion forever pieces and you — and the earth — will be better off because of it.

Tips For Modern Wardrobe Staples: Start From the Ground Up

Much like everything in life, breaking your task into digestible pieces is the road to success. The same goes for modern wardrobe staples; begin with the basics. “It is important to focus on building your perfect wardrobe from the ground up,” MATCHESFASHION Fashion and Buying Director Natalie Kingham tells TZR. “Start with the key pieces such as the perfect white t-shirt, well-fitting denim, a cashmere sweater, and a great trench coat. Invest in items that have longevity, are effortless, and will work hard season after season.”

For influencer Madeleine Bugge Karlsen, modern wardrobe staples often lean toward a wearable, streamlined aesthetic. “I can’t live without my wool turtlenecks, oversized, often men’s, blazers, and straight cut jeans,” she tells TZR. “I love to play around with new trends but I do depend on my essential staples pieces. They are what I feel the most comfortable in and they’re an easy option if I get stuck on what to wear.”

Tips For Modern Wardrobe Staples: Look For Longevity

Naturally, a pillar of the beloved wardrobe staple is being longlasting. “Longevity is key, I always look for beautiful fabrications that will stand the test of time,” Kingham explains. “Size and fit are also important factors to consider along with the versatility of the item.” She nods to brands like Gabriela Hearst and Another Tomorrow as strong examples of these traits.

Model and influencer Amy Julliette Lefévre seeks out pieces with an eco-friendly component when choosing wardrobe staples. “I've been investing in high-quality products that will have a long life and are made of sustainable materials,” she shares with TZR.

Tips For Modern Wardrobe Staples: Invest In What Inspires You

Kingham explains that once you've made space in your wardrobe for the essentials above, “you can then build on this foundation with forever pieces which inspire you or are interesting design-wise.” This can range from a puff-sleeve blouse with Victorian sensibilities to a fringe suede jacket that nods to Western influences. Again, just because it's a wardrobe staple, doesn't mean it needs to be plain (or boring, for that matter). “I really love new and contemporary twists to these staples,” Lefévre adds. “For example, some of the loafers I have are chunkier versions, or are composed of unique monogram patterns. These keep the look refreshing, new, yet classic.”

Tips For Modern Wardrobe Staples: Balance Newness With Timeless

A good rule of thumb when approaching your wardrobe is to prioritize balance. “I think there will always be an appetite for newness and trend-led items but this will continue to be countered with a desire for timeless styles and true investment pieces,” Kingham says. You can also consider directional pieces as zeitgeist items to pass down and give a second life to. “I find it exciting that I will one day be able to pass down these modern pieces as heirlooms,” Lefévre says.

Ahead, shop modern wardrobe staples you need to feel put-together.

We only include products that have been independently selected by The Zoe Report's editorial team. However, we may receive a portion of sales if you purchase a product through a link in this article.

Modern Wardrobe Essential: Basic Tee

The classic tee, where to begin? This perennial favorite is vital to any successful wardrobe. It's low-key — sure — but what it lacks in boldness it makes up for in versatility and timelessness. Wear it with jeans, tucked into a midi skirt, layered under a plaid blazer; there are truly no bad options.

Modern Wardrobe Essential: Classic Button-Down

You know the days when you need to look polished lickety-split but have no energy to cobble together a look? The classic button-down shirt sure does, and it consistently saves the day. Layer a pullover sweater on top for a collegiate look or wear on its own with trousers and your favorite footwear.

Modern Wardrobe Essential: Structured Blazer

You don't need to work in a corporate environment to reap the benefits of a blazer. This polished staple can be dressed up or down simply by infusing your personal taste into a few deciding factors: color, fabric, and fit. For instance, a white silk blazer with a fitted silhouette looks drastically different than a boxy wool blazer crafted in a plaid pattern. Make it work for you.

Modern Wardrobe Essential: Soft Knitwear

Never underestimate the power of a gorgeous, simple sweater. A crewneck pullover, turtleneck, or charming cardigan are all good choices for a long lasting look.

Modern Wardrobe Essential: Simple Jeans

A pair of blue jeans may not have been on a 1957 list of wardrobe staples, but this American mainstay has stood the test of time and deserves its place in this roundup. A mid-wash in a straightforward silhouette with no distressing is a great place to start.

Modern Wardrobe Essential: Versatile Trousers

You'd be surprised just how put-together you can feel by simply putting on a pair of trousers. Especially when worn with the other staples on this list (e.g., knitwear, blazers) the end effect packs a punch.

Modern Wardrobe Essential: Trench Coat

For some, a trench coat is the ultimate wardrobe MVP. For others, it's a piece they've never invested in. Wherever you land, do consider that a trench coat is an excellent piece to transition between seasons in and if you go with the traditional light brown color, it goes with every color and pattern.

Modern Wardrobe Essential: Leather Bag

Splashy statement bags have their time and place, but a sleek investment bag will never do you wrong. A neutral color is a smart pick and an easy shape such as shoulder or tote are both good routes to take.

Modern Wardrobe Essential: Sleek Loafers

A pair of loafers pull an entire outfit together. While other classics like ballet flats and ankle boots are also fine choices, there is something distinctly enduring and timeless about a pair of well-crafted loafers that makes them worthy of a lifelong investment. Style with jeans, loafers, skirts, dresses — they can pull their own weight.

Modern Wardrobe Essential: Gold Jewelry

This one may be controversial depending on who you ask, but classic gold jewelry feels like it's wiggled its way into the staples category and its there to stay. It manages to feel casual enough to wear every day but can also take a look up the perfect notch to elevate the aesthetic.