Retro Essentials: Building Your Wardrobe

So we’ve gone through how to discover what you actually like, how to tackle the budget issue, and how to adapt retro styles for winter. But what about effectively building a small wardrobe of clothes that can be worn all year around? That’s what today’s post is about, the different staples you might want to consider including in your wardrobe.

As always, these aren’t rules, just guidelines. You can of course adapt this to your needs and circumstances, in fact I recommend you do. There are a fair amount of lists like this floating around online, but very few of them are adapted to Australian conditions and/or the retro styles, so I still hope you’ll be able to find some helpful tips here. I’ll also include some links to items that are currently available in stores or online and that represent the diversity of what you can do with essential pieces.

What I suggest is to sit down and pretend you’re going on a weeklong trip. It’s a trip where you’ll need to dress casual, business casual, ‘night out’, and cocktail. You only have a small suitcase. This is your essential wardrobe. For this post, I limited the recommendations to 10 types of clothing items and four kinds of shoes. This excludes accessories, underwear, and jackets.

Keep in mind that almost any piece in this collection should be able to work with any other piece. Party dress & flats? Check. Casual skirt, blouse, and blazer with heels? Check. Pick colours that work together, if in doubt start with neutrals and use accessories to spice things up.

Let’s start with shoes.

I suggest having four pairs of shoes for wardrobe purposes.

Flats – flats are cheap, practical, and cute. You can wear them in most instances and since it almost never snows in Australia, it’s a kind of shoe you can wear all year. They’re also versatile in that they can be worn to most social events listed above with the possible exception of cocktail. You can go with neutrals like black or beige, or go for something more unique like these Flying Burger People Eater Flats. Remember, just because something is practical, it doesn’t have to be boring. I regularly buy basic black or nude flats from Target for 10-15 dollars. Flats also have the benefit that they’re closed toe shoes and thus

Sandals – I’d recommend going for flat sandals or sandals with a low heel. If you want your sandals to also be heels, I’d recommend going with wedges to increase their usefulness and comfort level. The idea is to have an everyday shoe that is reliable and won’t make your feet drown in sweat when it’s 40 degrees. There’s the option of bringing in classic pinup patterns like these cherry sandals do or to go more traditional like these white floral ones.

Midi heels – this is again a type of shoe that works in any setting. The heels are low enough that you can walk around in them all day, but high enough where they feel a bit more formal than sandals. Wedges are a good option for balance and are easy to wear for long periods of time compared to other heels. I’d recommend something like these pastel heels. There’s also the option of having fully covered shoes like these really pretty cream ones.

High heels – Do you want pony heels? Of course you do. You can be conservative or crazy, or anything in between. These are a more classic example of black high heeled shoes with straps that can still work with vintage wear. I’d recommend a steady heel, the thinner it is the less hard it is to walk comfortably. You want a shoe that comfortably follows the arch of your foot. There shouldn’t be any gaps between your foot and the shoe when you’re sitting down. Another tip is to opt for straps or closed shoes since there’s less of a chance of them falling off if they’re properly attached to the foot.

Skirts – 2

One pencil skirt – I have linked to a lot of these, so just check my other posts in this series for multiple links to multiple pencil skirts. Pencil skirts are always classy, quite comfortable, and formal enough to work for business and can be styled to work for different occasions. Opt for black, navy, or dark grey if you want to maximise its utility since these colours can be combined with almost anything

One flowy skirt – this is for more casual occasions, it’s a great option when it’s hot outside and it can still be styled up if worn with an elegant blouse. Bell shaped skirts are a good option if you need to make it a bit more formal since they often have more structured fabrics. This is another nice option that is both elegant and casual. This is a good chance to go crazy with the prints.

Dresses – 4

Two casual dresses – These are dresses that can be dressed up to look business casual but not more formal than that. These are reliable pieces you can wear on a daily basis. Try to find a flattering shape that is still comfortable. I’d recommend a v-neck with a fitted waist.  They can have a loose or tight fit. It is my firm recommendation that everyone at least consider owning a wrap dress as they are some of the most flattering dresses in existence.

Business dress – not necessarily a work uniform, but a dress you would wear to a lunch with colleagues/a networking event, etc. A business casual dress. You want it to be casual enough that you can style it down and formal enough where it can be worn to a business meeting without causing too many raised eyebrows. You can still have a v-neck, but a higher one. You can still bring in classic patterns like polkadots.

Night out – This is a bit more difficult for those of us who wish to be able to engage in modern nights out but bring our retro styles to that club. I’m usually really careful about linking to expensive designers, but I’m making an exception with this post. No matter if you can afford it or not, Alannah Hill makes clothes that are a great source for style inspiration. Sparkly black and this black lace number are two good sources for inspiration.  For cheaper options we have this Ice Black and White, a sleeved option, a skater dress, and for something a bit more colourful I’d recommend this dress from ModCloth. The last dress goes up to a 4x as well, which might be worth noting for some of my readers.

Cocktail – Conservative. Silky. Floral. Halter. Lace. There are so many options for cocktail dresses, out of all the items on the list, this is probably the one where you won’t struggle to find a retro/vintage dress.

Shirts – 2

Blouse – when combined with a pencil/business skirt and a blazer, a blouse becomes an essential part of a business casual outfit. It can easily be dressed up or down and if you combine it with a loose fitting skirt, flats, and a casual cardigan it is appropriate for everyday wear. You can opt for a lovely silk piece, a button up, a longer option, this red bubbly one with short sleeves, one with a bow… There are many many options. My personal choice for this category is this white blouse from H&M. You want it to be comfortable, have decent coverage, and be in a material that looks just as good at the end of the day as it does at the start.

Casual shirt – Casual shirt + casual skirt = super casual. Casual shirt + business skirt = happy medium. Simple t-shirts are underestimated when it comes to how versatile they actually are. They might not be much of a status item in retro fashion, but they do deserve one spot in your essentials wardrobe. Stripes are a classic choice, but I think you’re capable of finding t-shirts on your own…

Outerwear – 2

Cardigan or knitwear – Not only do these keep you warm, they can also dress down fancy things and dress up casual things. There’s endless variations… Long Floral, Lace trim, Navy that’s very nautical. Rib knits,.. We’ve spoken about cardigans a lot lately, so I’m going to assume you’ve got an idea of where they can be found and their range. But yeah, get a cardigan.

Blazer – Last point on this list. Blazers serve a similar function to cardigans but are better at dressing things up, or quite literally covering things up. They can double as a jacket on cold days and makes it look like you made an effort getting dressed that morning. They don’t have to be your stereotypical suit jacket but can be longer, waterfall, pink, or patterned. Take your pick!

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