We all know what the basics are – white button-downs, jeans, etc – but do we know the best, and most affordable versions of them? Or the lesser-known items that will fill holes in our wardrobe we didn’t even know we had? The answer to those questions, if you’ll allow my presumptuousness, is no. And until I forced myself to look at my closet head-on and be like “Why do I hate everything that’s in here, including things I bought a week ago?” I didn’t know either.
But the truth is there are certain items that fit three criteria:
1. They are enormously versatile, thus can be used all the time to varying effects and with different styles of outfit.
2. Because they are used within an inch of their life and thus replaced relatively quickly, they are affordable as hell.
3. They are cute, and will get you out of any pinch, or upgrade any simple look.
And these are the most essential items. I have gone to the trouble of finding them all for you, now all you need to do is click “buy” and let Beyonce’s “Upgrade U” play softly in the background.
1. The 3/4 Sleeve White Cotton Shirt
The 3/4 sleeve is, as we all know, the best sleeve available. It combats Hilary Duff arms (bless her), it looks chic and sort of effortless, and with a nice scoop neck, it feels kind of sexy (in a sporty mom kind of way). You will likely wear it more than anything else in your wardrobe.
2. An Everyday Tote That Doesn’t Make You Feel Like A Sad Mom
These are apparently for bridesmaids, but that’s ridiculous, because they’re cute and perfect for a day out shopping. They need to check their #weddingprivilege and let the rest of us have one. Get this with your initial and enjoy a tote that feels both like a reasonably cute purse, and can store all of your wares with ease.
3. A Red Plaid Scarf
What makes a basic jeans-and-tee-and-ballet-flats outfit look suddenly deliberate and put-together? The answer to that question is maybe a piece of statement jewelry, but on top of that, it’s a nice red tartan scarf. It’s the fall and winter months all wrapped up in a single strip of fabric, and can be made to look #punk or #prep with equal ease.
4. Pointed ballet flats.
I don’t know why, but for some reason, rounded ballet flats often end up feeling plain and — in many cases — strangely juvenile. Yet pointed ballet flats act almost as a comfortable stand-in for heels. They look polished and elegant, especially when in a sweet material like metallic faux leather.
For me, heels should be spent on (because they should be of good enough quality to not feel like they’re destroying your feet), but flats are generally comfy and get worn out hella quick. If you find a cute cheapie pair, go for them.
5. The Sheer Black Button-Down.
It’s easy. It’s sexy. It can be worn with a tank top and look daytime-appropriate, or just a bra and look ~daring~. Under a blazer, it’s mysterious and professional-meets-Jessica Rabbit. All in all, the perfect top.
6. The Bible, Parisian Chic
Inès de la Fressange is a #NeutralLife style star and power player. Her look is timeless, effortless, and utterly wearable under all circumstances. This book is a light, fun read, and full of actually-practical tips to how to be the best, most understated-yet-sexy version of yourself.
7. Intricate Sterling And “Diamond” Studs.
First rule of being thrifty and not cheap is “don’t buy jewelry that will stain your life green.” This is the first rule of life past the age of 19, and it is never more important than when buying the cute-yet-understated cubic zirconia studs you will likely wear every day. Go with sterling silver — and get a pair on sale, like this one — so you will never be gross and green again.
8. A Drapey, Comfy Grey Sweater
Quick note: This sweater is currently down from 50 bucks and is a cashmere blend. So, you know, get on that.
And more importantly, I firmly believe that grey is the best color for sweaters in general, as it feels at once elegant and cozy, and doesn’t make the difficult “black or brown palette” decision. That, combined with the “fireplace sexy” cut, make this the sweater to slip on with skinny jeans and the white scoop-neck, or a black dress and boots.
9. The Classic Tortoise Shell Barrette
Ponytails held back with some weak elastic band? Zzz. Pontails held back with a chic tortoise shell barrette? Yes please.
10. Beige Skinny Jeans.
They magically look more chic and deliberate than regular jeans. They give off that sexy equestrian vibe. They go with almost literally everything. They make a sexy monochromatic outfit easy, and have the fit of a perfect stretchy, skinny jean. Buy these. You will not regret it.
11. Cable-Knit Tights In A Dark, Neutral Color.
I will make no secrets about the fact that I am not a fan of the bold-colored or light-colored tight. I like them dark and neutral, like my coffee. But that doesn’t mean a little texture can’t make them more interesting! Cable knit is subtle, warm, and weirdly sexy. The perfect combination.
11. A Lip Pencil That Does Everything In One Swipe.
I used to fear a bold lip, because lipstick makes me look like a crazy person, and I am really bad at applying things in a base-liner-color kind of routine. I need something easy, convenient, and moisturizing. Soft lip pencils, like this one from Sephora, take all of the guess work out of it, and make all of your outfits look way more fierce and put-together — no matter what they are.
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