5 Wardrobe Essentials You May Not Need

5 Wardrobe Essentials You May Not Need

We’ve all read the articles listing the essentials every stylish woman needs in her wardrobe. The must-have, universally chic, items that ensure a woman will be well dressed. I’d like to toss a little sand on 5 must-haves and explain why they don’t work for every woman.

Entire books have been written on this subject and they’re bestsellers because many women prefer the shorthand version of what they need to dress stylishly. It’s often not that simple.

Here’s why they don’t always work.

Classic White Shirt

Jennifer Connolly of A Well Styled Life wearing Chico's white shirt

I love a great white shirt. Many women don’t like wearing crisp garments. Structured clothes aren’t comfortable for them and feel stiff. Most white shirts are pure white which is too stark for many complexions. Women whose style recipe includes soft, feminine, romantic, delicate, etc will not be comfortable wearing a crisp white shirt and should choose an alternative.


Classic Trench Coat

Most lists reference a Burberry as the classic trench coat. This is often a double-breasted coat with epaulets in a utilitarian fabric. Double-breasted adds bulk which is not flattering for well-endowed women plus those buttons are usually front and center which can look like beacons. Epaulets are overkill for most women with broad shoulders. Many women prefer soft detailing and more elegant fabrics. A trench coat is a sporty style that many women aren’t comfortable wearing. I prefer trench coats with soft details and no buttons.


Classic Camel Coat

The common shade of Camel looks dreadful on many women. Its traditional warm tone leeches the life out of their complexions. True Camel Hair fabric is often stiff and scratchy which irritates sensitive necks. I’ve been on the hunt for my perfect camel coat for 40 years and never found a flattering tone. I did find one below but the shape wouldn’t flatter me so my hunt continues. A woman whose style recipe includes dramatic, creative, or alluring would not enjoy the classic Camel coat.


Classic Black Leather Jacket

Real and faux leather motorcycle jackets usually top this category and are said to look great with everything. The truth is leather is not flattering on older complexions because its smooth and often shiny texture accentuates every wrinkle on our faces. Suede or fabric collars soften this effect. The woman whose style recipe includes elegant, soft, feminine, refined or conservative will not be comfortable wearing a classic black leather jacket.


Classic Striped Breton

Many women can’t or won’t wear horizontal stripes. These make well-endowed busts look larger and broad shoulders look wider. Its classic crew neckline is not flattering for many silhouettes. This sporty garment won’t feel natural on women whose style recipe includes elegant, unconventional, sophisticated, or original.


Women can’t be typecast or squeezed into a category. We need to wear what we love that feels authentic for us.

Do these resonate with your style recipe?

What “essentials” do you not wear?

Thanks for reading and remember to wear what makes you feel confident and fabulous.

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  1. jacqui
    May 1, 2019 / 1:04 pm

    You are right on the money for me, as I can’t wear any of those items for exactly those reasons! Being larger on top, white shirts emphasis that. Same for horizontal stripes and double rows of coat buttons. The beige/ camel coloring is a washout on my cool skin tone.

  2. Allison
    February 14, 2018 / 1:32 pm

    Such a great post! With my fair skin, dark hair and blue eyes camel/beige is my cryptonite!! I adore a white blouse but notice the cool girls wear them oversized over black narrow ankle pants or leggings..so I found the perfect one at Banana Republic it’s called the boyfriend shirt ( has some stretch, covers the bum;) it could be worn open over a tank too. I am addicted to horizontal stripe tops and have them in a few styles none are classic except one which is covered in sequins!
    I feel awful when I read about women buying really expensive garments, wearing once and discarding it. Why did you purchase it, I think to myself. Because someone said it was the dernier cri of style? That in France, Italy, Europe, Antarctica it was à la mode? I look at women around me. I work with several generations so have a lot to look at. I see the safe girl, the couldn’t care less, the fashion victim, the I only wear it if it costs $$$$ lady and then I see women who have clearly found their style groove ( not rut!!) some might have even adopted a uniform of sorts…but always chic maybe a bit edgy. They look comfortable because they are. Reading fashion blogs can give lots of ideas but I always say adopt but adapt. Maybe the shirt looks better in ivory, the shoe with less heel or more(!) the jacket in suede, etc.etc. I have learned that you do not HAVE to go with the flow, in fact that is what ‘style’ is! It is folly and too $$ to slavishly follow the dictates of the mavens…

    • February 14, 2018 / 3:53 pm

      Brilliantly observed and said. Finding our style comfort zone, not sloppy zone, makes shopping and getting dressed so fun!

  3. Téa
    February 12, 2018 / 12:36 pm

    Great post, Jennifer! I must remember, it’s not “me” it’s the color/cut/style of the garment that’s not right for me. I would love it if you did a post about the benefit of having one’s “colors” done…a rich camel color is actually good for my “autumn” coloring…though, the traditional color of the Burberry trench makes me look “meh”…had my “colors” done about 4 years ago, and it’s made a world of difference in my wardrobe being cohesive and working for ME!

  4. Donna B Oliphint
    February 12, 2018 / 11:23 am

    Most of these do work well for me. In fact, I had to forbid myself from bringing home another horizontal striped top! Same with white blouses and tops. With my new mature pear shaped figure, the motorcyle jacket shape is not flattering, but I do have a black jacket. I need a brighter top close to my face when I wear it, though. The trench is good, but I prefer other colors. I have a light pink and a cool red as well as a camel. As for the camel coat, they’re just too heavy to have to deal with. Great post to make women think about what is best for them!

  5. Judy
    February 12, 2018 / 6:31 am

    I’m with a previous response! “It took your observations to wake me up”. I’ve tried all these “basics” but didn’t feel good in most of them. But now realize most of them are not for my size and coloring. Thank you!

  6. Laurel
    February 12, 2018 / 6:15 am

    Another great post. I have never felt quite right in a trench coat, and now you’ve convinced me to donate the last one in the closet. I haven’t worn it in several years, yet I have struggled to get rid of it…because Classic. Well, the double breasted style is just not great on me, so off it goes.

    The camel coat hasn’t ever been a good color on me, and I don’t think I’ve ever owned one. But the other items are favorites. I have several white shirts that I love and once it warms up a bit, I’ll be wearing them again. They are just so easy to style and go. I have a longish (3/4) black leather coat that I love. Very simple, flattering semi-fitted a-line style with a zipper. But I’ve never warmed to the moto jacket style…they just do nothing for me. As for striped T’s, I can’t get enough of them. 😉

    • February 12, 2018 / 7:42 am

      You’re the perfect example or how different we are. I’m so happy you’re dressing to please yourself Laurel!!

  7. Arell
    February 11, 2018 / 7:52 pm

    I am in complete agreement with your post! I have tried to buy and wear every article of clothing and they always wind up languishing in my closet. I have worn a black leather motorcycle jacket. (On the back of a motorcycle) But as much as I love black, the leather always feels harsh to me. I have purchased so many crisp white blouses and they just don’t feel right. Same for the Camel Coat. All of them! But I have figured out what works for me. I was also happy to see your alternative suggestions. Great post!

    • February 11, 2018 / 8:11 pm

      We save so much time and money when we know what works for us. Bravo Arell!

  8. February 11, 2018 / 7:21 pm

    Great post! I so agree with you! I think it’s impossible to write a must have list that works for every woman. (Partially because of these must-have lists) I’ve bought numerous white shirts over the years, but they never really worked for me. At the moment, I don’t own one, and I don’t miss it!!!

    I hope you had a wonderful weekend, Jennifer!


    • February 11, 2018 / 8:10 pm

      Good for you! Thanks, Andrea. Let’s get together soon.

  9. Robin
    February 11, 2018 / 6:29 pm

    Great post, I own none of these because I know they don’t work fir me!

    • February 11, 2018 / 8:10 pm

      Good for you, knowing what’s best for you!

  10. Deb S.
    February 11, 2018 / 5:36 pm

    Hahahahaha Jennifer, you absolutely nailed this one! I don’t wear ANY of the essentials you have listed for the EXACT reasons you have listed them! I am so happy to hear that my instincts are correct for me, even if they are considered essential wardrobe pieces. I can’t tell you how many times I have purchased that basic white button down shirt, only to have it languish in my closet until I finally give up and it ends up in the donate pile. They are very stiff to me, and often gap in the front, so whenever I think I will just go ahead and wear it, I end up taking it right off because I simply don’t like having to constantly yank it in the front to close the gap. I also don’t wear black leather jackets; instead, I often wear a cognac or similar warm brown colored leather jacket that has been a favorite of mine this fall. Thank you for all of your posts; I look forward to them every day!

    • February 11, 2018 / 8:24 pm

      Thanks for being here Deb!! I use fashion tape for gaping fronts but find proper button placement makes the world of difference.

  11. Kathy
    February 11, 2018 / 4:39 pm

    I agree with several of the items on that list. I would never wear a crisp white shirt because I prefer much more feminine styles. I love stripes and have several striped tees in my wardrobe despite my generous bosom. I have loved and worn black leather (or faux leather) jackets for years. That may seem to contradict my preference for feminine styles, but I think these jackets are chic, edgy and a little sexy. Now that I’m older I wear them with added color–a floral or brightly colored top underneath or a scarf to soften the black. As an alternative, I have selected several denim moto style jackets in softer colors that I really love. One of my favorite purchases of the year was a dusty pink, moto style faux leather jacket from Chico’s; I have received many compliments on this jacket and it is actually quite versatile!

    • February 11, 2018 / 8:09 pm

      That dusty pink sounds gorgeous! I don’t see a contradiction between alluring and leather jackets. Feminine is a very different look to me which I equate with softer fabrications. Sexy or alluring means something very different to me than feminine. Just my style training and semantics.

  12. Julie,Melbourne,Australia
    February 11, 2018 / 4:18 pm

    Lists are just guidelines to me and I like how you have picked 5 problematic items and gave alternatives.
    Off-whites,cream and ivory are the colours I prefer for basic shirts.I have only ever owned one trench coat and that was in black but I didn’t really like all the detail on it.I’d never wear camel either….eeeek!!I’ve never had a leather jacket but I’d love a suede jacket.In winter I normally wear a woollen 3/4 length jacket or hip length jackets.I love stripes but they have to be fine and subtle – no wide stripes on my small torso!
    Thanks once again for your wise and thoughtful post.

    • February 11, 2018 / 8:05 pm

      I am a big fan of suede too. It’s much softer on my complexion and adds a rich look you just can’t get with leather.

  13. Linda
    February 11, 2018 / 8:46 am

    I love this outfit you have on for this post (white shirt/pink jeans/straw bag) better than anything I have seen you wear!! It is just perfect for almost any “everyday” event, and sports charisma and charm! You look terrific! I, like a few others who have posted that they who live in warm climates, live in humid Louisiana, where we rarely have a “real” winter, and would love seeing more outfits similar to today’s.

    • February 11, 2018 / 8:03 pm

      Thanks, Linda. As we warm up I will be showing more light options.

  14. Joanna
    February 11, 2018 / 8:43 am

    I love a crisp white shirt, Breton stripe tees and trench coats but realize it does not suit every women’s style, body type or even lifestyle. The colour camel does not work with my colouring but I would buy one if I fell in love with it and have a nice scarf, upturned collar or turtleneck close to my face. Having said that, I don’t find the need to go out and buy one. I would much prefer a red. I always feel wonderful in red. I wear these articles of clothing not because there is a LIST telling me so, but because I like them and they suit my tall 5’8” slim body, small chest/ narrow shoulder frame. We, as women, shouldn’t fall for others telling us what to wear. Wear what makes you happy and puts a smile on your face.

    • February 11, 2018 / 8:01 pm

      I agree totally and wow, you have an enviable shape:)

  15. Suzi
    February 11, 2018 / 8:20 am

    Jennifer, It is amazing that the average height of the American women is 5’4” and 166 pounds, but petite clothing (in some brands/stores) looks like it is sized based on children. And even harder to find is a stylish, practical, transparent blogger like you!!! This post was spot on for me. I always knew a camel trench was not for me but I HAVE been on a life long search for the perfect white blouse. It took your observations to wake me up. It’s not me, it’s the style, stark white and stiff fabrics. Rock on Jennifer, we need you.

    • February 11, 2018 / 7:59 pm

      Thanks so much Suzi…you just made my day!

  16. Cindy
    February 11, 2018 / 8:06 am

    I totally agree. I’ve never been able to pull off the classic white shirt. It just doesn’t suit my body shape or my style. And as you mentioned they feel so stiff. I live in a warm dry climate so my outerwear is light and mostly casual.
    Thanks for providing alternative to “the list”.

    • February 11, 2018 / 7:58 pm

      My pleasure Cindy, thanks for reading.

  17. Cathy
    February 11, 2018 / 7:57 am

    I love this post. Thank you for offering other suggestions. I live in a warmer climate, yes we have a little winter but mostly warm/hot and humid. I’ve been struggling to find alternatives to these “essentials”. As with fashion we all need to find clothing for our lifestyle, I’ve been looking for alternative styles. I’d love more recommendations.

    • February 11, 2018 / 7:57 pm

      Hot and humid weather poses its own challenges. I would choose more loose and flowy to stay cool.

  18. February 11, 2018 / 7:54 am

    I so agree with you! I take these lists with a grain of salt! A white shirt is great tucked in, but if we have some belly area, this does not work. A white shirt on me untucked makes me look like a whale. Living here in Florida, I never wear a trench coat, or a leather jacket! And, of course, I do not wear stripes. I haven’t worn stripes since I was 22 years of age, when I weighed 120 lbs. At my age, which is late 60s, I wear what I know looks good on me and forget about the “lists”.

    • February 11, 2018 / 8:22 pm

      Good for you Linda!! I am actually finding a crisp white shirt hides my tummy these days if I wear it with skinny bottoms.

      • February 12, 2018 / 5:18 am

        Hi Jen. Sometimes I do wear a white shirt with leggings. Depends on the weather here in hot Florida. We just had our very short “winter” season for the first time in 4 years. I actually got to wear velvet leggings twice, and lots of sweaters. I was so happy!!! Now the weather has returned to low 80s as the highs. Big sigh!!! I am going to the theatre later this week and so wanted to wear a sweater but it is too warm.

  19. Sue
    February 11, 2018 / 7:40 am

    I wear white shirts/blouses 75% of the time…usually linen!! Black pants of all types or jeans with some sort of sweater or scarf tied around shoulders . My linen blouses get wrinkled and that’s my easy going way !!! Jennifer..it looks like your hair is back to blond… am I correct?? Love the high low lights!! 70 going on 45. !!!

    • February 11, 2018 / 8:20 pm

      These pictures are from last spring so it was blonder. I like it…not sure what I will do about it though:)

  20. Eileen
    February 11, 2018 / 7:36 am

    I agree, the “basics” seem to be more masculine than feminine. And you forgot to mention jeans! Five pockets on our hips and a doubled up zipper closure right on our tummies! I like wearing trenches and striped tops because I have small shoulders and chest, but, I also have delicate, soft coloring, so I really don’t look my best, I think I’m just using these items because there isn’t an alternative. The clothing industry has everyone wearing men’s styles, guess its cheaper? And with soft coloring, I have never had a compliment on Black items. I wish someone would write a book of “ new basics”….. hint, hint….

    • Joanna
      February 11, 2018 / 9:03 am

      I beg to differ on your opinion that these are masculine choices ( except the black leather jacket). They are classics that look great on a lot of women. For example, a crisp white shirt with a pencil skirt & heels is feminine but still professional.
      I mean no offence but find the statement that my choices are masculine hurtful.

    • February 11, 2018 / 8:18 pm

      These don’t seem masculine to me, they’re just classic. Menswear has been popular with women for a long time but it has never appealed to me as much as it does for some women. Possibly because I have broad shoulders and large feet. Keep looking, there are lots of alternatives for you and you may need to resort to online shopping for more selection.

  21. Donna
    February 11, 2018 / 7:18 am

    Thank you so much for this! I do not have any of these items because of the reasons you listed. I thought there was something wrong with me.
    I bought a beautiful turquoise necklace because I knew it would be beautiful with a crisp white shirt , I have yet to wear it. Any suggestions?

    • Susie
      February 11, 2018 / 10:15 am

      I wear my turquoise necklaces with just about every color and style of top. I wear tee shirts and sweaters with them all the time. The only colors I haven’t worn them with are pink and yellow as I don’t wear those colors. I love mine necklaces with black, gray or purple.

  22. Penelope
    February 11, 2018 / 6:30 am

    I so agree! Those lists always puzzle me and I have not owned most of those pieces in my life. I too have broad shoulders and a rather large bust which nixes a couple of those silhouettes right off the bat. I do have and enjoy a navy leather Tahari jacket with a soft draped front. Maybe the list was made by men as they are rather masculine choices.

    • February 11, 2018 / 7:58 am

      The soft draped front and navy color changes your jacket dramatically from a shiny black leather. It sounds lovely!

  23. February 11, 2018 / 6:08 am

    I still live for all of these classic pieces, but it’s great to list alternatives. As you, always, look terrific!

    • February 11, 2018 / 6:09 am

      That should read, and you, as always, look terrific. LOL getting used to new readers. Xx

    • February 11, 2018 / 7:40 am

      You always you smashing Jen! You’re someone who wears these beautifully.

  24. Daria
    February 11, 2018 / 6:02 am

    Wonderful post, thank you.

    • February 11, 2018 / 7:39 am

      You’re most welcome

  25. Doris
    February 11, 2018 / 5:39 am

    I love your blog. Refreshing that you have come to the rescue of more “mature” women.

    Definitely agree that those “must haves” are not for everyone. We live in Florida and some things are just not practical.

    I know you live in the Bay area but would love to see some ideas for us living in sunny, humid coastal areas.

    Thank you.

    • February 11, 2018 / 7:39 am

      As our temps warm up I’ll do more of them. Humidity is a tough one. It and I don’t mesh well. It magnifies the temperature. Enjoy your winter Doris. That’s the best time to be there.

  26. Janet
    February 11, 2018 / 5:12 am

    Most of these “essentials”don’t work for me. Thanks for listing alternatives so that they could!

  27. February 11, 2018 / 5:11 am

    These do go with my style adjectives for what I desire to communicate with my style, however, the leather jacket and I have never really become friends. I would need to spend a lot to get a quality piece and it doesn’t make since to do that for a warmer weather climate like South Texas. It is also very difficult to find a flattering fit in one with a larger figure.

    • February 11, 2018 / 7:35 am

      Black leather has never been my friend other than in shoes or handbag. It’s message is often more sporty than I like to send. They said jeans and a tee are super sporty so I think it’s the material and color combo.

  28. Yvonne
    February 11, 2018 / 4:45 am

    Although I’ve never followed the must have lists, I find a few of these are my must haves. I’ve worn trench coats (mostly in black) since the 1980’s, always have white shirts in my closet, but never a basic, it must have an interesting detail and I love a b&w breton with white jeans. My style is classic bordering on dramatic or elegant at times. 🙂

    • February 11, 2018 / 7:30 am

      We have similar tastes but my Breton needs a scoop or V neckline to be flattering. Those are part of my style recipe too. I love combining those elements into an outfit.

  29. Peg Levy
    February 11, 2018 / 4:40 am

    I live in Texas. I do t need a camel wool ????.. I wouldn’t wear it very often. I’d rather spend my clothing ???? on shoes and purses..

    • February 11, 2018 / 7:28 am

      You’re not alone there Peg!

  30. Ramona
    February 11, 2018 / 4:28 am

    I could not agree more! Crisp white shirts do not flatter me at all. I prefer cheerful colors for my rain coats, because, rain. I do not need epaulets adding more bulk to my already broad shoulders. I think confidence in your own style will always trump a list of must haves.

    • February 11, 2018 / 7:27 am

      I agree Ramona!! Confidence is the best thing we can wear.

  31. Susan
    February 11, 2018 / 4:28 am

    Thank you. I identified with every problem associated with the items listed. I tried on a black leather jacket recently and looked like a geriatric version of Suzi Quattro. I have never shared the fascination for Breton stripes, but I do have a Michael Kors black trench type raincoat, but it is single breasted with no extra details. It is great for rainy days as it has a hood. Years ago I splurged on a beautiful Max Mara camel coloured coat, it ended up at the consignment shop after wearing once, due to mild winters where I live. I love your posts as they are spot on and insightful at the same time.

    • February 11, 2018 / 7:26 am

      Thanks for reading Susan! I’m so happy they resonate with you. It’s not cold enough for a full length wool coat here either. I hope you recouped some money from the consignment shop.

  32. Beth
    February 11, 2018 / 4:16 am

    Excellent post!

    • February 11, 2018 / 7:23 am

      Glad you liked it Beth!

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