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Mountains of clothes but nothing to wear? Try Esther Walker’s formula for streamlining your outfit options


In the age of social media and fast fashion, it's easy to lose sight of the clothes that really matter; to forget in the dizzying spin of consumer lust the clothes we really need.

Shops want to offer us novelty and fashion so they often present us with their colourful showstoppers first; the clothes that turn your head, make your heart flutter, pop with pattern and are photogenic.

As a casual customer, it's very easy to be drawn to fun, fashionable clothes and forget that we don’t own any staples. The idea of spending money on “boring” basics, when we could instead soon own a chiffon blouse covered in prancing horses, is pretty unappealing.

Surely, we think, it is more important to have a floor-length jacquard navy-and-floral skirt that we saw in a magazine than a dull white T-shirt? We can't live another day unless we have that custard-yellow midi skirt with the dotty print. So it’s little wonder we haven’t bought a new navy blazer since the Eighties.

And no matter the impracticality, we simply must have that button-

through striped sundress with the spaghetti straps because the model looks incredible in it. We might look just as good, despite being a stone heavier with completely different hair. And who cares if you can’t wear it on the school run?

If you shop like this (which I've often been guilty of), you will open your wardrobe and have nothing to wear; it’s because you have no classics, no basics – and without these, getting dressed is just hard work.

Instead, think of your wardrobe as a salad. Yes, a salad.

It has to be leaves. Perky green leaves, but leaves nonetheless. On top of the leaves goes a bit of dressing, then there’s the topping. The crunchy bacon bits, the avocado, the chicken. The stuff that makes the salad really sing. But if the salad was only dressing and bacon bits you’d be hungry again really soon, and thirsty I dare say.

For example, do you have a really good pair of blue jeans? Not grey or black or blue with embellishments – just a pair of normal blue jeans that you wouldn’t be ashamed to wear to lunch with friends?

How about three smart white T-shirts? And by that I don’t mean woeful greyish things that are on the verge of being consigned to pyjama status. A flattering navy sweater in good condition? A clean pair of white leather trainers that don't look like the dog has been at them, buried them, then dug them up again?

I only ask because there are very few days in the UK when you won’t want to wear an outfit of good jeans, white T-shirt, navy sweater and white trainers. You can accessorise with your smartest bag and some gold jewellery. And if you think this doesn’t sound very ‘fashionable’, you’re right, but that’s no bad thing; what you’re after is to look stylish, and looking stylish and fashionable aren’t always the same thing.

So-called ‘classics’ – chinos, Breton tops, black dresses, blazers and simple gold jewellery – ought to be re-named ‘essentials’.

These are the building blocks of your wardrobe, your salad leaves – and if you haven’t updated them recently, it will cause you problems when you're getting dressed.

The temptation is to think: I already have a black blazer, why do I need another? But when was the last time you wore it? Is it hopelessly outdated in a way you can’t put your finger on? Shabby or saggy? Get a new one.

The same goes for chinos that have seen better days (maybe you've never even owned a pair) and black dresses.

A black dress, in particular, will dig you out of many a sartorial hole. You must never think that wearing a black dress is ‘boring’. Any woman wearing a black dress will always look stylish and appropriate. Even in the summer. Accessorised with a straw trilby and little tan sandals, a light black summer dress will always look fabulous.

Then, on top of the white tees, and jeans, and black dresses, you can sprinkle a crazy, fashionable topping, whether it’s that floor-length jacquard thing, the yellow skirt, the button-through dress or all three. At the same time.


Call off the search for the perfect white T-shirt
Everyday jeans available in four shades
A pure cotton dress is ideal for warmer days
Step up your style with sleek leather slides

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