An Incomplete Guide to the Complete Wardrobe

What makes a wardrobe "complete"? These items are merely a start.
Publish date:
February 10, 2015
fashion, style, capes, closets, belts, ballet flats, striped tees, moto jackets

Of all the incredibly boring articles ever written about fashion (and dear God, there are literally thousands), one stands head and shoulders above the rest in its stupidity: some version of "10 Perfect Items for a Complete Wardrobe."

Because come on, absolutely no wardrobe is complete with just 10 lousy items in it — you know it, I know it, and the people who write those articles know it. Anyone who tries to convince you that all you really need in life is a smaller amount of clothes in your ultra-neat capsule wardrobe is a secret agent of the minimalist army, sent to earth by dark overlords in a ploy to wipe out all traces of us well-dressed maximalists.

But even an overstuffed closet can still find itself lacking some key items that make it way easier to get dressed every day. So allow me to bore you to death with my list of the 10 items I feel are totally necessary for a "complete" wardrobe. (And even if you already own some of the items I've deemed as "classics," it's possible a better, faster, stronger version of them exists — or that someone in the comments has a brilliant idea that will work perfectly for you.)


Yes, duh, so obvious, but can you imagine your life without them? The holy grail black pant for TV actors everywhere is made by Theory in sizes 00 to 12, forever and ever amen. If Theory one day ceased to exist, all of Hollywood will shut down — as this pant is made from a miracle stretch wool fabric that looks incredible on anyone who can manage to squeeze their buns into it.

But whenever I'm on a show that can't swing the Theory price tag, I head straight to Express for their best-selling Editor Pant, available in sizes 00 to 18 (and in special "tall" sizes, featuring a 35-inch inseam.) For way less than $100, you've got yourself a pair of pants that easily pretend to be high-end. I even sewed a fancy Theory tag into a lowly pair of Express pants once — and my picky actress wasn't any the wiser.


The classic white oxford shirt has made an appearance on every single list ever written about the pieces a woman needs in her closet to, I guess, actually be a woman? But the truth is that for some babes (mainly those with large boobs), a button-front shirt just isn't in the cards. While you can always employ one of my Hollywood costume designer's secret tricks of having a tailor sew tiny snaps in between the buttons to keep them from gaping open, you could also just rely on the inventors of the world to solve your shirt problems.

This clever garment (which I found out about by watching Shark Tank!), is the deluxe solution to popping buttons and rumpled shirts. It combines the crispness of a collar with the flattering, smoothing properties of a microfiber tank. When I have a big-name actress wearing a shirt underneath a sweater for her scenes, this is exactly what I have my seamstress do — cannibalize a button-front shirt and marry it to a high-quality camisole.


Once you start wearing a poncho, you'll always wonder how you previously lived without one. Tossing a poncho over any old schmatte gives it an instant dose of louche, drape-y panache.

Every single person who pre-ordered my book already is going to cancel immediately when they read that I own and wear the lowly Suzanne Somers 3-Way Poncho. It was purchased for $19.99 at the drugstore as a joke, as I'll try absolutely any "As Seen On TV" item ever, but it then later revealed itself to be a decent stand in for a boring T-shirt on lazy days when you still want to look presentable. All I can really say about it is ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.


A little bit of Brando swagger is the perfect foil for a too-sweet dress or an occasion where you need to project an aura of badass sass. The holy-grail version is made by Schott in the USA, and I already wrote all about it right here.


Everybody, no matter how cool they are (okay, maybe not Cara Delevingne, but everyone else for sure) needs a little something in their closet to wear for occasions that veer toward the demure end of the fashion spectrum. Also commonly known as the "court appearance" dress or the "first time darkening the door of a church in 20 years and I'm only here because my sister's baby is getting baptized" dress, you can never go wrong with something tweedy or Chanel-y looking. That bouclé weave screams expensive, cultured, classy, and just all-together with it.

Plus, if you buy this very proper dress in a non-zany color, it also becomes appropriate for funerals or other somber occasions — like a wedding. (Har har har.)


The greatest piece of fashion advice ever is actually found in Cynthia Heimel's still-great book, "If You Can't Live Without Me, Why Aren't You Dead Yet?" In her essay "PMS & Outfits," she speaks the absolute truth:

"When you’re not premenstrual, assemble a tasteful outfit for meetings-that-could-change-your-life. Make sure this ensemble hangs in the designated PMS area of your closet. Make sure you wear it."

Her advice really boils down to this: ALWAYS BE PREPARED. Taking the time to stock your closet with a handful of never-fail outfits that you always feel good in is an essential part of any wardrobe that wants to consider itself complete.


A simple ballet flat is usually the shoe answer to any outfit that needs to be downplayed a bit. They really just "go away" and don't interfere with any part of your ensemble that is already making a statement. Ballerinas are the chicest creatures on earth, so ballet flats will never be "over," as long as you strive to only buy pairs that look like actual ballet shoes!

I own (and keep re-buying) two absolutely perfect pairs of ballet flats. One is $20 and the other is closer to $200, and there is definitely the need in my closet for both of them.

These Target ballet flats are my daily drivers. I wear them nonstop on dirty, dusty film sets, and I've even accidentally gone hiking in them. (The rubber sole is shockingly sturdy and well made.) I buy them three at a time just in case they ever stop making them, as Target is wont to do.

For fancier occasions, London Sole's beautiful made-in-Italy ballet flats are where it's at. All those dreadful ballet flats with elastic around the heel cause me excruciating pain, so the fact that London Sole's version simply adjust tighter or looser with a tie at the toe is heaven.


Today in totally DUH fashion news: The easiest way to make an outfit you've worn a million times look different is to add the belt of your choice. But you've likely run into one huge stumbling block to wearing one: not enough holes to cinch your belt up where you want it. Instead of risking certain death with a hammer and nail, invest in professional hole punch — and you'll soon be adjusting anything that involves a leather strap with total ease.


The classic fisherman's shirt, also known as the Breton shirt, was originally worn by the French navy in the mid 1800s. (The stripes were meant to help locate sailors that had gone overboard.)

It never really fell out of fashion as Coco Chanel introduced the look to the fashion world with her nautical collection in 1917, and the beatniks of the 1950s and '60s popularized it all over again. I love a Breton shirt with paired with some patterned tights (à la Edie), the shortest of skirts, and some high-heeled clogs.


Spring is the perfect time to rock a vest for a little extra warmth and a lot of extra style, but if all you ever do is wear a denim one, it's time to branch out. (I'm partial to that red leather version down there!)

This list is only a start, and is certainly incomplete. So hit me in the comments with your list of must-have items for a complete wardrobe — that isn't completely boring. (Seriously, no LBD's allowed!)

I'm on Twitter: @IveyAlison

I wrote a book: 'How to Get Dressed: A Costume Designer's Secrets for Making Your Clothes Look, Fit, and Feel Amazing', available now for pre-order.