The Basics: Alternate Takes on Conservative Pieces

Creative ways to style your basics!
Basics are basic, and there’s no way around it.

If you’re building a style sandwich, basics are the bread: Necessary, sturdy, foundational, and often a bit dull. It’s up to you to fill that sandwich with tasty meat or cheese or veggies, and smear on some tastebud-tantalizing condiments and then poke a frilly toothpick through it all with a grand, “TA DA!”

So let’s talk about that, shall we? Here are a few ways to make your personal style-sandwich zippy and delish, even if you are building it atop two slices of plain old wheat bread:

Black knee-length skirt, pencil or A-line

Think this classic piece must be worn with a twinset and pearls? Erin from Work with What You’ve Got proves it’s not so.

Fitted white tee

Convinced that white tees are far too casual for work? I beg to differ.

Fitted blazer

Are blazers the exclusive domain of buttoned-up lawyers? Kasmira of What I Wore Today thinks not!

Basic black pumps

Think these simple shoes are unbearably boring? Just take a look at what Elsita of The Hidden Seed does with hers.

Knee-high leather boots

Under the impression that knee-high boots must be paired with skinny jeans and skinny jeans alone? The ladies at academichic have other ideas.

LBD – little BRIGHT dress

Feel like a brightly colored dress would have to be the sole focal point of an outfit? Audi of Fashion for Nerds proves it can be one element among many.

Opaque tights in black and/or heather gray

Imagine you need brightly colored tights to create rich winter outfits? Andrea of A Cat of Impossible Colour shows it’s not so.


These basics can be worn in any number of highly personal, highly stylized, highly expressive ways. Don’t go thinking that basics should be thrown on and done with: Customize them using your own flourishes.

And maybe some mustard and a pickle.

Images at top courtesy Banana Republic.

Originally posted 2009-11-17 07:02:00.

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40 Responses to “The Basics: Alternate Takes on Conservative Pieces”

  1. Meli22

    I love how you pulled pics from other bloggers and yourself to demonstrate your points! Great little speal on the basics! 🙂 After all, if you think about balance, then basics are extremely important. You don't want your whole outfit sequins, embellishments, all different patterns, etc! A basic can take other items and tie them together, letting the special peice take it's place as a focal point.

  2. MP

    Thanks for a great reminder on how even the basics can be interesting. I feel like I have a closet full of basics and they sometimes feel very, very boring. I especially love photos of the white T and the fitted blazer. Oh, and the black pumps too.

  3. Courtney

    Amen! The basics provide the background that you need to draw attention to the special pieces. After all, if every item you're wearing is screaming, then you won't hear anything coherent!

  4. Karin

    I just discovered your blog and really like it. I am going to read a lot of your previous posts, but just wanted to give you a compliment: I think you are very inspiring.

  5. Kasmira

    Oooh…I'm honored to be in the lineup!

    I have tons of basics. That used to be all I wore. Now I make an effort to mix the basics up with something wacky. It saves me from being too boring or too crazy.

  6. SR@MyStyle

    An inspirational post and shows lots of ways to wear these basics, I really want a pair of grey trousers, I've got most of the other basics already!

  7. Belle de Ville

    Great post because I believe in basics. Everything else comes afterwards.
    I couldn't live without a black pencil skirt, white t-shirt, black boots and black blazer.
    And they are so not boring when I add a scarf and vintage estate jewelry.

  8. WendyB

    I feel like, who doesn't see the sexiness of blazers/jackets? I wear them all the time so clearly they MUST be sexy. Before you do the white shirt post, warn me so I can take a Xanax. You know how I get about white shirts.

  9. Sal

    WendyB: Promise to warn you. I will not have you go ballistic on the streets of New York due to a rampant case of White Shirt-itis.

  10. Faith J.

    Can't wait for the white shirt post! Nina Garcia's books talk about wearing a MAN's white shirt, but I never see anyone doing this! Wouldn't that be too big on a petite frame? I also don't know where to get a white shirt. Went to Brooks Brothers, they're too expensive for my line of work.

  11. Hanako66

    You've nailed it! These are wonderful basics and when paired properly are nothing close to boring!

  12. Snidder

    The great thing about your list of basics is that they stand alone too – having those pieces in my wardrobe allows me, if necessary, to turn off my brain, throw them on and head out the door; with a little more time, one can play with proportions and silhouettes and still make an outfit look nice without adding a lot to it. I don't always have the time or energy to pull together a creative outfit that fully expresses my personal style and with the basics, I can still look pulled together and feel good (feeling good is the most important!)

  13. Casey

    I like your little list of basics! 🙂 Although I don't hold to each and every one (again, it just goes back to making the "basics" work for you and your lifestyle), I think they are necessary building blocks–however boring–for any wardrobe. It's how to use them with the more exciting pieces that lifts them out of the basics category. 😉

    I have to admit, I think my favorite basic is the black pump. I have several pairs in different styles that fit this category. There is just something about that particular shoe that works with about 90% of my wardrobe. So I can't have too many! 😉

  14. chic

    What a fantastic post! Thanks for the shout-out, we're so honored to be among the likes of such wonderful bloggers – so many of my favorites are featured in this post! I'm all about those basics that work like glue between your most interesting pieces. They really serve their function.S.

  15. a cat of impossible colour

    Ooh, that's me! Exciting. I completely agree with the need for a wardrobe of basics. And the basics themselves don't have to be boring! You can put your own spin on each one. Since my style is more vintage-inspired, my basic black skirt is a 40s-style draped one, my button-down white shirt has a Peter Pan collar and so on.

  16. rb

    I'm down with all these basics & have them in multiples. Well, except for the white tee. My white tee is a black 3/4 sleeve. Anyway, I'm saving my crankies for the white shirt post.

  17. lisa

    What a great post! I love all the examples you collected of bloggers wearing basics in interesting and creative ways. It just goes to show that basic doesn't necessarily equal boring!

  18. tiffany

    Great post – as Imogen says at InsideOut Style, not every part of your outfit can be the 'hero'!

  19. La Historiadora de Moda

    I wear knee high leather boots with practically anything and everything! During the gross midwestern winters they are the staple of my footwear diet. Thanks for reminding me that there are other basics that I should be implementing more, too!

  20. Luinae

    I have all of those pieces, and while they may not EXCITE me, they make my wardrobe work.

  21. Rosie Unknown

    Wow, great post! I love how you used photos from different bloggers.

    Also, Thanks for reminding me that it is ok to wear a simple pair of black pants with an outfit, because sometimes that is all it needs.

  22. Message board

    Amen! The basics provide the background that you need to draw attention to the special pieces. After all, if every item you're wearing is screaming, then you won't hear anything coherent!

  23. Miss Peregrin

    Nice! I got to look at pretty pictures AND find lots of new blogs to follow. Thanks Sal!

  24. Kathryn

    I love this post. You used some of my favorite bloggers too, which makes me feel all cool and in the know. Thanks for the reminders of how to work the basics. I have them all, I just barely wear many of them!

  25. Audi

    Hee hee — I love that I'm featured in a post about conservative pieces! The irony!

  26. What Would a Nerd Wear

    i just love this list–illustrative, inventive, and charmingly written!

  27. God's Favorite Shoes!

    What a great post! I agree, there are always a way around the basics!

  28. -h

    basics make up the core of my wardrobe. i either like to wear classic pieces and mixed in with modern pieces or a classic piece done in a modern way.

  29. Marie McGrath (The Joy of Fashion)

    What a great post!!! I love when people write about these things because it challenges me to look at my clothes in a different way… as a sea of opportunities! I also love that you added several pictures as examples! Love this post!

  30. Laura.

    these are great examples! thanks for showing us (especially since some of us are exponentially aided by some good visuals).
    (security word; exciting)

  31. Diana

    This post is giving me some good remixing ideas. Especially for my black blazer, which I have yet to actually wear.