Spring has flown by and summer is almost here. It’s a time for one and two-piece outfits, easy-breezy and simple. We’ll undoubtedly be dressing lighter, but that actually just makes having the essentials all the more important. So today I’m sharing the summer wardrobe essentials you’ll want to have in your closet and drawers so you can create cool but classy outfits.
What is a Wardrobe Essential?
Wardrobe essentials are those clothing basics that you’ll need in your closet to create beautiful, interesting, functional outfits in a season. Generally, with a few exceptions, I like to spend more of my wardrobe budget on these pieces because I expect them to stand up to lots of wear.
Keep in mind that, depending on the climate where you live, the amount of traveling you do, your lifestyle and your personal style essence, your list of summer wardrobe essentials may vary from mine. But the key is to make sure you have plenty of staples – pants, dresses/skirts, tops and outer layers – in either one of your two neutrals or your signature colors so that you can mix and match your clothing. (By the way, you can learn more about selecting the colors of your wardrobe and what I mean by neutrals and signature colors in this post.)
Remember, this is my summer wardrobe essentials list that I’m sharing with you. As I write it I’m actually doing the work of assessing my wardrobe to see if I have the things I’ll need to create stylish, interesting and wearable outfits for my casual lifestyle this summer. I’ll need
- very comfortable but slightly elevated outfits for working from home (I work smarter when I look smart!)
- easy outfits for traveling
- casual, pretty outfits for meeting friends for lunch
- elevated casual outfits for dates and outings with James
- and slightly dressy outfits for a couple of speaking engagements
Pro Tip: Make a similar list of the types of outfits you’ll wear where before you try to determine your wardrobe essentials. Start with the outfits and work backwards to the separate elements that make up those combinations.
I share this list as a starting place for your own personal summer wardrobe essentials list. But your summer wardrobe essentials list – depending on your lifestyle, location and preferences – may be different from mine. So take my list and use it simply as a starting place, a guide, but not necessarily the gold standard.
With that, let’s get started!
2 Pair Casual Shorts
In the past my list started with denim shorts. But in recent years I’ve decided that I still want a pair of denim shorts as the base of my shorts options, but I also want a pair of casual but slightly more “grown up” shorts for everyday wear. I think it’s important to have two pair of very versatile shorts that I can effortlessly pair with a t-shirt for everyday wear, but they don’t necessarily need to be denim.
The length of your shorts is totally up to you. Most women will look good in shorts with an inseam between 4″ and 7″. Longer shorts will look better on women with longer legs (I’m 5’8″). But if you’re not so tall and still desire to wear Bermuda length shorts, pair them with sandals or sneakers in a color close to the shade of your skin. That way your legs will look longer and the lengthier shorts will look more in proportion.
The shorts featured above are another great option for casual, versatile shorts. They fit true to size and come in several neutral shades. My casual shorts will see a lot of wear, therefore I do want casual shorts that feel comfortable and look good. So I’m willing to spend a little more on this summer wardrobe essential. However, I only wear them one season of the year here in Ohio, so I don’t want to blow a large portion of my clothing budget on them either. The bottom line is I invest in good quality casual shorts but I choose not to pay for premium denim.
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1 Pair Dressier Shorts
I do still occasionally choose to wear shorts out and about, too. I have a feeling the day will come when I’ll stop wearing shorts beyond my front door. I know many of my readers have already made that decision, and as I age I can understand why. But for now I still like to have at least one pair of dressier shorts on hand. Especially when we’re vacationing in warmer climates I like to have these to wear out to dinner or for an outing.
I frequently choose dressier white shorts, but you could also go with another neutral such as black, taupe or navy. And actually even a gingham plaid in a classic color like black or navy will work as a versatile closet staple in your summer wardrobe, too.
If you like to wear shorts to a casual outing, I simply suggest having some with a little more polish in a neutral color or gingham. Choose some you can easily dress up or down for versatility. That way you can include them in your summer vacation packing list and they’ll serve multiple purposes. Last year I purchased these flax colored linen shorts, and they proved to be very multifunctional.
I personally love Ann Taylor for dressier shorts. That’s where I’ve gotten many of my favorites, including the gingham shorts above. But Chico’s is another great source, especially for longer Bermuda length shorts. And I got the linen shorts from Talbots. I’ve filled the shopping widget below with shorts that have a slightly elevated style.
By the way, I have a video from last summer full of tips for wearing shorts stylishly over 50.
2 – 3 Pair Casual Summer Weight Pants
Especially since I’ve gotten a little older and since I’m moved north, I find myself wearing casual summer weight pants more frequently during the warm months. These are things like chinos, cargo pants, joggers and linen pants. Most of the time I prefer a cropped or ankle length in these casual go-to pants.
A couple of years ago I fell in love with linen, so my favorite casual summer weight pants are in this distinctly summery natural fiber. But you can choose pants in cotton, Tencel or a cotton-linen blend, too.
While I’ll undoubtedly have a few lightweight pants in prints or fun colors, too, the essentials are in my chosen neutrals. That way they’ll be more versatile. This year my neutrals are flax, white and black, but I also have ivory and khaki colored chinos in my closet from previous years.
These summer weight casual pants can be in any silhouette that you enjoy and that works well with your body shape and proportions. They don’t have to be straight leg pants in order to be versatile. Choose from wide, flare, straight, balloon, relaxed, jogger or slim leg silhouettes.
And you can also choose from cropped, ankle or full length pants. You do you! It’s summer, and your fashion choices should be more fun than ever, even amongst your summer wardrobe essentials.
Honestly, while I do need and wear shorts, I pretty much lived in lightweight pants last summer. If you, like me, find yourself wearing shorts less often these days, I suggest having at least three pair of versatile, lightweight summer pants in neutrals that you can easily mix and match all summer long.
Choose wisely and you can dress these versatile pants up or down.
1 – 2 Pair Dressier Summer Weight Pants
The next summer wardrobe essentials are dressier or work pants. In the past I’ve loved wearing white pants during the summer. However, a couple of summers ago I sold my dressier white pants (because I didn’t like the button detail at the bottom of them), so I wanted to invest in some new dressier summer slacks.
This year I’m enjoying the white Kate Straight Leg Linen Pants above as well as the Kate straight leg four season stretch pants in black below. The Kate linen pants run true to size and come in several nice neutrals and some striking colors.
And the Kate four season stretch pants above also come in a wide range of neutrals. I got them in grey, too. Both of these pairs of pants are perfect for business as well as social occasions. And you can dress them up with a blazer or down with a jean jacket or other completer piece.
And I’m continuing to enjoy wearing my flax colored linen demi boots pants from Talbots (last year, no longer available), as seen below.
You can see my mom wearing the navy Bristol linen pants below.
I find that two to three pairs of dressier pants is sufficient for my rather casual lifestyle, but if you still work outside the home you may need to have more like 3-5 pairs. I suggest having at least three of those in your chosen neutrals. And if you’re only going to have a few pair like I do, I suggest going with either white, soft camel or light grey or navy, which is another summer classic.
Your dressier summer slacks can be in any silhouette and length that suits you. I like ankle length in a trim but loose fit. You may prefer a full length in a variety of silhouettes. Just keep these dressier pants free of bells and whistles so that they will be more versatile.
1 Pair White or Other Summer Jeans
Next on our list of summer wardrobe essentials, jeans. I wear my white jeans so much more than I do regular blue denim in the spring and summer months. These jeans look fresh and seasonally appropriate, plus they help you create beautiful summery looks. They’re so versatile.
In fact, I like having several different silhouettes of white jeans in my closet for summer. But I suggest at least one.
Of course if you don’t enjoy white jeans, you can opt for other denim, too. I’ve got several great options in the shopping widget below.
In fact, the jeans above from Walmart come in several great washes for summer. They fit true to size.
2-4 White t-shirt + others
Of course, I think a white t-shirt is essential all year long, but especially in the summer months. It’s easy to pair with most any pair of shorts, jeans or pants, plus you can wear it with a denim or print skirt for a fresh, casual vibe.
And I’m wearing the white Goodlife tee in the photo below. These tees are just a great weight, fit nicely and feel substantive without feeling heavy.
I suggest having one to two plain white tees with a classic neckline like a V or crew or boatneck. But I also suggest having a couple of solid tees with some interesting detailing. My thinking is that these more detailed tees can hold their own without adding a top layer. So they’re great for simply pairing with some shorts or those summer pants.
White and/or Solid Color Tanks
I’ve discovered in recent years that I really enjoy being able to wear a simple tank under an open button up shirt for a more pulled together look. Layering a shirt over a solid color tank is also a great way to stay cool but keep your arms covered. And, interestingly, this style formula of pants + tank + open shirt or jacket is very on trend this year.
I definitely can suggest the reversible tank from J.Jill that I’m wearing below. I’ve actually worn this simple tank a lot under sweaters this spring. It comes in a variety of colors and, as the name implies, you can easily flip it so that you have a scoop neck or a v-neck.
But Chico’s also has a nice variety of tanks. And Talbots carries solid tanks as well. I’ve filled the shopping widget below with those and other options.
1 Linen or Cotton Button Up Shirt
Speaking of layering tanks under shirts, I’ve added a linen or cotton button up shirt to my summer wardrobe essentials list in recent years, too. While you can go with a fitted shirt, I like having a blousy button up shirt for layering.
I enjoyed the linen shirt above so much that I have purchased several more since then. This is a summer wardrobe essential that will be in my closet for years to come. And price per wear I’ve gotten a great deal!
Last year gauze shirts were really trending. So I purchased a couple of those, too, and they can be worn the same way. So you might consider adding a lightweight gauze shirt to your wardrobe if you’re not a huge fan of linen…or you just already have several linen options. I don’t think they’re as popular as last year – because linen is really hot, hot, hot this year – but I’m still seeing gauze shirts and I think they’re still very stylish.
The Rails gauze shirt above is a cult favorite, but I don’t know that they’re worth the spend. I love the looks of this similar gauze shirt from J.Crew Factory and it’s available at a much sweeter price in lots of pretty colors.
1-3 Casual Summer Dresses
While I definitely recommend having at least one nice summer dress to reach for when you attend a wedding or funeral or other nicer occasion, I also like having a couple of more casual selections. For my casual lifestyle, these will see more wear and prove more versatile.
The pretty and comfortable shirt dress is the only casual summer dress I’ve purchased this year, but I have some photos of past purchases below. We’re talking casual and comfy.
My dress above is quite casual, so I’ll probably mostly wear it around the house. But it would also make a great vacation dress. Below is a dress I enjoyed a lot for the last two summers and it’s available in new prints and colors this summer.
This summer knit dress is so comfortable and versatile. It feels cool and fits so easily, true to size. And I love a black summer dress under a denim jacket for a casual date night look.
I love wearing dresses in the summer, even around the house. But especially when I get out and about I love the feminine touch of a dress. Maxi dresses are trending this year, but choose the length of dress you enjoy and will wear the most.
1 Summer Blazer
I’ve become convinced that every gal needs a summer blazer. Now maybe you’d still prefer a cardigan, and that’s fine. But even the prettiest cardigan can’t elevate an outfit the way a blazer can. And you can now find such beautiful, lightweight blazers in all price points.
I definitely reach for my white linen blazer most frequently during the spring and summer. But you can find other versatile options, too.
But for this wardrobe essentials list I am indeed referring to a blazer that would pair nicely with many things in your closet, not just one or two. So look for something in either one of your wardrobe neutrals or a signature color.
Of course, you don’t have to limit yourself to beige or white. I’ve seen so many gorgeous lightweight blazers this spring, and I know we’ll continue to see them this summer. Here are some to choose from at various price points.
1 Pair Classic Fashion Sneakers
Again this year fashion sneakers – or what most of us would just consider sneaker sneakers! – are definitely having a moment. So let’s enjoy it. Plus these shoes have become so versatile. You can wear them with shorts, jeans, crops, dresses, skirts and jumpers. I love having a pair of white sneakers, but you can certainly select a different color or even a print, depending on your style aesthetic.
I’ve been wearing the Tory Burch Leather Howell Lace-Up Sneaker (in Titanium white and Tory navy) for a few years now. These sneakers are some of the sweetest I’ve ever worn. They’re a splurge, but so, so sweet!
But for the past two years retro trainers have really been trending, too. I enjoy these New Balance x J.Crew retro trainers (similar) because they fit the bill of the trending shoes, but they are in a subdued tan color that actually elongates my lets a bit when I’m wearing shorts. I’ve filled the shopping widget below with a number of great options at all price points.
2 Pair Summer Sandals
Once the warm weather is here I’ll be wearing sandals more days than not. In fact, I’m already wearing them most days. Nothing looks as feminine as sandals! I like to have at least one pair of metallic sandals to elevate an outfit.
I also have the Talbots Cece braid metallic thongs and their Gia buckle metallic leather sandals from seasons past, and they’re still going strong in my wardrobe. And this year I added The Lorenza from M.Gemi to my summer wardrobe essentials.
I also love having a pair of neutral sandals, something close to my skin tone. They elongate the legs no matter what you’re wearing. I puchased these Naturalizer slides in birchwood last year and I’m still wearing them. They are extremely comfortable and come in other colors, too. I also have the black ones.
Of course you can enjoy wearing more colorful or ornamented sandals in the summer, too. But for me metallics and neutrals are the essentials.
Here’s a shopping widget with lots of sweet sandal options. Just keep in mind that for these Summer Wardrobe Essentials you’re looking for sandals that you can wear with a variety of things from shorts to pants to skirts and dresses.
Keep in mind that almost every sandal in the shopping widget below comes in multiple colors.
1-2 Summer Handbags
Finally, at least for this list of summer wardrobe essentials, you’ll need a summer handbag. If you only want to invest in or even carry one bag this summer, I’d suggest a light colored neutral, maybe a beige, pale pink, soft white or warm caramel. Select one that will work nicely with your chosen neutrals and signature colors.
I’m enjoying my Kate Spade Hudson medium convertible crossbody this spring. It’s a bit pricey, but I expect it to be offered at a discount this weekend. And I don’t mind spending a little more on quality handbags that I can carry for several years or more because I know these will stand up to the wear.
I also am still enjoying my straw bag from Brighton. It’s no longer available, but they have lots of other great straw and wicker bags to choose from. For me a straw bag is definitely a summer wardrobe essential. I enjoy pulling mine out at the beginning of each summer, and I know I’ll carry it for years.
I purchased this straw market tote last year and I’m still carrying it, too. It’s still available in multiple strap colors.
Good straw handbags tend to be pricey and they rarely stay on the shelves long enough to go on sale at the end of the season. But a well constructed straw bag will not go out of style and you’ll use it for years.
I’ve filled the shopping widget below with a wide variety of summer handbags and shoulder bags in a full range of prices. In fact, many of them are currently on sale.
Well, for the sake of not losing you altogether due to the length of this post, I’m going to simply name a few “honorable mention” summer wardrobe essentials. These are items that may or may not be essential to you depending on your lifestyle and personal style essence.
- Denim jacket – This is a wardrobe essential, period. But depending on where you live and travel this summer, you may or may not use it often.
- Swim suit
- Swim suit cover-up
- casual skirt, such as a denim skirt or linen skirt (more economical option)
- neutral pumps or heeled sandals to wear with dresses and slacks
- summer hats like this one I’m wearing this summer
Remember, when it comes to shopping for most wardrobe essentials, I suggest investing enough to get quality products. These are either items you will wear for years (think blazer, denim jacket, handbag, denim shorts) or they are pieces you will wear frequently (think white t-shirt, sandals, sneakers) so you want them to be durable, well-made and classic.
I hope you enjoyed today’s post. If you have questions, please let me know. Thanks so much for reading.
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Blessed for My Day
How are you doing at living in community these days? Have you begun to get out and about and enjoy the company of friends again? Living in community is beneficial to our physical health, our mental and emotional health, but also to our spiritual well-being. It forces us to practice the “one anothers” mentioned in the Bible, such as love one another, be patient with one another, be kind one to another, etc.
So I’m making it a goal to reach out a little today. I’m sending out some texts and even placing some long overdue phone calls to check up on friends. And I’m telling you so I’ll be more likely to follow through! #accountability Let’s be women who intentionally live in community with others – encouraging, comforting, rejoicing, celebrating and rejuvenating with one another – so that we’re healthier and happier.
Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. ~ Romans 12:15