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The Neutral Wardrobe Basics You Must Have

Welcome to our lengthy discussion around the boutique corner table here on the Midlife Boulevard about the fabulous Frenchwomen, their lifestyles and fashion.  Please note that links may be affiliate links.

Today, I am honored to pull up a chair for our current author, Tish Jett, of Forever Chic…Frenchwomen’s Secrets for Timeless Beauty, Style and Substance.  So, please, bring your cup of tea, relax, and add your voice.

Last week, one reader left this comment, My question to Tish Jett and to you concerns a neutral wardrobe: how many articles of clothing does the average woman need?”    In two weeks, I will specifically share how I have applied wisdom from Tish and others in the last four years.


Today let’s enjoy the gracious and thorough guidelines straight from the author Tish Jett:

“Everything about a woman’s wardrobe depends upon her lifestyle. Does she work?  What is the office culture — casual, professional, artsy, etc? Does she stay at home? Does she work from home? If so, what is her life like inside and outside her home? All of this is to say, before a woman builds or reconstructs her wardrobe she needs to sit down with a notebook and briefly outline her life and how she wishes to dress to feel her absolute best!

That said, I think it can be baffling to consider wardrobe assemblage while shopping, there are just too many messages fighting for our attention. The cacophony of styles, colors and trends is overwhelming and counterproductive. What we need to do is figure out who consistently dresses in a way that we admire and can inspire us. My choice is always Ines de la Fressange, not because I can wear everything she can with her super long lean body, but rather her sophisticated-classic/casual approach to dressing. I like the idea behind the way I perceive her style. She never seems to spend a lot of time thinking about the pieces, everything looks natural, comfortable.

To work through this conundrum, a woman should go to her closet and pull out all the clothes she consistently wears because they make her look and feel good.  Spread them out on the bed and study them. Define the reasons she likes them. At this point a woman should begin to see her style emerging and she can start to loosely define it.

 Let’s talk “comfort” for a second. Comfort does not mean sloppy, it does not mean sweats, giant t-shirts, and flip-flops. Comfort means clothes that fit well and flatter. Comfort means what a woman is wearing makes her feel good about herself, makes her feel attractive, confident and powerful.

Personally, particularly after a certain age, I think it’s rather silly to talk about a ten- or twenty-piece wardrobe. I like to think along the lines of around thirty pieces, which gives us a lot to work with while not being completely overwhelming. Also, there are seasons so we’re talking about different fabrics and in some cases perhaps, in the summer for example, a slight divergence on our basic themes.

How do we count our neutrals and, what colors will make-up our neutral base? I would choose navy or black — or both. Someone else might choose gray or taupe for example. Remember when choosing a baseline color there are myriad nuances on the tone. I don’t count t-shirts and blouses in my basic wardrobe. I need lots of them and they make everything possible. I count my V-neck sweaters and my turtleneck sweaters — two of each — but I cheat and don’t count my classic “t-shirt” cashmere sweaters.  Since I cannot really answer “how many basic neutrals should I have in my wardrobe (?)” for another woman whose life is different from mine, I’ll tell you how I have set-up mine which I hope will help. (I’ll only dissect my winter wardrobe here.)

1.) Three jackets: a blazer (yes, I know, “of course”); a black wool crepe redingote with velvet collar, cuffs and buttons (I’ve owned this jacket for at least 15 years. It dresses up my gabardine trousers and turns my large satin pants into a cocktail outfit); a rather close to the body, straight, zip-front jacket that ends at the hipbone.

2.) Three pairs of pants: classic cut, flat front gabardine trousers; slim-cut, tapered, ankle-skimming gabardine pants; large, flow-y satin evening trousers that look great with above mentioned jacket, a white shirt, and either a V-neck or turtleneck sweater.

3.) Two skirts: a simple pencil skirt that works with all the jackets (and everything else actually) although it looks a little too “uniform-y” with the blazer so I never wear it that way and a just-over-the knee silk pleated skirt. The pleats are sewn down over the hip to give me a smooth line.

4.) The LBD: Curiously, I’m still longing to find it and have been searching for years. I think I know what I want and will have it made. I just have to decide whether I want a V, scoop or a perfectly clean crew neck. I know I want the shape to be slightly A-line, the length to be just over the knee and the sleeves to be long, but push-upable. I also want it to be just what I need during the day and accessorized exactly what I want for evening. I’ve seen French women in these dresses and one day I’ll find mine.

5.) Four sweaters:  As I said, two V-necks — one black, one navy — two turtlenecks — one black, one navy.

6.) Three coats: A long black cashmere redingote (I’ve owned it for at least 10 or 15 years); a pea coat in Klein blue (a fantastic goes with everything color that looks good on every skin tone and brightens up the darkest days of winter) and a classic trench, except mine is black because I think it looks perfect in the day and doubles equally well as an evening coat.

7.) Four cardigans:  two long “boyfriend” V-necks — one navy, one black and two classics, again navy and black.

A final note: I’ve never been a jeans person. I know most women are. Jeans should definitely be part of the basics.”

Yep, Tish is a journalist!  Detailed in her information…and we are so grateful!  See you next week for more discussion from Tish’s must read book, Forever Chic!

 ‘Til, then…Au revoir!

midlife boulevard, columnist, midlife women, middle-age, midlife crisis

Pamela Lutrell

Pamela Lutrell began her blog, over50feeling40, July 2010 with a desire to encourage women over 50 to walk in strength, confidence and joy. Of course, head turning style makes each day fun!

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Darlene Fadem

Sunday 13th of July 2014

Great information! I especially found it interesting about going to your closet and pulling out the clothes you wear all the time and laying them on your bed and studying them. Also, I love how she defined the word comfortable...clothes that fit well and flatter! Darlene

Walker Thornton

Thursday 10th of July 2014

I've actually been moving in the other direction and looking for more casual almost "hippie' type tops and outfits to lighten my style. I'm an Eileen Fisher fan of many years, so I have a basic wardrobe of great simple lines... scarves for 'pop' and variety. Love the idea of laying out clothes to see what works.

Caryn/The Mid Life Guru

Tuesday 8th of July 2014

Taking out my clothes, putting them on my bed, and planning out what to keep in my closet? Great idea!!

Ann Hansen

Tuesday 8th of July 2014

So the French do not believe in wearing what used to be called the typing of the 4 "Seasons" (winter, spring, summer and fall)? For example, Winter would wear bright colors and silver/white gold jewelry.


Tuesday 8th of July 2014

Hi Ann, Of course, I cannot answer for the French, but American fashion does not really do this as much as when we were girls Of course, there are a few seasonal stamps, but there seems to be much more items which cross over the seasons than before. I wear as much black in the summer as I do in the winter! Thanks for commenting!

Carol Cassara

Tuesday 8th of July 2014

I had to Google redingote and Klein blue. Learned something new!

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