Build a basic wardrobe

If you have a well-edited collection of basic, versatile clothes that all go with each other it will mean

  • you can put together a range of different outfits for different occasions
  • you’ll develop your creativity and resourcefulness by working out different combinations and looks
  • you won’t be overwhelmed by too many choices every time you need to get dressed
  • you can buy fewer, more expensive items rather than lots of cheap clothes. Cheap clothes and throwaway fashion often come at a significant human and environmental cost.

You may have to wear particular clothes because of family or cultural expectations – in this case you will probably have no shortage of guidance. But if you have no particular rules to follow, and normally wear school uniform during the week, your basic wardrobe might include:

One or two pairs of jeans or other trousers

  • Jeans are very versatile, and with the right tops and footwear can now be worn for most (though not all) occasions. Shop around and find a style that fit well and make you feel good.
  • If you can only afford one pair of jeans, choose a dark-coloured pair (indigo or black) as these will look smart and go with most things.
  • If jeans are not for you, find a dark pair of trousers, of a medium-weight fabric, in which you feel comfortable.

One pair of leggings

  • Black is the most useful colour.
  • As well as going with vests or T shirts for exercise and sports, they can give a different look to dresses.

Two or three vest tops

  • These are useful for layering in cooler weather as well as for wearing on their own in summer.

Two or three T-shirts

  • Shop around for shapes and colours that suit you.
  • Round necks and v-necks are generally more flattering than crew necks.
  • Shapes that “skim the body” are generally more flattering than skin-tight or baggy.

Two or three smarter tops

  • Wear these by themselves, or over vests or T-shirts
  • If you have one with buttons you can change the look.
  • Depending on your style, these could include a crisp white shirt, a patterned longer tunic style, or a fitted jumper.

One or two cardigans, hoodies or fleeces

  • Simple shapes and plain colours in medium weight fabric are the most versatile.
  • A top which opens at the front gives you more looks than one which you pull over your head.

A black polo neck

  • This gives a clean, strong look and suits almost everyone
  • A midweight ribbed version can be worn for most months of the year
  • Try it under different tops or even dresses as well as under jackets, cardigans and on its own.

Winter coat/summer jacket

  • These are expensive items so should be chosen carefully.
  • A dark coat is normally more practical for winter (as winter coats normally have to be dry-cleaned rather than washed) – and you may have to wear a dark coat for school anyway.
  • Try to choose a shape and style that looks good with as many of your clothes as possible.
  • In spring and summer a denim jacket is a flattering, classic option that will go with most things.

One or two dresses

Everyday shoes for summer and winter

  • As shoes are expensive, try to find a pair that goes with most of your clothes
  • For winter – dark, waterproof lace-ups, ballet pumps (with a slight heel) or boots are the most versatile and practical options in winter
  • For summer, Converse-style trainers, ballet pumps (with a slight heel) or loafer styles are all good. You could also buy a pair of cheaper flip flops or sandals.
  • Make sure your shoes fit and give you proper support – see more about looking after your feet here.


  • Two or three bras, light and dark coloured
  • If you like wearing vest-tops or strappy dresses in summer, have a couple of bras with pretty or bright straps that you don’t mind showing
  • Make sure you choose the right size

Skirt or shorts

  • Shorts and skirts can be worn with tights in winter as well as with bare legs in summer
  • A medium weight fabric (such as denim) will give you the most options
  • Try on different shapes and choose one that makes you feel good

Belts, scarves, jewellery, hats, other accessories

  • You can build up a collection of these over time; most can be used for much longer than clothes.
  • They can add variation and individual style to your clothes

If you’re in the sixth form or at college you can use the same basic list but will probably need a few more of most items. At this point you may also need:

A smart outfit for interviews and other formal occasions

  • This does not need to be expensive but will give you confidence when you need it
  • Try a simple dark suit (jacket with skirt, dress or trousers)
  • Or a smart jacket to be worn with your existing clothes.

You might also be interested in our pages on:

How to buy clothes
Shop wisely
Where to buy clothes
Adding fashion magic
fit and balance
Get the right fit and balance in your clothes


Control the colours in your wardrobe

Enjoy your clothes
Dressing for different occasions