7 Wardrobe Building Blocks

7 wardrobe building blocks that mean you always have something to wear

Nikki Parkinson Fashion, How to 55 Comments

I may not have a minimalist wardrobe but I do have a wardrobe that works.

It’s taken me a long time to work out how to make that wardrobe work but once it started working, I realised why.

I finally had nailed the building blocks in my wardrobe.

For too many years I’d been seduced by flashy, show-pony pieces. Which would have been fine if those show ponies hadn’t come home from the store at the expense of the work horses I actually needed.

It’s all very well having a beautiful – dare I say – chartreuse or orange top winking at your from the centre of your wardrobe but if you’ve not got a stitch of clothing that makes you feel fabulous to team with that top, then you may as well have left it in the store.

My advice to you?

Step away from the show ponies until you have these 7 essentials nailed.

7 Wardrobe Building Blocks


No, I don’t pull myself into sucker-in-ers every day of the week but if you have the essentials sitting in your draw then there is no barrier to wearing that dress or top that refuses to hide even the smallest lumps and bumps. Oh, and lose the stigma about shapewear. Yes, a Bridget Jones nana pants moment is the risk you take but hey it’s worth it for the smooth line. Any Hollywood celeb worth their red carpet pose is working those Spanx. I’d keep a slip, a girdle/top and a full pair of knickers on hand as your shapewear collection starting point.

wardrobe essentials: shapewear

Nancy Ganz Underbust Body Slip $139.95 |  HoldMeTight Seamless High Waist Brief $20.95

Stretchy camis

Sussan, Country Road, Witchery, Basque (Myer) stock them. I own and have owned them all. In recent years t-shirts seemed to have got thinner and more flimsy in design, coinciding with my own design NOT getting thinner and more flimsy. Having these in every neutral and a few seasonal colours means that you can layer a top or tee over the top and have your shape show through … in a good, semi-controlled kind of way.

Country Road seam free tanks

Country Road seamfree tank $29.95

Plain tees

Show pony tops are great. But what about when you really just need something to work with jeans and a jacket so you can show off that stunning new necklace or scarf. I always have at least two tees in black, white and grey that I can call on to be a blank canvas for my accessory collection. Quality is important. And as soon as they start to show signs of wear, ditch them.

Wardrobe essentials: tees

Seed tee $49.95 | Witchery tee $39.95

Slip dresses

These are to light cotton frocks what stretchy camis are to light tops. They enable layering (which is always an outfit enhancer) but like in this outfit here, they can also add length to a shorter dress. You get to keep your cool without showing off more thigh than Cheryl on Puberty Blues.

Wardrobe essentials: slip dresses

Sancerre basic band slip $75 | Verily singlet slip $49

Jeans that fit

This is a big one. It took me so long to find a cut of jeans that really works for my shape: curvy, but wide, flat butt and ok thighs. For me the answer is NYDJ … and now I have almost every colour. For you, it’s worth putting in the effort to find the cut/brand that works for you. Once you’ve nailed it, all the tops in your wardrobe suddenly have a mate. Wardrobe life is sweet.

Wardrobe essentials: jeans that fit

Jeanswest Curve Embracer Skinny Capri $79.95 | NYDJ Audrey Jean @ Zambezee Boutique $199

A little black dress

I know it’s very Chanel of me but HELLO … Coco really did know a thing or two about wardrobe essentials. If you have a dress-up/dress-down LBD in your wardrobe you are always good to go for any event. Just add accessories, hold your fashionable head high reach for a champers.

Sacha Drake Ultimate Black Dress | wardrobe essential

Sacha Drake Ultimate Black Dress $289 (can be worn more than 20 different ways)


Jackets are the wardrobe work horses that make me look polished. Every. Single. Time. Since doing this work-from-home-gig, they have become the one item I reach for should I need to take my coast casual outfit on a city excursion. In one easy move I can take a jeans and tee or frock and lift it so my metropolitan fashion sisters are none the wiser to my lazy-beach-girl ways.

wardrobe essential jacket

Country Road drape front jacket $149

Having these essentials nailed makes it easy for me to pack for a work or play weekend away – these pieces (minus the dress) pretty much worked to create each of my outfits for Melbourne last weekend.

The essentials also mean that I’ve always got something to wear. Yes, I like to mix it up a bit to make each outfit different but I always have a solid starting point.

Last bit of advice you didn’t ask for?

As you’re building your collection of wardrobe building blocks, start with neutral colours. You can splash a bit of colour around once you’ve got white, stone and black nailed.

Happy weekend, Stylers? What have you got planned? I’m hoping for a quiet one. And have you got these essentials nailed?

* I was sent the Nancy Ganz underbust body slip for editorial consideration in accordance with my disclosure policy.

Comments 55

  1. i’ve spent too much of my life with a wardrobe full of basics and just a few show stoppers. But I am all over it now thanks to you in part! i am really happy with the mix I have now. Only thing is that I have been working hard at losing weight all year and fear that many of my treasured show stoppers will look baggy and daggy now! Somehow I think I am ok with that!!!!!!! I work with plenty of less fortunate people who are always grateful for cast offs for friends and family!

  2. I’ve recently discovered mavi jeans which are excellent for tall birds and am in love with my Sachs drake no sleeve iris LBD. Can wear any colour jacket/ shoes or accessories to change the look. Thanks for great post Nikki.

  3. Slip dresses are the awesome. I buy extra long stretchy cotton tanks from Sussan when they’re on sale at two for $40. I’m gradually getting every colour! They work as slips, as tops over jeans, as layering pieces under hi lo tops, as modesty retainers under oversized flimsy tee shirts … in a pinch, I’ve even worn them as a nightie!

    What is it with flimsy tees? They’re not cheap either!

  4. Awesome post Nikki! This is so helpful to me! I am going to note it all down and one by one get each of these items in my wardrobe. I always find myself stuck with what to wear. I need those basic essential items – big time! You’re such a clever chick 😉 x

  5. I just bought a version of the Country Road draped front jacket from Cotton On in a gorgeous darkish blue colour – it was on sale for $29! It’s not lined and probably isn’t of the same quality as the Country Road one but for the price it looks great and is quickly becoming a favourite. They had it in heaps of other colours too…..

  6. Awesome post, thanks Nikki. I’m like Lisa, didn’t get the basics/essentials thing until late, and you’re absolutely right – when you got this nailed, you can always find something to wear. All the fancy, colourful stuff can be worked around the basics. Since I figured this out have been stocking up on beige/stone/white tees, light cardis, 3/4 pants then I can dress them up with bright tops, shoes, or accessories. Without the basics, none of my bright and colourful items can be worn, they’re a nightmare to match or put together. So this is absolutely spot-on, Nikki. BTW where can we get those cute little slip dresses, something I still need to buy 🙂 xx

  7. Love it! Thanks Nikki! I am terrible at this, I always get distracted by the ‘shinies’ and then when I get home, realise I have nothing to wear them with.

  8. Happy weekend to you too Nikki. It’s a long one over here…made even longer with the school having a teachers’ only day 😉 … please keep posts like this coming – I love them! I use the jacket trick almost every day – certainly makes me feel tidier after the school run. I am going to check out that Country Road jacket – shorter at the back may be just the thing to elongate me! xx

    1. Happy long weekend to you – our kids have one here as it’s a student-free day on Monday but I’m off to work in Sydney on Monday so tricky! Yes, a shorter/cropped jacket will give you more shape, even if your layers are loose.

  9. Thanks Nikki, great article. I came home from late night shopping in Chermside last night feeling utterly exasperated. I couldn’t find a single thing to fit. I am a small build: 163cm, 48kg. I am not tiny like many asian women for example, yet I CANNOT find clothes to fit! I used to be able to find a well-fitting size 6 in so many middle lane stores (like portmans or just jeans for example), but now they SWIM on me. I am at a loss. Do you have any suggestions?

      1. Thank you, I’ll be all over this on the weekend! Obviously there is a lot that isn’t suitable, but there are definitely some options worth looking at. And so much cheaper than the grown up versions!

  10. Great post… I too am seduced like a crazed magpie at sparkly expensive items! I also love James jeans ( they go up to 34 waist) the softest ever! Thank god for eBay!

  11. I’m learning so much from here! My wardrobe used to have the building blocks and in the last few years they have slipped out of my cupboard. I need to get back to basics!

  12. love this post Nikki! so up my alley

    I totally agree with the t-shirt thingie, I was only yesterday thinking I need to find a new brand that is quality and doesn’t sag after a couple of washes…the layering under my regular clothes has been key for me as I have ahem got a little bit older 😉

    loving the dresses and jackets too x

    1. I’m liking the linen tees for holding their shape Sarah – and worth spending the $50-$60 on them – Witchery, Country Road and kicking myself I didn’t buy from Zara in the US (think they were $20!).

  13. Great post Nikki. My weekend work will be to go through the wardrobe and see if I have the basics covered. Could you do a post on how to layer the slip dress? Bought that striped Susan jacket that you had in a few posts, even better that it was on SALE.

    1. Great task for the weekend. With the slip dress – there’s a link in the post to me wearing one – but mostly I’ll wear it with cotton tunic style summer beach dresses that are too see-through without. They also can give me more length. Great work on the Sussan jacket!

  14. Hi Nikki! Thanks for the great post! I love that last Country Road jacket. Have you tried it on? I havn’t yet but have you seen the back of it? On the website it looks quite cropped. I just wondered what you thought of it and if you had tried it? I feel like its something I’m going to obsess over soon (like a past post you wrote!). But first I have to pay of my other jacket that i’ve got on layby!!

    1. I’m very interested in this jacket too, and always baulk when I see them cropped at the back… Any advice on that style if jacket Nikki? Thanks!!

  15. Firstly Nikky, I went to Macy’s and I tried on the NYDJ but I am so bad at shopping that I could not decide. Now regret.
    Secondly, I wear a slip dress under every dress I wear regardless of length. My most used one is a stretchy metallicus one I had when I was pregnant.(10 yrs ago!!!!)
    Thirdly, what I love about you and your blog is that you always reply to your readers’ comments!!

    1. Well, here I am replying! A little late but here. Thanks! I’m glad I bought up on NYDJs in the US. My regret? Not buying more … well at least the aqua pair! And agree re Metalicus – I have a long-sleeve one that’s not that old but still serving me well.

  16. Happy Weekend to you Nikki too,Yes I have all but oneof these items in my wardrobe and I am actually wearing my Bendon full briefs and matching bra today because under some clothing you just need a full brief,I used to think they were for Nana’s or my mum but alas they are now needed in my drawer,they just look better and give you smother tummy and I have got shapewear undies but I haven’t worn them yet.
    You must be a mind reader cause I am going to look for a pair of white jeans today ones that I feel good in and look good ,I did buy some but I’m not happy with them so back they go.
    The only thing I haven’t got in my wardrobe is the LBD as black makes me look old and sick any ideas I usually stick to greys and neutral colours but any advice would be appreciated.
    I am like you Nikki,it took me till I was in my 40s to get these wardrobe basics and now am telling my daughter to have them in hers and she is actually listening which is great,I wish I knew what she does at her age.
    Thank-you for this great post.

  17. Just recently I discovered the jeans that have changed my life – Country Road jeggings. I’m a sz 8 thigh, sz 10 hip, and sz 12 waist, which means jeans that fit my thighs cut me in half and give me muffin top – good look (not!!). I would never have thought to try Country Road jeggings but found a pair (recent season, hardly worn!) in an op shop and have not looked back. Most days I send a little blessing to the wonderful lady who donated tham to the salvos, would love to tell her she changed my life (well, my wardrobe, anyway!)

    1. Pagan, this is what I’m talking about – yes, you need to keep up the search and look what it uncovered for you! The great news is that they keep doing this cut each season so if you wanted more you could get.

  18. “coinciding with my own design NOT getting thinner and more flimsy” – Ahahaha!! This is why I love your blog, Nikki. Informative AND witty!!

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