One of my very favorite hobbies is ORGANIZING. People think I'm kidding when I volunteer to come over and help them clean out their closets but I'm serious - and it's hereditary! If you ask my Grandma Flo (Nell's namesake) what her favorite thing to do is she will say "clean!" without any hesitation. It's also probably a product of being part of multi-generational military family that moved a ton and therefore cleaned out a ton.
As I've gotten older, this constant desire to "purge" on the regular has made a big impact on how I purchase clothing and build my wardrobe. A few years after college I started to actually think about the sheer waste of my constant purge/buy cycle. It felt so wasteful and honestly I started to see how much money I was wasting by chasing the latest trend and wearing cheap clothing I could afford to buy in high quantities. I also started to notice that each season, there were a few items that I never got rid of, year after year. Typically they were things like a great button down that didn't wrinkle, a great fitting pair of jeans, a classic cable-knit sweater that hit just right...you get the picture. I also found myself reaching for those same items multiple times a week, even when my closet was filled to the brim with things I'd only worn once.
As I became more established in my career, I slowly stopped buying cheap clothing and started investing in more things like those items that I'd never purge. For example, I bought a pair of white Rag & Bone shorts while I was living in NYC in 2012. They cost $150 at the time and they were a big purchase. Six years later, they are still my only pair of white denim shorts. They fit perfectly and I have no plans to buy another until they wear out. Not every purchase is perfect - but now, if something doesn't fit well or isn't as great as I thought it was going to be, I sell it.
It keeps my closet trim and has also helped me build a great foundational wardrobe. Most items in my wardrobe can be mixed and matched with one another indefinitely - this is why I say that it'd be be impossible for me to be a fashion blogger, as 99% of my outfits include at least one piece that I have had for years.
To that point, this is why I've always hesitated to really get into this on my blog. Many people say they aspire to consume less, build a more minimal wardrobe, purge regularly... but the reality of this lifestyle is it isn't cheap. The "swipe up" culture that the blogging industry has created has developed a generation that expects quantity over quality and instant gratification and we want it CHEAP. The sheer volume of consumption that blogging encourages simply isn't sustainable and honestly I don't think it's healthy. It makes people think that they always need MORE and it's absolutely horrible for the environment. Fast fashion comes at a true cost. That said, I completely understand that bloggers have created careers out of sharing great finds and they do need to encourage volume in order to generate income. I just think consumers need to be more aware that most bloggers aren't shopping as "normal people" and therefore they should be more choiceful about their purchases.
All of that said, it is relatively simple to get started in building a classic, well-organized wardrobe. I highly recommend reading Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japenese Art of Decluttering and Organizing but in the meantime, here is my simplified/tweaked version of her approach that I've found to be realistic:
1. Take out every single item of clothing that you own. And I mean everything. From every season. one by one, go through each item and decide whether to donate or keep every item. Be. brutal. Trust me you won't miss it.
2. After you complete the first round, do it again. Seriously. I promise you you will find another 25% of your wardrobe you don't actually love by the time you get to the end of the second round. If you are torn on an item, hang up with the hanger backward. Next time you purge (I recommend every quarter), if the hanger is still backward, it goes.
3. Put it all back. Neatly. I prefer the Konmari method of folding clothes and I also like her recommendation that you don't have seasonal clothes in storage. ALL of your clothing should fit in your allocated closet/dresser space. Go out and buy exactly enough nice hangers for all of your hanging items.
4. This is now your permanent wardrobe size. Your drawers/closet should never be more full than they are now. If anything, they should decrease in volume. You also should never buy or add hangers to your closet unless you break one.
5. Whenever you buy something new, you will now need to make room for it or free up a hanger by getting rid of something you own. Many times in my case this means replacing something. I'm going to buy a red striped shirt soon to replace one I have that is ill fitting, for example.
That's really it! Keeping the amount of space/hangers you have to store clothes is the key - if that is finite, it's easier to keep up with it. I believe we start to "overcollect" because we simply keep adding storage/stuff things in drawers, put things in the basement, etc.
Now for the fun part: my recommended classic pieces. Like I said, THESE ARE NOT CHEAP. I did not build this wardrobe in one month or even one year. Slowly but surely I've replaced the garbage in my closet with these items. Some things, like jeans and work pants, I still haven't really found my "favorites" - when I do, I will add them! I personally own or have owned nearly all of these items below, so feel free to ask any questions that I may not have answered below.
L.L. Bean Boat and Totes will never go out of style. We use them for EVERYTHING from Nell's Easter Basket to luggage. I also love the Signature Boat and Tote (in the photo above as well) as it's extremely sturdy and perfect for travel + the beach. The rope handles give it a timeless but special touch.
Armor Lux tees are my absolute favorite striped long-sleeved shirts. They are the perfect fabric and fit and they wash well. I can never find these online (I always buy them in boutiques) but one of you told me that Mark & Graham carries them AND they are monogrammable!
Brooks Brothers Non-Iron Classic-Fit Button Downs are my favorite white button downs. I thought they changed the fit but that seems to be in the pima cotton. These last forever and are perfectly roomy... I cannot stand fitted button downs!
Emerson Fry's A-Line Mod Top is my go-to day to night top. It's thick and structured and looks instantly pulled together. I this in black and leopard and bought them three years apart... they will never go out of style. They also make it as a dress, which I do not own but looks to be equally as versatile and timeless. I really love everything EF makes but you have to sign up on her site for her emails, as they sell most new styles as pre-orders (love how this cuts down on waste).
James Perse Crewneck Tees are my favorite tees. I buy the mens one size down from my normal size and they are the perfect length. I only buy one every year and I wear it to death - I usually get two-three years out of one before it's worn out. I do not buy ANY other t-shirts (JCrew, etc.) because I always end up wishing this one was clean.
JCrew Collared Popovers are excellent work and weekend shirts. Good length, crisp poplin - I have these in white and blue and white stripe.
Equipment Short Sleeve Silk Tops are excellent work in the summer. They are high-quality and are expensive but I've had my two for over five years.
JCrew's Relaxed Boyfriend Chambray is my recommend basic chambray now that Polo has stopped making my other favorite. It's afforable, always on sale, and fits generously.
The EDIT Anderson Swing Top is hands down my favorite work shirt AND date night shirt in colder months. It's extremely well made and is "that shirt" that reach for whenever I have a presentation at work, etc. I wear it so often in fact that I joke at the office that you can tell when I have an important meeting because I am wearing this shirt. It's very expensive but my cost per wear has to be less than $1 at this point because I wear it so much.
Saint James Levant Moderne Tees these are my favorite striped short-sleeved tees. They are unisex fit but I buy my normal size to account for any potential shrinkage. Also, I have a long torso and need the length. Additionally this Naval Shirt with slits looks amazing (and long) and I plan to order it soon.
Lilly Pulitzer's Dusk Top is the best solid silk tank I've found. I like that the fit under the armpits is well covered and that the straps are skinny. I have this in coral and I've owned it for almost ten years!
Rag & Bone/JEAN Boy Shorts: These are the only white denim shorts I own. Mine don't have a raw hem but these are the closest I could find. Perfect fit, not too short.
Rag & Bone/JEAN Justine Short: This is the only pair of jean shorts I own. Similar to above, they are not too tight and they are long enough.
Levi's High Rise Distressed Skinny Jeans are my favorite "casual" jeans. They have structure and well-placed holes in the knees and I love the rise.
Banana Republic Skinny Stain-Resistant Ankle Jeans are the best white jeans I've found recently. They are nice and thick, they stay white, and they bag less than others.
Sweaters + Outerwear:
Patagonia Down Vest: I've bought and sold a million vests and this one is the constant in my closet. The pocket tore once so I sent it back and they stitched it up and sent it back. I love that commitment to quality and the environment!
L.L.Bean Sweater Fleece Pullover: My love for this pullover knows no limitations. The fit, the pockets, the quality, the price - it's perfect.
J.Crew 1988 Rollneck Sweater: This is. the best. sweater. It's also 100% cotton (not itchy) and nice and long. I went TTS but you could probably size down.
L.L. Bean Cotton Fisherman Sweater: this is my favorite sweater of all time. Size up. If they ever stop making this I will cry. I have it in cream and grey.
James Perse Drop Shoulder Buttonless Cardigan: I spent three. years. trying to find the perfect non-wool cardigan. Three years. And this is it. Worth every penny.
J.Crew Factory Metallic Kitten-Heel Sandals: I have an old version of these from J.Crew (they have a wedge, which I do like better) and I am SO glad I bought two pairs. I wear them to every single wedding.
Chloe 'Lauren' Ballet Flats: I do not own these but I have many friends that do and swear by them. I plan to splurge on these as my "back to work" present to myself. They are so classic and will never go out of style.
Nike Cortez Sneakers: This is the newest version of my favorite sneaks. I buy mostly men's sneakers honestly! I have big feet and I love that they aren't pink/blush/etc etc.
TKEES Flops: I've worn these for years. They are pricey and honestly only last a year but they literally disappear on your feet and are so easy to dress up or wear to the beach.
I will add to this if I think of any other must-haves, but these are my current staples. They all also easily interchange with one another to create a capsule-like wardrobe.