The So-Called Closet Classics

I have a major weakness for fashion magazines and books, and many of my favorite articles have been those detailing the “must haves” of a proper wardrobe. I am a major list fan, and have never enjoyed prolonged window shopping or wandering in stores to try on lots and lots of items. My dream scenario for shopping would be receiving a magical list every season that would tell me exactly what to buy, and it would all end up being perfect for me. I might not even mind paying full price for all of it!

I’ve read countless “closet classics” lists, and many of them have been very helpful for me in thinking about what to buy. Over the years however, I’ve noticed that there are certain so-called “classics” that just haven’t worked for me – and not for a lack of trying. Here are three  “must haves” that have not found their way into my closet!


1. The crisp white shirt. How many times have I read about the classic crisp  white button down blouse being a mainstay of any closet? You can wear it like Audrey Hepburn with little black pants, or like Sharon Stone with a ball gown skirt, or with your jacket and pants for a professional look. I can’t remember how many times I went into Anne Fontaine looking for that one perfect starched shirt that would take me from work to play…I was convinced that once I found it, dressing would be a breeze. Unfortunately, crisp starched white shirts never look good on me, and I feel uncomfortable in them to boot…the resulting combination is that I end up looking like I’m wearing the “Puffy shirt” from Seinfeld.

Now I do have some white button downs that have made their way into my rotation – a soft oxford, a white silk which I rarely wear as I’m terrified of stains, a swiss dot pullover. But the classic starched cotton white blouse? Not for me.

2. Khakis. This one particularly pains me because I am a very big fan of those older Gap “Swing” commercials (remember them?). I have tried many times to find a pair of classic beige khakis that work for me, but they all look dreadful on me. I look like a dweeb.

Pencil skirt, DVF

Pencil skirt, DVF (now 40% off!)

3. Pencil skirts.  I’ve tried so many times on this one. I just don’t find the traditional pencil skirt style comfortable and it’s a shame because I so admire them on others. Every season, a great one seems to come out and catch my eye (like the leather version above). I even tried to incorporate a few very comfortable models into my wardrobe last year. But I still never wore them, I just didn’t feel like “me” when I put them on. Additionally, most pencil skirts are knee length, and that length just doesn’t work for me, no matter what the skirt’s shape…I look like a stump. So no more pencil skirts for me…I’d much rather wear a dress, or an A-line cut.

So now I’ve shared some of mine…how about you? What are some so-called “closet classics” that just haven’t worked for you?

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  • Tabitha
    October 21, 2013 at 6:19 am

    Got rid of my pencil skirts – too uncomfortable and I have one white shirt, worn once – feels too hard, like you, I want comfort and ease of movement in my clothes.

    • Katherine
      October 21, 2013 at 9:44 am

      Yes – comfort is #1!

      • Tina
        October 22, 2013 at 1:04 am

        I too have always tried to love the crisp white shirt! But for two reasons it never worked out for me. 1) I hate ironing and if I knew I had to dry clean it I would never wear it. I always seem to “save” dry clean only clothes for the never happening special occasions. 2) The button right at the bust ALWAYS pops open. Or there is that gap between buttons at the bust that gives a peep show of my bra.

        • Katherine
          October 22, 2013 at 8:45 am

          Count me in as a fellow dry clean neglector, I tend to go for the clothes that I can machine wash..

  • Rakel
    October 21, 2013 at 6:20 am

    beautiful post!

  • Jill
    October 21, 2013 at 6:35 am

    What a great post. I’m with you on two of these–the white shirt? The crispy one? Not for me. It just never looks good. The khakis? No thanks, I have tried on too many pairs from J. Crew that make me look like I just need a polo and I am dressed as a Southwest Airlines flight attendant. I hardly ever wear dresses or skirts, but pencil skirts are okay for me. I think it’s great you are so honest about the items that don’t work for you. I am very over these books and magazine articles that want to present ‘lists’ of What Every Woman Should Have in Her Closet. It doesn’t work like that!

    • Groupthink7
      October 21, 2013 at 7:29 am

      I have pencil skirts in my closet, two classic white shirts, and two pairs of khakis. It is all about fit at the end of the day. My khakis tend to be more fitted and ankle length with just enough spandex to fit my body (I am a hour glass). One of my favorite style icons is Halle Berry. She stated that she doesn’t follow trends and dresses according to her body type and complexion. Have you ever saw Halle carrying a Birkin bag or a Chanel (no offense to people who do)? She will carry some obscure brand or even a Coach bag. She likes what she likes. She always looks 100 no matter how much she spent. Halle will make a $5 outfit look hot. In summary, buy what you like.

      • Katherine
        October 21, 2013 at 9:37 am

        Interesting! I haven’t paid attention to Halle Berry’s outfits in a while but you are right, she never looks bad! She does seem to have a very good sense of what looks good on her, especially since she has one of my favorite haircuts, perfectly suited for her face. I do have a pair of green and red khakis each and I also wear them to the ankle as you do 🙂

      • Prêt-à-Porter P
        October 21, 2013 at 11:57 am

        I don’t pay much attention to her either, but you’re right she doess always look great. I distinctly remember how amazing she looked in an orange Tom Ford era Gucci dress though! Personally I prefer her with long hair, but she has such good bone structure that she’s still beautiful.

        • Groupthink7
          October 21, 2013 at 12:18 pm

          Halle Berry was just cute with long hair. When Halle Berry rocks short hair; she is hot. With the long hair, she pretty much looks like everyone else. I can say the same with Jaime Lee Curtis. I am biased when it comes to short hair. It takes a strong individual to wear it. I love short hair on women with the right bone structure.

    • Katherine
      October 21, 2013 at 9:44 am

      I laughed at the Southwest Airlines bit – so true! That’s how it always looks on me…though khakis can look very cool on other ladies.

  • ella
    October 21, 2013 at 6:45 am

    Completely agree with this! I have one pencil skirt that I love, and COUNTLESS white shirts and pairs of khakis and cargos that gather dust until I give them away. Other things that don’t really work for me: the trench coat (two burberrys later, I have realized they are just not comfortable); the hobo bag (can never find my stuff in that black hole); v-neck sweaters (too petite on top- I look like a boy in v-necks); any pair of heels higher than two inches (can’t walk in them and I am 5’8″ without them so what’s the point?); silk dresses with no structure (I always feel like I am wearing a nightgown in public); bright patterns (I’m a neutrals kind of girl).

    • Katherine
      October 21, 2013 at 9:41 am

      Love that you have a clear idea of what works for you and doesn’t – I still have to remember to wear my trenches though I love them.

  • ella
    October 21, 2013 at 6:46 am

    Oh, and striped t-shirts! I must have a dozen of them because they look adorable on other people. But I put them on and then take them off because I don’t like how they look on me. I have called a moratorium on all these categories.

  • Cynthia
    October 21, 2013 at 7:14 am

    I haven’t been able to find a good white shirt for me either! And trust me, I’ve tried. Besides, I don’t work in a formal office, so there’s no real reason to OWN one, either. Pencil skirts, on the other hand….well…I’ve been known to hoard them… 😛

    • Katherine
      October 21, 2013 at 9:37 am

      Ahh, lucky you! I love the look of pencil skirts, just wish I found one that would work for me.

  • Sabrina T.
    October 21, 2013 at 7:23 am

    I love that chic mood!:)

    Patchwork à Porter
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  • Linda
    October 21, 2013 at 8:07 am

    What a great post! White shirts and khakis don’t work for me either but I have a few pencil skirts. What are your “closet classics”? It would be very interesting to know! Cheers, Linda

    • Katherine
      October 21, 2013 at 9:34 am

      Hi Linda, I’ll definitely try and put together a post one day! Thank you for the suggestion 🙂

  • V
    October 21, 2013 at 8:42 am

    OMG, YES to the NO crispy white shirt. And not just white shirts, but crispy shirts of any kind. They just don’t look feminine at all on me, even when I’ve gotten them tailored to within a millimeter of my skin. In fact, I think the only people crispy shirts look good on are your statuesque willowy model-types. For me, all of my dress shirts have to be silky. Any other type of shirt underneath my blazer makes me look like a linebacker.

    As for a classic that I have yet to invest in – ballet flats. 🙂 I’m short. Also, I wore ballet flats for a period in the past, and aside from the complete lack of arch support, the soles were so thin that I could feel every little bump in the ground. I might as well have been walking barefoot. But, I’m starting to experience foot pain as I get older (eep!), so I’m wondering if it’s time to start investing in a pair of ballet flats. Hello again to shortness.

    • Katherine
      October 21, 2013 at 9:33 am

      Love the linebacker description! I feel the same way and as a fellow short person, I have really found the Ferragamo Varas to be a godsend – just a bit of a heel but still super easy to walk in, sturdy sole too.

  • revanche
    October 21, 2013 at 9:04 am

    Ditto for 1 and 2! I look like a stuffed….shirt… In either one! Also I can never seem to find a good classic crisp black suit that’s flattering. I feel like an awkward doll.

    • Katherine
      October 21, 2013 at 9:34 am

      The crisp black suit is very difficult – I never look anything like the J.Crew and Theory models in them.

      • Revanche
        October 25, 2013 at 10:33 am

        Yes!! That’s exactly what bugs me. I keep looking at the models/photos and thinking humph. I don’t look like THAT in this.
        I don’t usually want to look like models, it’s just that I want that FIT they get. Do you know I remember being SO let down the first time I realized that clothes don’t actually fit the mannequins, they just use a lot of clips and pins to make them look like they do. I thought: well dang, what chance do I have of making things fit or look good on me?

        • Katherine
          October 25, 2013 at 1:02 pm

          Oh yeah! I worked retail in high school and college and we used those clips (+ huge staplers) to make it all fit and look good.

  • Prêt-à-Porter
    October 21, 2013 at 9:15 am

    I agree about the “crisp” shirts too. I find them not breathable and sweaty, unless they’re short sleeve/sleeveless. I too prefer softer oxfords or twills. I can’t bring myself to buy beige chinos either. One, boring, and two reminds of when I had to wear middle school uniforms…and the embarrassing traumas that come with that.

    • Katherine
      October 21, 2013 at 9:28 am

      Count me in as another oxford/soft twill lover…so much more comfortable to wear!

  • Kristin V
    October 21, 2013 at 9:48 am

    I just mentioned to my husband yesterday how I think I am done on khakis for life. I agree with your sentiments above on the white shirts, but i do love seeing a well dressed guy or gal on the street in a great white shirt.

    I have the DVF pencil skirt in leather, with a little tailoring, I think it will be a wardrobe staple.

  • Adele
    October 21, 2013 at 10:01 am

    I definitely agree on the classic white shirt & pencil skirt. For me, I would swap the khaki’s for a good fitting pair of jeans!
    Happy Monday Katherine xoxo

  • Nancy
    October 21, 2013 at 10:28 am

    Can’t wear the starched white shirt with a suit, flat shoes, A-line anything or empire styling! 5’10” with a long torso… Even the stylists at Nordstrom are surprised by what doesn’t work on me.

  • Marlene @ chocolatecookiesandcandies
    October 21, 2013 at 10:54 am

    Thank YOU for sharing this. I thought I was the only one on this planet who simply can’t do the whole crisp white shirt look. I once strode down the street in my new pencil skirt and then promptly forgot and tried running up the stairs. I took a stumble and that was the end of that skirt. And for khakis. Simply. Can. Not. Do. Them.

    • Katherine
      October 21, 2013 at 8:24 pm

      LOL! Glad you were okay 🙂

  • diane
    October 21, 2013 at 12:56 pm

    I have absolutely no black in my closet. At 63, with pale skin, I find it too harsh for me. Dark gray and navy are my base colors. I do not have any white shirts, again, because they make me look even paler than I am. In addition, I know that one should never wear a shirt whiter than one’s teeth, as it makes the teeth then look yellow. I stick to charcoal and navy for my basics and then add bright clear reds and blues for color. Those colors work for me….although nothing makes me look better than a good night’s sleep.

    • Tonya
      October 21, 2013 at 5:15 pm

      I don’t own black slacks, black blouses or even a black purse for the same reason. I love navy, too!

    • Katherine
      October 21, 2013 at 8:25 pm

      Interesting note about the teeth! That’s a good point. Love that you know that black isn’t for you and that you stick to your rules 🙂 And agreed on the good nights sleep!

  • Sybil
    October 21, 2013 at 3:37 pm

    Pencil skirts are also a no no for me … I am 5ft 3in and I also look like a stump in them not to mention feeling claustrophobic. A line, full or pleated skirts are more flattering and they are actually comfortable. I hate collared shirts. I have a few of that crisp white shirt but don’t usually wear them. I actually do not look bad in them and I can dress them up or down, but I feel as stiff as the shirt … claustrophobia again. I bought a petite BR in that crisp white and in a pretty dark blue/gray and they fit and look great on me, but I just feel so stiff in them! Those are reserved for occasions where I am required to wear something professional or if I am going to be wearing them for a short time.

    • Katherine
      October 21, 2013 at 8:26 pm

      At least you look good in the shirts though 🙂

  • Tonya
    October 21, 2013 at 5:14 pm

    The white button down. Ha! I have combed through stores and magazines and they never fit. They never button right, pull at my ches, leave a poof on my upper back and I just plain gave up this year. I do have one I bought but NEVER grab it. It fits terrible. I wore it recently under a sleevless peplum top and it was ok but not comfy. I love cropped pants and I have tried every kind under the sun from sloans to well….you name it. I am petite and curvy and they make me look shorter and make my thighs look bigger. I am 5’3 and 36c, 26 36 and they look terrible cause my thighs are bigger than my hips. I bought a floral pair I loved from Zara and they sit in my closet. Ho hum. For me, I love Banana Republic sloan skirts and they are the workhorse of my closet 5 days a week. On weekends….its jeans or fun skirts and dresses.

    • Katherine
      October 21, 2013 at 8:27 pm

      I have been tempted to get a custom made white shirt quite a few times and decided against it, because with all the stiff white shirts I’ve tried on, it may just not be a style for me.

  • Fifi B
    October 21, 2013 at 5:21 pm

    Love this post! I too have been on the hunt for a perfect Fontaine white shirt for quite some time, as well as a classic pencil skirt. Great selection of wardrobe essentials x

  • Ammu
    October 21, 2013 at 7:34 pm

    I hear you on the crisp white shirts! I only own one “crisp cotton” shirt, a buttercream one by brooks brothers? It’s lovely but I wear it very rarely, much prefer my BB oxfords or linen blouses by an Indian label, White Champa. The fabric is softer and they feel like tee shirts. I also wear skirts pretty rarely, preferring dresses or trousers.

    • Katherine
      October 21, 2013 at 8:23 pm

      Oh that sounds lovely!! I googled White Champa right away, I wish they sold items here! I always get jealous when you talk about textiles 🙂

      • Ammu
        October 22, 2013 at 12:22 am

        Am happy to introduce you to anjana, the designer on email – just drop me a line!

  • TheFashionableTeacher
    October 21, 2013 at 8:54 pm

    Black. I have come to realize that black is just not for me. Too harsh for my taste. I own very few black pieces. I only wear them when I go to my husband’s work functions. His job is pretty conservative. I just don’t wear it in my everyday life. I prefer brown or grey.

    I don’t own many button downs because I have a hard time finding one that buttons over my bust. Besides, the white ones make me feel as though I’m a hostess at Chili’s.

    • Katherine
      October 22, 2013 at 8:48 am

      Very interesting to hear that so many ladies avoid black!

  • sesy hasan
    October 21, 2013 at 9:23 pm


    Iam so glad that you posted this because just last night I was thinking about the so called ” French classic” that most of the items never worked on me. Here is my list:

    1. Yes! The glorious white shirt. White shirt makes me feel unfeminine, stiff and widened my shoulder. They also get yellowed easily. And I just cant see my self in them. I agree with one of you readers that white shirts only work for tall, lean models, in the magazine, thats it.

    2. Black blazer. I used to work in as a corporate and black blazer was a staple for me. But, now Iam a stay at home now, a black blazer just remind me of those work days. I find it confining and too formal in an office way not elegant.

    3. Little black dress.

    So, i personally think that all “French classic” are only work and look amazing on French women. They can pull it off really well, thats why its called “French classic”. Not on me, at least.

    • Katherine
      October 22, 2013 at 8:47 am

      Yes I think these things would look phenomenal on a tall lithe French lady – what wouldn’t?? 🙂 Interesting to hear that the LBD is a no go for you – what is your dress go to then?

      • Anonymous
        October 23, 2013 at 12:13 am

        Since I cover my arms and legs, so naturally “little” wont work on me. And black all over also isnt a good idea. My evening dresses usually in jewel tone or pastels in satin or silk materials. Once, I saw a picture of Helena Cristensen in Christian Dior burgundy long dress with covered arms. The neck was overly low and there was a diamond brooch pinned on the middle of the cleavages. I ripped the page and took it to my seamstress to create the exact dress with adjusted, more modest neck. Instead of a diamond brooch, I pinned a clear Swarovsky crystal brooch. The dress was 4 years old, but it is still irreplaceable.
        The point of little black dress is should be classic, functional, easy to wear and last more than a few wearing. It doesn’t have to be literally “little dress” in black. For me, the aforementioned dress is my little black dress.

        • sesy hasan
          October 23, 2013 at 12:16 am

          See Kat..iam so excited that I forgot to put my name on my reply..;))

        • Katherine
          October 23, 2013 at 9:14 am

          Hi Sesy, this sounds gorgeous!! I love that you found a dress and made it uniquely yours. I think a long dress with covered arms sounds divine in jewel tones – I’m sure you look beautiful in it!

  • Louise UK
    October 21, 2013 at 10:27 pm

    I completely agree on all points, I think we must have the same body shape and the same views because that could have been me writing that piece !

    • Katherine
      October 22, 2013 at 8:46 am

      Hi Louise, would love to hear what pieces work for you, especially if we have the same body type 🙂

  • jessie
    October 22, 2013 at 7:18 am

    i have one and three (just bought!), no khakis but a camel trousers, is that counted ? hehe.. good blog

    • Katherine
      October 22, 2013 at 8:44 am

      Camel trousers sound lovely!

  • MEG
    October 22, 2013 at 1:28 pm

    Fabulous post! I love those “closet essentials” lists too but they always include things that are absolute non-starters for me:

    Khaki pants or anything else that’s in the tan/beige family: I’m pale and these colors make me disappear.

    Double-breasted jackets and coats: I’m 5’2″, 34DD with a small waist and broad shoulders and hips. DBJs make me look like a humvee.

    Polo shirts: same reason. Just not flattering on a busty gal for some reason.

    And … the dreaded crisp white shirt: I gave away my last two CWSs last weekend with mixed feelings, but it’s exactly the right thing do to – I think they make me look like a waiter.

    • Katherine
      October 22, 2013 at 6:45 pm

      Double breasted jackets usually don’t work for me as well, because I am short. Good for you on finally giving away the CWSs!

  • Nutty
    October 24, 2013 at 9:32 pm

    There’s this striped shirt that’s always recommended for the summer nautical look or a classic french style look…I dont care how many magazines or books recommend that top…horizontal stripes (whether they are thin or thick) do NOT flatter ladies who are not slim.

  • Nanashi
    October 26, 2013 at 2:16 pm

    I totally agree with how the so called classics are not exactly commonly classical.
    White shirts always looked nice but I, too, am afraid of stains, and also cannot get around to ironing it. I worry about wrinkles and at the end of the day, go for knit tops rather than a crisp shirt.

    For pencil skirts this is something I’ve been working on. The high waisted one has worked for my short figure, as I am not that tall. When I tried medium waisted one I drowned in it, so you may want to experiment with the cut as I think you can totally pull of a pencil skirt!

    One classic that never worked for me was the striped top. Everyone seems to tout one, I just haven’t found one that works on my figure.

    • Katherine
      October 28, 2013 at 9:12 am

      I have been told the same thing about high waisted skirts, however for some reason I just find them uncomfortable! I think I need to find the right fabric/fit to work.

  • VS
    October 27, 2013 at 12:47 am

    The must have white shirt and khaki pants don’t agree with me either. A black pencil skirt is however my go to item and is my uniform. I’m experimenting with the capsule wardrobe concept and I find the black pencil skirt to be the most versatile for me. I think the key is finding the right fit and the right length. Ann Taylor makes comfortable pencil skirts especially for petite women.

    • Katherine
      October 28, 2013 at 9:11 am

      I’ll check out Ann Taylor – I think the skirts may just not work with my body type however 🙁 Thank you for the recommendation!