Once people find out that I write about clothes for a living, it’s not uncommon for me to be immediately inundated with a bunch of wardrobe questions. At the top of the list is the concern of staple pieces that are actually worth the money. It’s here where my shopping habits aren’t unlike most people’s. I enjoy a good sale, and I typically wait until things are discounted to scoop them up. However, there are definitely instances where I click buy regardless of whether I’m saving a few bucks. And it’s usually because those pieces are so good, and I end up wearing them so often that the cost per wear justifies the price tag. On the other hand, items that fit into that category are few and far between—I’ve vetted them thoroughly, so it’s not as if I’m throwing out my money for something that’s doomed to reside in the back of my closet forever.
Below, I’m outlining the six key basics that, no matter the year or the situation, are worth every penny. I’ve also included splurge-worthy and more affordable options for each, so you can decide whether you’re ready to go headfirst or test out the waters. Keep scrolling to see and shop them all.
It’s hard to imagine what life was like before Valentino reintroduced the extremely oversize poplin shirt to the world, but I suspect it was much less chic. While not new, the popularity of the big button-down has seemingly reached a fever pitch to the point where I consider it a timeless staple. I first experimented with the style via Zara’s version and realized that I picked it up for everything—from casual outfits to office looks and dressy occasions—so it made sense to upgrade to a version that’s more substantial. Undoubtedly, these shirts have so many sartorial applications, and I suggest snapping one (or two) up, stat.
Many brands have released their own takes on the oversize button-down, but I really appreciate the drop neck, which provides a bit of whimsy.
Fashion people worldwide love this blouse, including me. If you so desire, there is a matching pair of shorts.
Such a great price.
I love this brand for upgraded yet slightly more accessible basics.
No, I’m not telling you to go ahead and buy Hermès, but a similarly structured black bag is well worth it. Years ago, I would flock to trendier handbag styles, but after their moment of buzz, I found that I’d hardly pull them out again. After realizing that my collection of classic bags was slim, I invested in a black Prada bag that, while costly, has been my go-to for everything. I recommend structured shapes, as they will always look more polished and generally weather the fickle trend cycle better than their counterparts. A classic black bag is also less risky on the resell market.
If you have the money, I say go for it. I’ve rarely encountered anyone who has regretted buying their own Kelly handbag.
The price isn’t cheap by any means, but in the ever increasingly expensive world of designer handbags, the price could be worse. The shape feels reminiscent of a Hermès Kelly, and it adds sophistication to any look.
You can never go wrong with Prada.
The lack of hardware makes this so versatile.
As someone who abhors tight pants, I’ve been on the loose-trouser wave for a minute. An icon of ’90s minimalism, tailored pants are honestly a year-round staple that works with everything from denim jackets and classic tanks to fancy going-out tops and sweaters. You’ll be wearing them so much, and even if you invest in a more expensive pair, it will make sense in the long run.
If you want basics done right, The Row is a no-brainer. Wool means that they’ll also keep you fairly cozy in the winter.
I’ve seen these in person and could have sworn they were designer. The cut is impeccable, and the silhouette is flowy without drowning its wearer.
Reformation makes pretty dresses, but the brand also makes great pants.
These are a best seller, according to Everlane.
Denim trends come and go like the wind, but I’m convinced straight-leg jeans are the most timeless of the bunch. And while a big budget isn’t necessary for good jeans, I think it’s important to think less about the price tag when it comes to finding the right pair that works for you. Few things look chicer than a pair of jeans that fit and hug all the right places, and sometimes, you have to put the price on the back burner to achieve that.
I’ve heard really good things about these.
My favorite style of Levi’s.
An editor go-to.
Madewell is the name for affordable, high-quality denim.
As the basics of all basics, white tanks hardly go on sale. This means I bought the ones I do have at full price. Fancy tops with elaborate cutouts and embellishments will always have a place in my heart, but they still don’t rival the understated cool factor and elegance of a white ribbed tank. Since I like to wear them with pleated trousers for a minimal office look, I go for tanks with sturdier fabrics so I don’t have to worry about bra lines and sheerness.
This is the caviar of white tanks. Due to the cost, I’d carry a stain-removal pen—annoying but worth it, in my opinion.
When I don’t want to spend a lot but still need a quality tank, I love to hit up COS. This particular top is made with heavyweight cotton for a more substantial feel.
This would look amazing with jeans and black sunglasses.
I buy these in multiples.
Five years ago, I paid what I thought was an obscene amount of money for a Sandro blazer. Now in 2022, I’d say it was one of my best purchases yet. The oversize and boxy silhouette has not gone out of style, and slipping it on makes everything look infinitely cooler. I’ve been eyeing more designer blazers, and I’m certain I’ll wear them for years to come.
Of all designers, Matériel’s tailoring is my favorite.
“Save” is a bit of an overstatement here, but for what you get, the value is there.
Sandro is French girls’ best-kept secret.
Although I do notice a difference between designer and mass-market blazers, Zara really gets the oversize silhouette and clean tailoring.
Next up: My Friends Always Ask Me What to Wear to Weddings—I Tell Them This