Summer is the season of “light,” and it’s the perfect time to lighten up your wardrobe (and leave your wallet a little heavier). You may have heard that men can own just 10 pieces of clothing and wear them indefinitely on repeat. In the hotter months, it’s easy for women to adapt the same sartorial simplicity and acquire a few complementary pieces that can be worn nearly every day.
Whether you’re looking to become an efficient warm-weather packer or just want to streamline your closet, purchasing basic wardrobe pieces that work well together will save you both time and money. Here are 10 mix-and-match foundational items that will last you through the summer, and beyond.
Gauzy Long-sleeved Top
Sometimes you want to be visually covered, while feeling like you’re wearing hardly anything. Enter the gauzy long-sleeved top. It adds a thin layer over your skin, but allows for comfortable breathability. It’s also lightweight enough to toss in a day bag and and great for travel. Look for one that’s slightly sheer and isn’t too long, to ensure greatest layering versatility. Use it as a swimsuit coverup poolside, or pair it with a tank and jeans for casual chic summer evenings.
If you buy just one summer staple, invest in some white jeans. We often hear the word “classic” thrown around, but this is where it’s actually true: I promise you white jeans are never going out of style. Stick with a slim leg for maximum longevity. Look for options with a touch of stretch for a more forgiving fit. Make them your signature summer piece, then extend them into the fall with chunky sweaters and ankle boots.
Vince Camuto White Skinny Jeans, $69
Long Knit Dress
After months of wearing pants, it’s liberating to slip into a summer dress. The added bonus of a longer dress is its ability to transcend contexts: office, evening, even as swimsuit cover-up at the beach. It’s appropriate for most warm weather settings. Knit will be both comfortable and soft, while also performing well in the heat (since nothing is binding). Add a belt for a bit of polish and a cropped sweater or structured blazer to make it office-ready.
Some would argue savvy layering is the key to any season’s winning look. But we often forget the importance of the base layer. It’s touching your skin, so opt for pima cotton or jersey knit for added softness. Look for a tank with a little added stretch to retain its shape.
It should be clean to the body and long enough to cover your curves, but not so long that it bunches and creates more lumps and bumps. Keep it looking new by washing it in Oxy periodically. Wear it on its own or under a lightweight blazer with a colorful necklace in summer, then layer it under sweaters in the cooler months.
Navy Linen Pants
If black pants are your winter staple, swap them out for navy in the summer. Navy is softer and fresher and chances are, your black wardrobe could use a little break. When in doubt on fabric, opt for linen in summer. Yes, it wrinkles, but don’t fret: look for washed linen, which has a little more life to it and doesn’t require the obsessive pressing. And remember, when it comes to linen (and life in general), a few wrinkles add character.
Linen will open up a little as you wear it, so size accordingly — though it’s a fabric that wears best on the looser side. And don’t be surprised if they become your new favorite pants. You’ll feel like you’re wearing pajamas at work, while still looking sharp. Find a crisp white blouse as a go-to companion piece.
Scarves are not just the wooly domain of winter. A lightweight scarf is one of the most versatile pieces you can own for year-round wear. Drape it loosely around your neck on chilly nights, use it as a sarong at the beach, and have it on hand to cover your shoulders for a summer wedding.
Stick with natural fibers for maximum breathability and durability, or opt for modal for extra suppleness on the skin. More transparent fabrics are particularly versatile and sophisticated. Think neutrals and small splashes of color.
Officina 36 Scarf, $24 (on sale)
If you allow one black item into your summer wardrobe, make it a skirt. It’s easy to slip a black skirt into your weekly rotation 2-3 days per week, keeping it current with everything from your gauzy top to a belted white tank or blouse.
Look for straight and slim rather than full or A-line — it’s cleaner, more flattering on nearly all body types, and will not look dated as fast as other silhouettes and styles. Knit is most comfortable, forgiving, easy to fit and it rarely requires tailoring.
Jones New York Skirt, $69
Loose Knit Sweater
Sweaters are not all created equal. And the sweaters that get you through the frigid temps are not the best bet for that subtle extra layer you need in the summer. A loose, open weave will offer that just-right amount of warmth when the sun goes down or when submerged in an air conditioning blast. Drape loosely over your shoulders as a textured accessory when in-between climates. Let your skin tone guide you, but light greys and taupes offer the maximum number of insta-outfits.
Topshop Open Knit Sweater, $76
Heels, flats, boots — perhaps some variation on these dominate your footwear selection most seasons. Sure, flip-flops and sandals can be a nice open-toed reprieve, but wedges in particular are most versatile. They’re dressy enough for the office, fun enough for weekends and have the added bonus of being kinder and gentler to your feet than heels. Keep the platform low for greatest utility (and walkability).
As with all footwear, invest a little extra and have your local cobbler add rubber soles to the bottom (ideally, before you ever wear them) to add years to your shoes. Easy-to-polish colors like tan or light brown match nearly everything (including black!).
Dolce Vita Wedges, $63
Sunglasses are a year-round staple, but summer hats are like their more sophisticated sibling. They shield your eyes, while also shading the rest of your face — and shoulders, if you go for a wide brim. Hats are ideal while on vacation, but can be a pain to travel with, so look for crushable varieties that are compact in your suitcase, then blossom on demand. Regardless of how casual the rest of your outfit may be, you can channel instant elegance by slipping into a stunning sun hat. Pair with oversized glasses for a touch of retro glam.
Anna Akbari, Ph.D. is a sociologist, entrepreneur, and the "thinking person's stylist." She is the founder of Sociology of Style, which takes an intelligent look at image and culture-related issues and offers holistic image consulting and life coaching services. Find out more and follow her on Twitter.