12 Timeless Staples Every Woman Need Not Own

Overalls never go out of style

I got an email from the fashion website Polyvore with the subject like "12 Timeless Staples Every Woman Should Own." The headline asked, "Do you have all the essentials?"


Let's review them!

Little Black Dress

The little black dress or "LBD" is on every list of capsule wardrobe essentials, along with images showing how you can dress it up or down for different occasions: with a blazer and pumps for a work presentation, with strappy sandals and jewelry for a cocktail party.

Do I think you need it? No, but there's some value in the basic idea.

While not everyone has work presentations and cocktail parties very often, I do think it's good to have a simple, business-appropriate outfit that you can wear as your default for occasions that require just a little more formality than normal. I think that's as close to universal as you come in fashion. Most people do occasionally need to attend some sort of formal occasion, even if it's only job interviews, court dates, or funerals.

But I don't think it needs to be little, black, or a dress. For one thing, not everyone looks good in black! I sure don't. As a True Summer, my dark neutrals are navy and charcoal. And not everyone wears dresses. My wife's LBD equivalent - what she wears to professional events, weddings, funerals, etc. - is a dark gray pants suit.

Do I have it? Not unless you extend the LBD concept to mean "simple dark neutral dress/suit." I have three navy dresses and one gray, which make up the core of my basic "work uniform" in summer. Any other special occasion I can dress them up for is a bonus.

Nude Heels

High-heeled shoes the color of your skin tone are said to lengthen the appearance of your legs.

Do I think you need it? No. I can see the argument for this being your only/main pair of pumps (because they would go everything), but somehow they seem not formal enough for most of the LBD occasions I noted (job interview, etc.) which means their usefulness may be limited to business casual office wear (if you're the kind of person who chooses to wear pumps in a business casual setting) and party-dressy events (which, I don't know about you, but I attend very rarely).

Do I have it? No. I have two pairs of pumps: navy and gray. They go with all my navy and gray dresses and are undeniably suitable for all navy and gray dress scenarios. Plus, I'm not sure nude heels are my color?? I guess there's no logical reason why my literal skin color wouldn't be my color, but peachy-pinky-beige is not on my color palette jpeg, so I avoid it!

Leather Satchel

I'm not sure what a satchel is exactly. From the image in this email, it looks like a kind of businessy purse.

Do I think you need it? This one really depends on your lifestyle and the rest of your wardrobe choices. I guess if you wear a lot of businessy outfits, it'd be match a purse to them (although I carry a pretty casual purse at work and it's no big deal).

Do I have it? No. I spent awhile picking "the perfect purse" last year and ended up with two that are pretty casual but I absolutely love them, and I can't see liking a businessy one more! Plus, as a vegetarian, I'm conflicted about leather. I admit I do have leather shoes. But I avoid leather when there are good alternatives or when it's an item I don't really need.

Striped T-shirt

I see this on listicles/images of minimalist wardrobes all the time. I have no idea what obsession with stripes is. I think it's to try to look more French, because the French are supposedly so great at minimalist wardrobes. I'm surprised one of these items isn't a baguette.

Do I think you need it? No! Wear whatever kind of shirt you like.

Do I have it? No. This is another one that violates my personal, self-designated wardrobe "rules." Because I'm larger on top than on bottom, my rule of thumb is to wear solid-colored tops only (I can, but don't have to, wear patterned bottoms). Exception: flannel plaid, because I love it. I'm not going to make an exception for stripes just because some list told me to.

Perfect-Fit Jeans

Wow, "perfect fit" is pretty subjective for this list! I'd expect them to be dictating a specific cut and wash. For this one, shining moment, the list is telling you to get something that fits and flatters you personally, even if the details may vary from person to person.

Do I think you need it? Jeans are pretty ubiquitous in American casual wear. You can get away with not wearing jeans, but you kind of have to make a point of it. As far as "perfect fit" goes, I do agree that you might as well have one pair that you really love rather than six kinda random pairs. That said, I don't think you need to define "perfect fit" in any specific way. Your jeans don't need to hug your ass (unless you want them to.) They just need to make you feel good when you wear them.

Do I have it? Sorta? I have two pairs of jeans that are really comfortable and that I actually wear. And I have two pairs in "limbo" (folded up in a box) that look great on me, but are uncomfortable. So I guess it depends on how you define perfect fit. I'm definitely happy with the jeans that I do wear. I'll probably just stick with those.

Black Booties

Ankle boots are considered useful because they look good in professional outfits and also with jeans.

Do I think you need it? Again, this depends a lot on your lifestyle. They're probably pretty useful if you wear a lot of professional outfits and/or you like the way they look with jeans (and you're willing to wear heels with jeans, which I am not). If not, then no.

Do I have it? Finally, one I undeniably have! And they're even black. (I relax the color palette thing somewhat with shoes… also, I got these before the "color revolution.") I actually adore my black ankle boots because they're the most comfortable-to-walk-in heels I've ever worn. They're my default work shoe for pants outfits. (I prefer pumps with skirts, although ankle boots can also be worn in a good fall/winter skirt outfit with dark tights.)

I do not wear them with jeans, though. I wear SNEAKERS with jeans.

Red Lipstick

Lipstick that is red.

Do I think you need it? No!! I guess if you are Carrie Brownstein and red lipstick is your signature thing, then it's a staple for you, but to me, lipstick shade is such a specific and personal thing. Not everyone can rock red! This is aside from the fact that, of course, not everyone needs to wear makeup. I don't.

Do I have it? As of this writing, I own 0 lipsticks. Oh, wait, I have a tinted Burt's Bees, but it's Guava.

Biker Jacket

If EVERY WOMAN needs a biker jacket, it's officially no longer edgy.

Do I think you need it? It really depends on your look! It's funny because this one kind of seems to represent a different look than the rest of the items on this list.

Do I have it? No, but my wife would LOVE IT if I did. She loves the biker look. I'm kind of into it, too, but in a slightly different way than I think is assumed on this list. When I was in ninth grade, I bought a used men's biker jacket at a thrift store and wore it as my only coat for over a year. It was too big for me and smelled of smoke, but I loved it. These days, because of the aforementioned leather conflictedness, I tend to stick with cloth jacket types, like denim and hemp canvas.

Luxe Watch

W. T. F.

Do I think you need it? NO!!!!!!!!!! Nobody needs a WATCH anymore, for one thing. You can just look at your phone. Even if you enjoy wearing a watch as a convenient, informative fashion accessory, you don't need it to be LUXE. What does that even mean? I'm guessing it means "ostentatiously expensive," which I object to on every ground imaginable.

Do I have it? Absolutely not. The day I realized I didn't need to wear a watch anymore because I live in the 21st century was a glorious day. Watches are wrist prisons.

Camel Coat

I am not sure if this is a coat made of camels or what.

Do I think you need it? I am not sure I have ever seen someone wearing this kind of coat, so it definitely doesn't have the ubiquity of some of the other items on this list. Maybe it's regional. In Boston, the default kind of coat is a wool peacoat in navy, black, gray, or, occasionally, bright red. Of course, for the really cold days, you wear an Actual Winter Coat, something puffy and fur-lined and waterproof.

Do I have it? I do not! I admit to owning a gray wool peacoat for some reason, even though I typically actually wear something puffy and/or fur-lined and/or waterproof. I would never own a camel coat because of the color issue, but I'm guessing the peacoat is basically the fashion equivalent: something kind of classically stylish which you can wear if professional put-together-looking outerwear is called for. I guess it's occasionally useful, but living in a place with real weather, it is usually more important to dress for the conditions than to look good.

Diamond Studs

Studs are apparently earrings. The more you know.

Do I think you need it? NOPE. Maybe half the women I know have pierced ears, so I wouldn't put earrings as a staple. Nor do I think diamonds of any kind are a staple. I mean, this is the luxe problem all over again. I accept that it's useful to own more than zero pieces of jewelry, since they are a good way to accessorize or "dress up" a basic outfit. But I think you have a lot of room to make personal choices based on comfort and style. Like, I hate wearing rings and bracelets get in my way when I type, so I basically just wear necklaces. I have some inexpensive and (I think) pretty rocks that I prefer, like turquoise and hot pink agate. There are SO MANY kinds of rock, you guys.

Do I have it? Absolutely not! While I realize there are ways you could have non-blood diamonds (or heirlooms or whatever), they're so associated with human rights violations that I couldn't imagine ever wearing them, even if I didn't think they were butt ugly.

Cashmere Crew Neck

A kind of sweater.

Do I think you need it? I'd make an argument that a wool sweater is useful for most people (who don't live in the tropics), but cashmere crew neck? Not necessarily. I like cashmere--it's really soft--so I'm not going to say you can't or shouldn't have a cashmere sweater. But I don't think it's so much better than other forms of wool that it's worth spending the premium for this oddly luxury wool. You can get a non-cashmere wool sweater for like 30% of the price. Plus, I don't think cashmere is necessarily the most fashion-forward type of sweater. It LOOKS as soft as it feels, so it can end up looking kind of fuzzy and "old ladyish." (This goes triple for cashmere cardigans, which make me look like I'm 95.)

What kind of neck to get is another one of those personal decisions. Like, I've decided that V-necks are most flattering on me, so that's what most of my sweaters are. I guess a crew neck provides the most coverage, so it would be warmest???

Do I have it? No, but I do have lots of other types of wool sweaters. I went through a period about a year ago where I was so excited every time I found a cashmere sweater at Goodwill that I had to make it my own. Eventually I got over my blind love of cashmere and started actually putting back into place my standards on fit, color, and condition. Nowadays, my sweater-drobe consists of five V-neck merino wool pullovers in various True Summer colors (part of my winter work uniform); a crew neck merino pullover that straddles the line between work and casual; and a boat neck which actually is 30% cashmere and was kind of expensive, but because it has visible dropped shoulder seams Practical Cranberry Nut Roll insists looks like a sweatshirt, and she mocks me whenever I wear it to work. "Did you come right from the gym?" This is how we have fun. (weeps quietly into cashmere sweatshirt)


Of the 12 Timeless Staples Every Woman Should Own, I:

OWN: 1




Bonus Track

I asked my wife for "12 items of clothing every woman should own," and off the top of her head, she came up with:

1. Little Black Dress
2. Grat blazer
3. Gray slacks
4. Statement necklace
5. White blouse
6. Black pumps
7. Crew neck T-shirt
8. Trench coat
9. Converse
10. Blue jeans
11. Wool socks
12. Flannel shirt

... which I think is a better list! When I told her what was actually on the list she said "Fuck these people" when I got to the watch and, when I finished this list, she muttered "All right, all right" in the manner of Peter Falk and turned away. FAIR.


  1. Stupid stupid lists. My must owns:

    1) LBD
    2) Black lace-up boots with 1.5" heels
    3) Jeans
    4) Black Cashmere Hoodie
    5) Spangly earrings, preferably vintage and made of cheap metals
    6) Messenger bag, preferably a cool one made of bike tires.
    7) Black tank (a.k.a. wife beaters)
    8) Black Mary Janes with 2" heels
    9) Plaid flannel shirt
    10) Black V-neck T

    That's it.


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