The ultimate checklist of wardrobe essentials: which 28 essential pieces do you need in your closet?

by Sylvia

28 wardrobe essentials every woman over 40 needs |

There can’t be a woman out there who hasn’t stood in front of her closet and thought “I have nothing to wear”.

But, it doesn’t have to be that way for you.

What you will need to make sure though is that you have the staple clothing pieces you need to always create an outfit you love

These staples will be different for each woman as we all have a different body type, style personality, lifestyle and preferences.

Use your wardrobe essentials to build your wardrobe!

A closet which you put together on a foundation of carefully selected pieces makes getting dressed every day so much easier.

So, where should you begin when it comes to selecting the essentials of your closet?

Below we will list 28 pieces that you can use as a starting point. As mentioned yours may be slightly different.

It’s worth investing more in your basics because these can form the backbone of your closet for many years to come. So, look for classic pieces which are good quality.

Your basic wardrobe

Once you have the essentials figured out, you can then color it in with hero pieces, more color, more accessories.  Having your essential pieces in place will make sure that you can always mix and match easily.

They are your basic wardrobe and the building blocks of your bigger wardrobe.

Discover your unique essentials with this month’s style training in the 40+Style Club

This month in the style club (starting April 1) we are going to create your wardrobe and discover your unique wardrobe essentials.

If you like to dive in a bit deeper and get help from myself and our professional stylist, join us!

  • Implement our 4 step process to build your wardrobe
  • Complete this month’s workbook and (optionally) participate in the weekly challenges
  • Discover your unique wardrobe essentials
  • Get instant access to all advanced style training in the club
  • Join our 2 live sessions with myself and Ruth and get your style questions answered
  • Receive personalised feedback in our private member-only community

If you want to take part and create your unique wardrobe that will always give you something to wear, you can join the club here.

28 wardrobe essentials

This is a list of wardrobe essentials that we created for you. You can use this to create your own personalized list.

Wardrobe essentials – Tops

1. A crisp white shirt

A white button down shirt offers endless outfit possibilities.

There are so many ways to wear it. You could team it with a pair of jeans, a blazer and ballet flats for a classic look, or wear under a sweater or a dress to give your outfit extra interest.

This white shirt from Theory is in 100% cotton, so should be comfortable to wear no matter what the temperature.

wardrobe essentials every woman over 40 should own |

White shirt

2. Cashmere sweater

A cashmere sweater adds an instant feeling of luxury to even your most casual of outfits. Pair with jeans and ankle booties, or you could wear with a leather or pleated skirt for evening.

This cashmere sweater by J Crew comes in a classic crew neck. But you can choose your preferred neckline to flatter your figure.

There are also great suggestions here from the 40+ Style Community on the best cashmere sweater brands to buy.

Capsule wardrobe pieces for women over 40 |

Cashmere sweater

3. Silk shirt

Silk is another of those fabrics which adds instant luxury to your outfits.

You can wear with absolutely everything for all occasions.

This slim, stretch silk shirt from Vince comes in white, navy or black. The navy version has great reviews.

“Fits great material great and soft and easy to wash.” – joyce

stylish silk shirts for women over 40 |

Silk shirt

4. Asymmetrical top

I’m a huge fan of asymmetry for all sorts of reasons.

Asymmetry can make a simple outfit look far more interesting. It can also help you to downplay the parts of your body you aren’t so keen on and play up what you do like.

This asymmetrical silk top from Eileen Fisher drapes well and has a double layer, which ends in a knot.

stylish asymmetrical clothing for women over 40 |

Asymmetrical silk top


You may also like this article on how to wear asymmetrical clothing, which has some stylish shoppable options.


5. Basic clothing – a solid color tee

It’s often advised to have a plain white tee in your closet. And, I don’t disagree that a white tee can be a hugely useful closet staple.

But, it doesn’t necessarily have to be white.

A tee in a solid color can provide a useful background to show off any statement jewelry that you have.

If, for example, you have a great red necklace, then opting for a navy or a gray tee could allow you to show it off beautifully.

This Eileen Fisher tee is made from breathable Tencel fabric, which drapes well.

basic clothing for women over 40 |

Plain color tee

Bottoms you should have in your staple clothing essentials

6. Black pants

Whether you wear them to work or you dress them up for evening, a classic pair of black pants will never go out of style.

This Nic+Zoe pair is designed in a classic straight-leg style with stretch and shape retention.

Black pants for women over 40 |

Black straight leg pants

7. White pants

Just like black pants white pants should be a staple in your wardrobe. Other than black, no other color is as easy to combine and the extra benefit is that an outfit with a white base will look fresh and energetic.

Use winter white in winter and fresh bright white in summer.

wardrobe essentials | white pants | 40plusstyle.comWhite pants

8. Dark denim jeans

Finding the perfect pair of jeans isn’t easy. But, I’d definitely advise you to make it a dark wash pair.

Not only do they work in a huge range of scenarios, but they’re also very flattering. Plus, they’re less likely to stain so, if you invest in a pair which are a little more expensive than the norm, they’re likely to last you longer.

A classic bootcut will suit most body shapes, but you could also opt for flared, cropped or skinny, depending on which style looks best on you.

The Paige Manhattan bootcut style has a high waist and a flattering dark wash. There are 57 reviews, giving an average of 4.5 stars.

“I love these jeans so much I ended up ordering two pairs. The material is so great, it doesn’t lose shape, nice stretch and great dark color.” – Amy

The best jeans for women over 40 | 40plusstyle.comPaige bootcut jeans

9. A classic skirt

A classic skirt will mean different things for different women. But most women will suit the two classic styles. Choose either a pencil or an a-line to flatter your figure.

You could opt for a patterned skirt to wear with your plain tops, or a plain skirt to wear with your patterned tops. Or, of course, you could try out some pattern mixing.

Boden often has some good classic pencil skirts in a range of colors and patterns, like this skirt with mosaic detailing.

classic skirt styles for women over 40 | 40plusstyle.comBoden pencil skirt


10. An evening dress for formal occasions

No matter whether you go out frequently, or hardly at all, everyone needs a dress that you can pull out of your closet at short notice for formal events, and know that it will look great.

A classic black cocktail dress will see you through most events. You can add a silk wrap or some great jewelry to make it look different every time.

Choose a style to suit your body type. This halterneck dress, for example, would look particularly great if you are an inverted triangle.

Little black dress for women over 40 |

Cocktail dress

11. A wrap dress

A wrap dress is one of those wardrobe essentials that suits everyone, no matter what your body type.

The wrap dress defines your waist thanks to the waist tie and elongates your figure, thanks to the v-neck. It skims over your hips and thighs, making it a flattering option for pear shapes.

Not only that, but you can wear a wrap dress for pretty much any occasion. Depending on the fabric you choose, you could wear to work, to a casual lunch or to a formal event such as a wedding.

Many wrap dresses also have sleeves if you prefer a dress which covers your upper arms.

For more options for dresses with sleeves, take a look at this article.

This wrap dress by Karen Kane has a classic polka dot print so it won’t go out of style. Plus, the asymmetrical hem adds interest.

Classic wrap dress styles for women over 40 |

Wrap dress


Of course, most of us don’t live in a climate warm enough year round to ensure that we never need to wear a jacket or a coat.

Not only that, but a layer of outerwear can add extra style to your outfits. Here are the essentials.

12. Leather or faux leather moto jacket

A leather moto jacket is a classic which exudes a certain rock star cool.

You would wear on casual days with jeans and sneakers.

But, you can also use a moto jacket to toughen up, and add an unexpected element, to outfits such as a maxi dress, or a pleated midi skirt with a sweater and booties. In short, it pretty much goes with everything.

Not only that, but a leather jacket can actually get better with age, so you’re sure to keep it for many years if you choose a classic, fitted style.

You don’t have to choose classic black. You could opt for a lighter color which may be more flattering close to your face, and which you can wear during spring and summer.

This Blank NYC moto jacket comes in french taupe color and has more than 350 reviews on Nordstrom, giving an average of 4.4 stars.

Biker jackets for women over 40 |

Blank NYC suede moto jacket, 350+ reviews, 4.4 stars

13. Trench coat

There can be few pieces of outerwear which are as iconic as the trench coat.

Developed as an alternative to the heavy coats worn by soldiers in the First World War, it adds an instant touch of class to any outfit, even if you’re simply wearing jeans and a white shirt.

The shape itself is a classic and you could opt for the traditional beige color such as this trench coat from Topshop, or you could opt for a different color or a classic pattern such as a leopard print.

trench coats for women over 40 |

Trench coat

14. Blazer

A blazer is another one of those pieces which is so versatile.

You could add to your jeans with a tee and a pair of sneakers or heels to instantly elevate your outfit, or you can wear for a night out or for work.

You will want to opt for a style which nips in at the waist for the most flattering effect, unless you have a rectangular figure and you want to play up your androgynous figure with a boyfriend-style, looser fit.

There are more ideas how on how to dress the rectangle.

A single-button style like this one by Vince Camuto is generally more flattering as double breasted blazers do have the potential to make you look wider.

stylish blazer ideas for women over 40 |

single-breasted blazer

15. Long Sleeveless Vest

A long vest is a versatile piece of outerwear that you can use to add interest, or to skim over the parts of your body you aren’t so keen on.

It is particularly useful for hiding a belly, or for elongating your figure if you are petite.

Check out this article for more sure-fire ways to hide your belly with the right clothes.

This draped vest from Amazon has good reviews, giving it an average of 4.1 stars.

“This drapes perfectly and it’s slimming. Looks great with a fitted white or charcoal top underneath. Love the material.” – Sara

wearing a long vest for women over 40 |

Draped sleeveless vest, 70+ reviews, 4.1 stars

16. Denim jacket

Jean jackets are always on trend because they exude an effortless sort of cool.

They’ve been worn by everyone from Marilyn Monroe to Madonna.

While over-sized, boxier denim jackets have been particularly on trend recently, a more fitted style like this denim jacket by Mavi is generally more flattering.

You can wear over your summer dresses to make sure you can still wear them during spring and fall when the weather is a little cooler.

how to wear denim jackets for women over 40 |

Denim jacket


17. A comfortable AND stylish pair of shoes for every day

Find a pair of shoes which you find both comfortable AND stylish which you can wear every day.

Depending on where you live and what your lifestyle is like, these will be different for different women.

These can be flat shoes of are have a small heel but you may want to consider a shoe with arch support.

One pair I really like are these Yala sandals by Fly London, which have arch support, so they are comfortable enough for walking around. Not only that, but they go with the vast majority of my wardrobe.

comfortable and stylish shoes for women over 40 |

Yala wedge

18. Heeled sandals (to go with everything)

There can be very few women who want to wear heels all of the time.

But, if you have a pair of heels in your closet, make it a versatile pair.

I believe a nude pair of block heels is a great option. You could wear these sandals with everything from an evening dress to with a pair of jeans and a nice top for a more casual evening out.

A block heel is more comfortable than a a regular heel and a nude pair will also lengthen your legs further.

Nude sandal with block heel |

Nude block heel sandals

19. Sneakers (in white or metallic)

Thankfully, sneakers have never been more fashionable.

So, that means it’s easy to be both on trend AND comfortable, without having to suffer for fashion. I’ve never believed in the old “beauty is pain” adage.

If you choose a classic white or a metallic pair, then you should find they go with a lot of pieces in your closet.

These Frye low top sneakers have mainly 5 star reviews and come with a removable insole in case you need additional support.

stylish sneakers for women over 40 |

Low top sneakers

20. Ankle booties (for transitional dressing)

One of the most useful pieces of footwear you can have in your closet, ankle booties help you to continue to wear the summer favorite dresses and skirts you have in your closet through spring and fall as they will add just enough extra warmth.

They can, of course, also be worn with jeans and pants. They can also add a little edge to outfits.

You can opt for flats or heeled depending on your preference. You can also choose booties to suit your style and weather, opting for closed or peep toes.

This pair by Blondo comes in a range of neutral shades as well as snakeskin.

shoes to have in your closet for women over 40 |

Ankle booties

20. Ballet flats

A pair of ballet flats are a wardrobe staple which will go well with your skinny jeans and capri pants.

They will never go out of style and will be comfortable enough to wear all day.

These Sam Edelman ballet flats come in a good choice of neutrals as well as a snakeskin option, and they have 4.5 star reviews on Nordstrom.

“The Perfect Ballet Flat – I own 6 colors!” – LoveNavyBlue

Ballet flats, 1833 reviews, 4.5 stars


21. Classic leather belt

Not just for keeping your pants up! A leather belt can be used to create a different look and feel for your outfits.

You could belt around a dress, or you could cinch in the waist of a cardigan, for example, to show off your waist.

You may find that belting pieces that you have pushed to the back of your wardrobe, because you don’t feel they are flattering enough or that they have enough shape, could well give them new life.

accessories women over 40 need in their closet |

Classic leather belt

22. Tote bag

Your tote bag should be large enough so that you can carry all of your day-to-day essentials around with you.

It should also be sturdy enough to ensure that it lasts, even if you use it everyday.

Opting for a classic leather style will add luxe to your outfit and give your tote longevity.

With everything on this list, it’s worth seeing your purchase as an investment, but this particularly holds true for your tote bag.

This Tory Burch tote has 30+ reviews and a five-star average

“I am very happy and pleased with the quality of my bag. It’s perfect to run errands and it’s fits many things. Will highly recommend to anyone ” – Karina

the best tote bags for women over 40 |

Classic tote bag

23. Evening clutch

Of course, if you are heading out for the evening, then you won’t want to take your large daytime tote with you.

Choose an evening bag you can fit in what you need (phone, lipstick, credit card!) while not being too large to hold in your hand.

If you choose a metallic clutch it should go with anything in your closet.

evening clutch bag ideas for women over 40 |

Clutch bag

24. Silk or lightweight scarf

A scarf will allow you to add pizzazz to an otherwise fairly plain outfit.

Just think how much more stylish a simple pair of jeans and tee could look with the addition of a scarf.

Opting for silk scarf will bring extra luxury to your outfits. Choose a color which is flattering for your skin and hair tone.

This silk-like scarf from Amazon can be used as a headscarf or tied around the neck.

“To not only find a scarf that’s beautiful, but you have the option to wear it as a head scarf or around your neck and it’s just as fashionable, is amazing.” – couponlady

stylish scarves for women over 40 |

Silk-like scarf

25. Statement necklace

Just as a scarf can really make an outfit, so too can a statement necklace.

Useful for adding extra style to outfits which could otherwise be a little boring, a statement necklace can also draw attention away from parts of your body you aren’t so keen on and up to your face.

Opt for a necklace to suit your individual style.

This modern necklace by Karine Sultan has good reviews at Nordstrom.

“Love this Statement Necklace so much bought it in gold and went back for the silver. Makes a powerful statement and fills in the neckline beautifully.” – Cherokee

statement necklaces to add style |

statement necklace

26. Great sunglasses

Not only will sunglasses protect your eyes, and the skin around your eyes, they also add some movie-star glamour.

Choose a classic shape which won’t date. These Kate Spade sunglasses are in a classic tortoiseshell.

Other classic shapes include catseye sunglasses and aviators.

classic sunglasses for women over 40 |

Kate Spade sunglasses

Wardrobe essentials

Of course, there are plenty of essentials you will need in your closet, such as pajamas and other underwear, but I’ve included the two essentials which will make your outfits look better and provide versatility to your closet.

27. A perfectly fitting bra

So many women are guilty of not having their bras correctly fitted, or of wearing the same old bras for years.

But, by making sure you have really well fitting bras, you will ensure that what you wear on top of them will look great.

Your bust will be supported and held in place where it should be.

The bra you will get most wear out of in your wardrobe will be a t-shirt bra. That’s because this will create smooth lines under your outfits.

If you have larger breasts, there are some great recommendations here for the best bras for you.

the best t-shirt bras for women over 40 |

Everyday t-shirt bra

28. Opaque tights

A pair of opaque tights are your best friend when it comes to transitional dressing.

They give your outfits longevity which cuts across seasons and makes your closet a much more flexible place.

You could, for example, wear with your little black dress for a night out, or you could wear under a pencil skirt for work.

But, you could also wear with a floral summer dress and team this with your leather moto jacket to ensure you can wear your dress even when the weather turns cool.

If you choose control top tights, this could also help you to make sure you get smooth lines under your clothes.

This pair has 1,959 Amazon reviews, giving an average of 4.5 stars

“These are awesome tights. Very stretchy and comfortable, and they don’t make me hot.” – Anna

why wear opaque tights for women over 40 |

No Nonsense control-top tights, 1,959 reviews, 4.5 stars

That concludes our list of wardrobe essentials.

Very likely your list will be different and you may start to think about how your list differs from mine. If you want my help with this consider joining the style club!

Do you agree with my choices? What would you choose as your wardrobe essentials?


p.s. Don’t forget: if you want to take part, get clear on you style essentials and create your unique wardrobe that will always give you something to wear, you can join the club here.

Do you like this article on the ultimate checklist of wardrobe essentials? Share it on Pinterest!

The ultimate checklist of wardrobe essentials | fashion over 40 | style | fashion |

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Julia

The only thing I’m missing on this list is a long sleeveless vest. I guess I can start a search. Since I’ve a smaller waist I don’t want to hide it with a lot of volume in the middle – I gravitate towards structured garments. Don’t know if the two are compatible?


2 Sylvia

That is definitely something that almost made the list and some women may have this as one of their essential. For ideas, shopping ideas and more tips you will love this article


3 Tina A. Alfieri

love how you show the examples on the checklist on 20-30 something thin models!


4 Sylvia
5 No Fear of Fashion

I agree with all the essentials and I am glad you didn’t recommend just black and white or only solid colours. That evening clutch by Ted Baker is very versatile and lovely. As is the Eileen Fisher T-shirt.


6 Heather

I think I would add a classic black turtleneck to this list. Perfect with any of the pants (including white) that you have listed and it works for three seasons unless you have a sleeveless one for summer. Bonus points for cashmere!!!


7 Sylvia

Yes that could have been easily added to the list!


8 Chris

I really dislike these prescriptive lists of “must haves.” I think a woman should choose items based on her coloring, shape, and personality. The ubiquitous white shirt that is always on these lists is particularly annoying. Not all of us fit the mold of these pieces and I wish style influencers would stop suggesting there is a set of wardrobe pieces that suit every woman.


9 Sylvia

I take your point. However, this article is merely a generalised suggestion of your essentials. As I mention in the article, the essentials are different for every woman and it’s up to you to determine what your essentials are. Your list may differ a lot from this one. Knowing your essentials and having them in place is a great way to build a wardrobe that is uniquely yours and will always give you something to wear.


10 P. Roos

I love your practical advice and style and have learned so much from your site. The best takeaway is the “rule of thirds” and information on how to dress for your body type. In the last year, however, I’ve noticed a big change in your management. Now many of the fashions featured in your reviews have links to Amazon. Most of the models are very young and very thin and very white. Some of the styles shown above (such as the draped vest) with so much bulkiness at the hips would look dreadful on a broad-beamed woman over 40–presumably your readership. The bra advertised for larger breasted women doesn’t jibe with the thin young model whose breasts are average, certainly not large. Likewise the ad for black tights shown on a very thin young woman wearing a miniskirt. I have to wonder if you are starting to abandon your target readers and subscribers by focusing on young, fashion-forward women who change wardrobes frequently and have a bigger budget. I don’t know what’s going on there, but something is definitely amiss.


11 Sylvia

No my focus has not changed but many readers love my recommendations so I’m giving more of them. I can’t pick the models the brands choose to showcase their products. I focus on the products itself, not the models. If they offer images of the products without the models, that is what I will choose. I very much would like it if they featured a diversity of women but they don’t. When I list tights here, it should be clear that it’s not about the miniskirt but the tights. This is all explained in much more detail here I will try and feature the product only whenever I can, but I also think it’s better to focus on the right product, rather than on the product who has used the ‘correct’ model to showcase their product. I’ve started to feature more amazon products as readers have asked for affordable options to shop too.


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