A Navy Common Wardrobe for Fall: Core Capsule
Last Friday, The Vivienne Files revisited the concept of The Common Wardrobe (a collection of 12 items that Janice noticed that almost all her co-workers owned 20 years ago) in her continuing search for the essential core of a workable wardrobe. The Common Wardrobe is one way to create a neutral foundation of basic clothing which can be jazzed up with accent colors, statement garments, and awesome accessories. She showed the original version of The Common Wardrobe as well as her personalized version in which she switched out four garments to make it perfect for her. Both the original version and her version are based on a black and white color palette.
I decided to see how easy it is for me to create my own version of The Common Wardrobe (TCW) specifically for fall...and to do so in my favorite neutral combination of navy and white. I think TCW is not really season-specific, but St Paul definitely has four seasons a year (even if two of them are winter), and my outfit formulas vary quite a bit across them, so it makes more sense to gear my TCW picks for the season at hand.
It was quite straightforward except for the part where I really wanted a 13th garment...so I just added a 13th garment! We get to decide how to use these concepts, and for my life, there is a 13th garment I just felt I needed in there (as I will discuss below). Anyway, The Common Wardrobe of 12 items overlaps strongly with the Whatever's Clean 13 guidelines, so a good baker's dozen of garments for my TCW for fall just feels right.
As I present the clothes I selected, I will include the item from the original TCW, the item from Janice's personal TCW, and my thoughts on my selections.
Here's the first half of my picks...
Garment #1: Black cardigan (original) -> black cardigan (Janice) -> navy boyfriend cardigan. This is my only solid navy cardigan for cold weather, and it has a classic fit and style that makes it quite versatile with a wide range of tops and bottoms.
Garment #2: Stone chinos (original) -> black skirt (Janice) -> navy pencil skirt. Like Janice, I wear skirts frequently, especially in the fall/winter with tights/leggings and boots. I find that a skirt, leggings, and tall boots can be warmer than a pair of pants, and it's a practical outfit once the snow starts. (I am NOT a fan of standard "khakis" in a beige/tan color on myself and don't own any. That's why it's The Common Wardrobe and not the Universal one, I guess!)
Garment #3: This navy utility vest is my additional garment. Having a vest to wear as a layering piece over any kind of top--t-shirt, button up, pullover sweater--is pretty much a requirement of my personal style in the fall, so I put it in here.
Garment #4: Blue jeans (original) -> blue jeans (Janice) -> blue jeans. I can't fathom a capsule without at least one pair of jeans in it! My default jeans are a dark wash skinny or straight leg, but because this wardrobe is navy-based, I decided to select a medium wash to add a bit of contrast with the navy pieces. Skinny jeans are the most practical because they can easily be tucked into boots when it's snowy out, but I went with these straight legs because they are a lighter wash than either of my two skinny jeans and because straight legs are enjoying a fashion moment right now.
Garment #5: Black knit pants (original) -> black knit pants (Janice) -> navy pants. While knit pants are extremely comfortable, I don't own any navy knit pants, and overall for this capsule I prefer the versatility of this pair of slightly dressier pants that are somewhere in between a pair of chinos and traditional office trousers.
Garment #6: Denim shirt (original) -> denim shirt (Janice) -> denim shirt. When the initial selection is spot on, there is no need for customization! Now for me, the inclusion of both blue jeans and a blue denim shirt means that my fall TCW is not 100% mix-and-match-able because I just will not wear those two pieces together in a Canadian/Texas Tuxedo look. Not even when it's "in style." Just nope. Maybe with a pullover sweater layered over the shirt...no, I'm still not feeling it. I will happily wear different colors of denim together but two garments of blue denim in an outfit is one garment too many for me. That said, these pieces are workhorses in my wardrobe so I have no problem sacrificing the "can dress in the dark" quality of the Whatever's Clean 13 to include them both.
And here is the second half of my picks...
Garment #7: Black long-sleeved T (original) -> black cashmere pullover sweater (Janice) -> navy long-sleeved T. If it's fall, I must have a long-sleeved T in my dark neutral.
Garment #8: Blue button up shirt (original) -> black and white vertical striped button up shirt (Janice) -> navy/white check button up shirt. Although the blue button up is a classic, like Janice, I felt the desire for a print shirt instead. I actually chose a dark blue T with white polka dots initially, then remembered that I have this check button up shirt. Button up shirts are handy garments in small capsules because they can be worn alone, under a pullover sweater or a regular topper layer, or as a jacket over another top. (I have been known to layer a T, button up, pullover sweater, and vest when it's cold.)
Garment #9: Black cashmere turtleneck sweater (original) -> black cashmere turtleneck sweater (Janice) -> navy cotton pullover sweater. I do not wear turtlenecks, period, and I recently beefed up my cotton sweater collection because I find that to be the most useful, inexpensive, non-scratchy, and easy-care way to get a sweater that is warm but not too warm. I'm not saying I'll never wear cashmere again, but right now, I'm satisfied with a cotton sweater instead.
Garment #10: Black short-sleeved T (original) -> black short-sleeved T (Janice) -> dark blue marl cotton pullover sweater. For warm weather, a short-sleeved T is terrific, but for fall in Minnesota, another sweater is a much better choice. This one is the same brand/cut as the navy one, but instead of a texturized stripe pattern, it's a blue and navy marl.
Garment #11: White short-sleeved T (original) -> white short-sleeved T (Janice) -> white long-sleeved T. An easy substitution to keep the capsule appropriate for fall weather. A white T is probably second only to a pair of blue jeans on my personal list of "must have" items.
Garment #12: White button up shirt (original) -> white button up shirt (Janice) -> white button up tunic shirt. I'm not crazy about the look and definitely dislike the feel of the classic "crisp white button up" on me, so in recent years, I haven't owned one. But then I saw this tunic shirt that's just a bit longer than usual and is not at all crisp! It's made from a woven cotton fabric but it's softer and texturized, so it is very easy and comfortable to wear. I mostly have worn it in the summer on its own with sleeves rolled up or layered over a tank, but I think it will transition well to fall.
Garment #13: Grey short-sleeved T (original) -> black and white striped long-sleeved T (Janice) -> navy and white striped long-sleeved T. I agree with Janice: a striped T is pretty much essential to me! And in a navy-based wardrobe, it's absolutely essential...both in the sense of being absolutely necessary as well as something that is a basic part.
So my fall The Common Wardrobe contains:
-3 bottoms (jeans, pants, skirt)
-2 toppers (cardigan, vest)
-3 long-sleeved Ts
-3 button up shirts
-2 pullover sweaters
I noticed that in addition to the two pullover sweaters being the same brand/cut, the three Ts are also the same Ana brand T from JCP that I own in eleven colors/prints! (Yes, it's my favorite long-sleeved T. I didn't buy all 11 of them at once, but when I realized that this was the T, I started checking there first when I wanted any new ones.) I don't think having one kind of T and one kind of sweater in this capsule is a problem because these basic garments are just the backdrop to interesting accessories and accent pieces. And having a uniform silhouette in a quite size-limited capsule can be useful because it provides predictability in how garments are going to come together in an outfit; if a cardigan, pants, or skirt works with one of the Ts, it works with all of them.
To show some of the base outfits that can be built just from this core capsule, I replicated the 12 base outfits Janice showed, just substituting my items for the ones in the original TCW. Just as with the original version, every one of these outfits is wearable (especially when fun accessories are added).
Looking at those images, I thought, I know these are just the base pieces for building outfits on, but man, that is really a lot of navy. So I thought about substituting in a pair of pants in a different color. First, I tried grey, but the dark grey pants I have didn't seem like much of an improvement. They're a different color, but still quite dark, so I'm not sure how much visual interest is added compared to the navy pants.
I thought maybe a mid or light grey might be better, but the only pair I have are a grey/black pattern that didn't feel right with navy. But thinking back to the stone chinos in the original TCW, I wondered about the taupe-beige knit pants I bought early on in the pandemic. They are a much more casual style than the navy pants, as well as being a much lighter color.
I revisited the three base outfits above that include the pants, trying them with all 3 of my options.
As I expected, I do prefer the navy pants to the dark grey; the dark grey didn't really add anything to the look while having a lower level of cohesion with the navy base pieces. (There is nothing at all wrong with the grey pants versions, but it wasn't the improvement I was looking for.) But I do like the outfits with the taupe-beige pants. They are very different from the navy and provide some visual variety. However, the taupe-beige pants are much more casual than the navy ones, so the resulting outfits are not mostly not appropriate for wearing to the office. However, I am working from home this fall, so that's not an issue.
Of course, there is no law that says one's TCW can't have four bottoms in it instead of three if that's what makes sense. I think including all four would give nice variety in look and be adaptable to a range of occasions:
-Taupe-beige knit pants: WFH, weekend casual, lounging
-Jeans: WFH, casual Friday in office, weekend casual
-Navy pants: WFH, in office, weekends, appointments
-Navy pencil skirt: WFH, in office, appointments
But if I had to choose only three of them for the coming fall (a pure hypothetical), I would probably settle on the taupe-beige knit pants, jeans, and navy pants. In the cold season, I mostly wear skirts to work, not at home, and as I'm still WFH and not going out, I don't really have a need for a skirt. However, in a typical fall, I would stick with my initial picks: jeans, navy pants, and navy pencil skirt.
Do you know what 12-14 garments you would pick for your personal The Common Wardrobe for the coming season (fall or spring)? Even if you don't know all of them down to the specific piece, do you have an idea of some garments that you would include? Do you have a color palette in mind? Are there any pieces in the original TCW that would be a "no way" from you (like me and turtlenecks)?
In my next The Common Wardrobe post, I will address the second part of Janice's post: the accent pieces!
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