Wardrobe 101: These Are The Clothing Basics You Actually Need

Viva
Wardrobe basics can see you from season to season. Photo / Babiche Martens

Variety is what these reliable essentials will offer you.

“I have nothing to wear” is a common phrase lamented by many of us when we’re faced with the conundrum that comes with getting dressed.

In a sea of standout pieces and seasonal panic buys, there are key items in

Whether it’s a work-appropriate outfit or a mid-winter occasion, these wardrobe essentials will ensure you’ll never waste time getting dressed again. Invest in these quality basics you’ll get plenty of mileage from.

Blue jeans

Dan Ahwa: A good pair of blue jeans offers up myriad ways of outfit options you’ll never get tired of wearing, whether it’s with a shirt and blazer during the week or with a fuzzy jumper on the weekend. It’s important to find a pair that works for your body shape and that you feel comfortable wearing. There is a wealth of denim brands out there but try and invest in a pair that will see you through every season. A quick pro cleaning tip is to fill a large bucket or tub with cold or lukewarm water, combined with a gentle, eco-friendly detergent. Turn your jeans inside out and let these soak for about 45 minutes. Run them under water to rinse, then hang them to dry. Viva loves Levi’s 501 Original jeans $160. Filipa K Man baggy straight-leg jeans, $569, from Workshop.

Cotton shirts

Emma Gleason: Another garment that benefits from high-gauge fabric, a classic cotton shirt is best rendered in a dense cotton that can soften over time and hold up to the workhorse-like nature of this garment. Luckily for our flexible modern dress codes, a well-chosen shirt has the versatility to be suitable for work, weekend and a variety of different looks. Worn loose and unbuttoned over a T-shirt that’s tucked into blue denim and you have a gently nostalgic casual look; that same shirt tucked into slacks or chinos with some loafers is decidedly more preppy, and suitable for office or restaurants; whiles sleeves rolled up and shorts on has a holiday vibe. Stripes are good (equally vacation and varsity) and so is an Oxford cloth or flat colour. The collar is key here — too thin and the whole thing can look dated — so go for something in between. Longstanding retailers are always your best bet, and for good quality at an affordable price, look for vintage Ralph Lauren and Brooks Brothers. Locally, Working Style has a great range of 100 per cent cotton shirts, particularly the striped variety which are $169 each or two for $250, as does multi-brand retailer Fabric, like this Comme des Garcons shirt, $539. Internationally, Husband’s shirts are also very nice, very classic, and very early era Hugh Grant.

Black boots

Dan: I’m lazy when it comes to shoe laces, and I live in a pair of black R.M. Williams boots. The boots I have are discontinued and have a rounder toe shape that feels a bit more timeless than the ubiquitous ones that are available at the moment. They work with every trouser style. Consider a complementary black, long-lasting leather belt, and a decent leather cream to ensure your accessories withstand daily wear. A good way to ensure your boots are taken care of is to invest in getting your boots resoled by a reputable cobbler. This will help them last the distance and help you break your boots in easier. For some added protection, foot stays are a good way to keep your boots in good shape. Viva loves Marsèll boots, approx. $1919, from Ssense. Dr. Martens Chelsea boots, $350, from Pat Menzies.

A good skivvy

Emma: There are few garments that are both fundamentally simple, make you look pulled together and feel comfortable at the same time. For these reasons alone, a skivvy is something to have in your wardrobe, but it also performs well as a layering piece during colder weather; that high neckline works with a shirt or sweater, a jacket, and even under a T-shirt. As a base layer that also roles solo, it’s best to invest in natural fibres like merino and cotton for breathability. And we advise going for a roll, rather than a mock, neck, with a snug fit. Black is the best bet, and with its history in the cultural canon — Yves Saint Laurent, Stokely Carmichael, Audrey Hepburn, Steve Jobs, et al — a good skivvy will bring subtext to your look if you so wish. Viva loves Rembrandt roll-neck merino $189. Hugo Boss roll-neck sweater $249.

A waterproof jacket

Dan: Like people who wear jandals in the middle of winter, there’s something about our foolhardy approach to dressing in the colder months that I’ll never understand. Like leaving the house on a crisp cold winter morning with just a shirt and trousers or a summer dress, and no coat. While the climate crisis has well and truly impacted how designers are designing now, there’s one thing you’ll always guarantee about New Zealand weather: it will always rain. So, a waterproof jacket is an essential wardrobe item every season and especially so right now. A warm, wax jacket offers up plenty of solutions for keeping stylish and warm when it’s pouring. Viva loves Barbour wax jacket, $840, from Smith & Caughey’s. Thom Morison waxed Mac $649.

Heavy-gauge T-shirts

Emma: An unfortunate casualty of mass fashion and cost-cutting is that T-shirts have become a shadow of their former selves, as fabrics became thinner and thinner. The result is flimsy T-shirts, prone to holes and stretching and twisted seams, revealing your nipples to the world. But for a foundational garment, and one that you want to keep for a long time, seeking out a heavier gauge cotton will serve you well in the long run, and we recommend putting in the effort (and money) if you can. Thicker, denser textiles have more material integrity; they sit better, holding that boxy T-shirt silhouette, and are more resilient to wear and tear. Look for anything above six ounces or 200 GSM (grams per square metre). And if you can find it, loop wheel T-shirts benefit from not having a side seam — the body fabric is knitted as a tube — and, now no longer easy to find, have become sought after for their quality status. Tubular knits (newer and faster than old loop wheel machines) are a good alternative. Viva loves Lady White tubular-knit T-shirt, from $291 for two. Doug’s heavy-weight T-shirt $89.

A white singlet

Dan: There’s no denying the white singlet has inherited some bad press over the years, but it’s a staple that I’ve enjoyed wearing as a layering piece over summer and has remained faithful into the cooler months, if only for a peek of white underneath a thick knit jumper. Keep it simple with a reliable singlet, even better if you prefer to open up a button-down shirt for a less formal, unstuffy approach to dressing. Consider a fitted singlet as this allows for laying garments on top to sit better. For something a little extra, consider a ribbed singlet for added texture. Viva loves Jockey singlet, $32, from Farmers. Calvin Klein singlet (3 pack) $80.

A lambswool jumper

Emma: Though cashmere has been positioned as the epitome of knitwear, it’s also a little more precious than we’d like for day-to-day wear — prone to snags and pilling, and often thin and delicate in a way that’s, at best, impractical (a topic of regular discussion in the Viva office). For a jumper that can provide warmth, snug factor, and function as a windbreak, I advise instead turning to old-fashioned lambswool. Though a bit thicker and coarser, these attributes make it more resilient, while providing a visual density that gives added comfort. Denser knits also make colours look richer. Look for 100 per cent lambswool, as this is least prone to pilling. I often buy mine secondhand. If buying new, you’d do well to skip fashion-focused retailers, and instead look for old-school options. Viva loves MKM Originals 100 per cent wool jumper, $120, from The Tin Shed. Balmoral Mill Shop lambswool V-neck $145.

Tailored trousers

Dan: A decent pair of smart trousers can see you through multiple situations and dress codes. For something that works for everyone, a neatly pleated trouser that tapers at the leg is generally a safe bet just ensure you have your hemline taken care of with the right alteration service. There’s a range of great relaxed-fit trousers out there too, as we focus on shifting the silhouette of formal trousers to one that feels current and less restrictive. Viva loves Olivia Cashmore trousers $425. Zambesi trousers $520.

A smart sweater vest

Emma: A staple in the Viva office, it’s a rare day that someone isn’t wearing a sweater vest, and they really are foundational and practical. Providing warmth for the trunk, you’re less likely to overheat in a vest than a full sweater, not to mention the lack of sleeve bulk makes them great for layering under a fitted jacket, cardigan or other layer. And as they’ve long been favoured by folks who know a thing or two — boffins, nerds, grandparents, uncles — they add a certain sense of smarts. Layer over a cotton shirt for a preppy look, or a T-shirt for something a bit more grungy. As always, natural fibres are key here; wool or cotton will breathe the best and last the longest. Viva loves MHL by Margaret Howell 100 per cent wool vest, $349, from Fabric. Pringle Golf vest, currently reduced to $188, from Farfetch.

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