Capsule Wardrobe for Women in NZ or Australia

Posted 02.9.2012

by Raewyn Hamilton

Co-founder and creator of WISANOW

I’m trying, and it’s really very hard to come up with a list of essentials for a mature woma’a wardrobe living in the Antipodes.  Not only is it warmer here than in Europe, where the perfect capsule lists seem to emanate from, byt as we mature our needs change.  Not only are many mature women not working full-time, they spend a large part of summer in family situations.  Often with lots of children in the vicinity so clothes have to be casual, comfortable and easily laundered.

So before the list is pared down, let’s look at our lifestyles.  Most of us live within 60kms of a beach and eat casually rather than ‘fine dine’ when we do go out.  ‘Occasions’ such as weddings don’t require head wear.  We tend to undertake some form of physical activity regularly and for the rest of the time use a car to get places.

Our homes are not generally air-conditioned nor for the most part centrally heated in winter.

We like comfort and generally don’t wear jeans as a matter of course to restaurants as the French women do with high heels.

We love casual footwear and personally I do not know of one woman who doesn’t own a pair of Havianas/jandals/thongs whatever your name for them is.

Our dilemma is very much whether one is working or not working but then many work places are also incredibly casual.  For my part, I have been accused of looking as if I am going to a different place to the one my husband, who dresses very casually, is going to.

Essentials also depend on whether you are a dress or trousers person.  I like to wear dresses from November through to March and pants in winter.

Searching around through the internet I came across one list that finally made sense.  I will adjust it slightly as there are a few things I think are missing. My text is in red otherwise the credit must go to a blogger called Angie who posts on a site called  The post is from 2008 so things need updating somewhat but here goes.

1-4 pairs of jeans or pants -read Ann’s explanation as she wears jeans to work everyday- nice for some – Ines in Jeansbut not something I could do, so replace with 2 perfect pairs of trousers here. They don’t have to be black as at our age if you have grey hair and don’t like wearing black there are many other alternatives.  Ann says the number will differ depending on your lifestyle and your preferences. If you love jeans and wear them daily, you’ll need four pairs. If you seldom wear jeans, limit yourself to one fabulous pair. The answer to this question depends entirely on your lifestyle and your preferences. Can you wear jeans to work? Do you like to wear jeans? Do you wear jeans every day? If so,  ensure that you have options for flats, heels and smart casual dressing.

If you seldom wear jeans you should invest in a single pair in a dark wash. Commit to either flats or heels and then buy them at the appropriate length.

If you have more than five pairs of jeans hanging in your closet or in my case,  before I paired down my wardrobe, more than 5 pairs of black pants – make sure that you actually wear all of them. If you don’t, ask yourself why not, and either have them altered or pass them along to somebody who will wear them.

2 dresses. -or if you are not a dress person but a skirt person then substitute for skirts & tops. One for day and one for night. Ann says part of her encourages you to have plenty of frocks because there’s nothing quite as feminine as the perfect dress. But dresses aren’t always the most sensible solution. Running after small children, commuting long distances by foot and rushing around on a busy day often demands a practical pair of pants, jeans or walk shorts. Wearing the right shoes with dresses is an added consideration (which might increase your preference for pants when you have finicky feet).

A wardrobe full of dresses isn’t necessary unless you love them. But it’s a good idea to have at least the following two that make you feel great and can be whipped out of your wardrobe at a moment’s notice:

Formal dress – formal occasions creep up unexpectedly and it’s frustrating to scramble about at the last minute because you have nothing to wear. You therefore need something that serves as a Little Black Dress in your closet. It doesn’t need to be black, plain or long. You’ll have filled the gap as long as the frock is dressy, flattering and versatile.
Day dress – wearing a casual frock instead of jeans, pants or walk shorts on a glorious summer day always makes a lovely change. Day dresses can be worn absolutely anywhere. Don’t feel that you need an occasion to wear a dress. Make a statement with a  flirty frock whilst you work or play and watch those heads turn.

Check your wardrobe and make sure that you have at least two dresses that fit the bill. It’ll make you feel fabulous and fabulously prepared when the need arises.

3 coats.- I would add a fourth one living in Auckland where it rains and rains. This won’t be correct if you live in the warm parts of Australia or NZ but in the parts of the countries where there are four seasons it will. How many coats should you have? The answer to this question depends entirely on where you live. You might live in an area where the weather is mild – in which case a lightweight trench is all you’ll need. Or, you might live in a city that has a cold, wet winter, which means you’ll need more than just a casual cover-up.

If you live in an area with a real winter season, consider a basic 3-coat complement for your wardrobe:

  •   Lightweight trench coat – for transitional seasonal weather, dressed either up or down
  •   Smart coat – for work, going out, date-night and occasions
  •   Casual parka – for walks, playgrounds, going to the movies and running errands
  •   Auckland or Melbourne add a raincoat

Ann says, once you have these versatile options in your wardrobe, you can flirt with other styles that tickle your fancy. Coats for Ann are like shoes are for most women – I never feel that I have enough of them. (That’s me with jackets.)

2 Jackets - one casual and one to wear instead of a suit or for evening Ines tuxedo

  • casual – for me, every situation in summer can be sorted during the day with a cropped blazer or a denim jacket – trans-seasonally this can be replaced with a leather jacket
  • evening or more formal situations – there is no event that I cannot sort with a tuxedo jacket – looks great with jeans in the evening with heels or pants for a more formal event – see the image of Ines de lad Fressange on the right in her tuxedo jacket.

3 handbags. This requirement cuts across all lifestyles and age groups. While you don’t need to have a bag for every outfit, using one handbag for all occasions simply does not work. Women often ask Ann to recommend a handbag that they can use 24/7. Ann says she disappoints them by replying that there is no such thing as “one bag fits all”. It’s easy to ruin an outfit with the wrong handbag. Heavy dark bags look super in autumn and winter with a coat or jacket, but will overwhelm a soft pretty dress. You’ll also want a change from your everyday work bag to something smaller and smarter when you go out at night or attend a fancy occasion.

For those of you that want to have style with the fewest number of bags in your wardrobe, Ann’s suggestion would be to invest in a timeless “3-bag-complement”:

  •     Black or brown bag for colder weather
  •     Metallic, white or coloured bag for warmer weather
  •     Small evening clutch for smarter occasions
Wardrobe essentials handbag 2 Wardrobe essential handbags Wardrobe essential handbag 3Coach madion jpeg

If your lifestyle also demands a briefcase then you’ll need to add that as a fourth bag or a tote- I have just bought a nylon ‘Coach tote which is light and fits documents and an ipad easily.. And if bags are your very favourite thing like they are for me, you can never have enough. The right bag can pop the most mundane outfit into the next season – the only thing you’ll want to consider is your budget!

4 “everyday” bras and 10 “everyday” undies. This excludes sports bras and special occasion underwear. Our bras and panties are not made to last. Panties that get tumble dried have their lives shortened considerably because excessive heat causes shrinkage and wears out the fabric and elastic. Bras (and hopefully you are not tumble drying them) tend to lose their elasticity with age. Multiple hooks on the back of a bra will allow you to tighten your under-bust as your bra ages, but not indefinitely.

Our bodies also change over time, and we know all too well aging alters our body shape. The size of our underwear needs to change along with our bodies.

When you do your seasonal closet cleanup, remember to clean out your underwear drawers as well. My suggestion is that you have at least 4 everyday bras, and at least 10 everyday panties that are comfortable and fit you perfectly (this excludes underwear for sports or special occasions).

Be sure to check your underwear regularly for fit and wear. Good dressing starts from the inside out.

6 pairs of shoes. ( 7 as Ann doesn’t talk about ankle boots( see here for 7 ways to wear after 40) which I think are brilliant for everyday  as they keep your feet warm and are less bothersome when wearing pants.)This excludes slippers, workout sneakers, gardening shoes, gumboots etc.

Can your wardrobe function in style with fewer than 50 pairs of shoes? Absolutely. Excluding utility shoes (slippers, work-out sneakers, wellington boots, ski boots and gardening clogs), the 6-shoe-complement is Ann’s suggestion for women who are only interested in the essentials:

  • Knee high boots – in a neutral colour with some sort of heel so that they can double up for smarter occasions.
  • Fashion sneakers – as your stylish walking shoe.
  • Fashion flats – as a comfortable and smarter alternative to  sneakers.
  • Summer sandals – for skirts and dresses.
  • Pumps – to dress up anything from a suit to jeans.
  • Dressy heels – to match formal attire for special occasions.

You’ll be covered if you choose these 6 pairs of shoes with care. Matching them up meticulously with your wardrobe and choosing a quality shoe is imperative if the complement is to yield a high return.

But if you are like most women and you absolutely love shoes, it is less about what you need and more about what you want. To some extent this is justified – fabulous shoes are one of the fastest ways to accomplish a stylish appearance. Enjoy shopping for shoes ladies – who’s counting?

What is missing from this list is tops.
4 Tops/blouses – 2 long sleeve and 2 short sleeve.  They don’t have to be tees if you don’t wear tees, or singlet tops the French women wear, or include a classic white shirt that seems to pop up in all lists.  They just have to work for you and your figure.  Under jackets or coats or on top of a great pair of jeans or pants they look fabulous.  If you can’t find them, get them made in jewel colours rather than black or primary colours that can be too harsh for the changing nature of mature skins and those with grey hair.  There are some beautiful silk/satins in material shops and there is a huge range available in the high street.

You will also need tops, camisoles, jackets, knitwear, more bottoms (especially cut-offs for summer) and accessories to put together stylish ensembles on a daily basis. It is difficult to specify quantities for these additional items because they depend on lifestyle, dress codes, body types, personal preferences, your local climate and travel requirements. If you are building a wardrobe of the bare essentials, however, the list above is a good place to start.

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