If the past year has taught us anything, it’s that even the best-laid plans are liable to go awry. After nearly twelve months of canceled gatherings, postponed travel, and ever-shifting “return to office” dates, many of us have understandably turned our attention to the things we can control. Namely, making more mindful decisions about the way we spend our time, the relationships we invest in, and, if you’re anything like us, the wardrobe essentials you’re bringing with you into the year ahead.
While the first few weeks of the pandemic may have been characterized by the panicked hoarding of essential goods, the subsequent months have shown us that less may, in fact, be more — especially when it comes to fashion.
Gone are the maximalist mood boards and fast-fashion impulse purchases of years past (2019, we hardly knew ye!) Instead, we’re seeing the return of 90s-inspired minimalism better suited to a year that will undoubtedly bring more surprises. Pared-back but never boring, we’ve gathered the versatile, seasonless wardrobe essentials our editors have found themselves turning to as we step — however tentatively — into the new year.
The Chic Sneaker
If you’ve been working from home, it’s unlikely you’ll be stepping back into heels any time soon. We’re keeping things casual with a tried-and-true, wear-with-everything classic: the Chuck Taylor. Channel Vice President Kamala Harris and opt for the iconic black and white All Star, or mix it up with Telfar’s graphic reinterpretation.
The Knit Dress
A cozy knit dress strikes the perfect balance for those of us working from home: comfortable enough to wear while sending emails from your couch, but chic enough to feel like you put in some effort. This seasonless investment piece will almost certainly outlast the pandemic, meaning you can pair with jewelry, heels, or a casual slide whenever you’re ready to get back out there.
The Black Leggings
These Lululemon pants are the holy grail of black leggings. They offer enough structure to stay up during a HIIT workout, but are perfectly appropriate when paired with a chunky sweater and sneaks. If you’re like us, you might need two pairs: one for working out and another for lounging. Oh, and did we mention they come in three lengths?
The Structured Blazer
One need only look to Vice President Kamala Harris’s campaign style to understand the visual power of a structured blazer. This double-breasted number from Acne Studios looks great over your favorite tee, or hanging on the back of your desk chair between Zoom calls.
The All-Purpose Knitwear
We’ve always been obsessed with Everlane’s sustainable cashmere, but this relaxed polo might be our favorite piece yet. It’s soft enough to moonlight as your favorite long-sleeved tee, and looks great tucked into a pair of high waisted trousers.
The Go-To Denim
This year, we’re keeping our denim game simple with a pair of OG high-waisted Levi’s. Buy them new or vintage, and pair them with loafers or boots. These hall of famers are the wear-everywhere denim we’ll never get sick of.
The Crisp Cotton Shirt
The time has come to stop avoiding your dry-cleaner. No really, they need your business! Get downright dressed up for Zoom in a crisp cotton shirt that can easily double as a beach coverup.
The Tailored Trouser
These high waisted sailor pants from La Ligne fit like a trouser but feel like a sweat pant. With a universally flattering cut that hits exactly the right spot on your waist, they pair perfectly with a tucked-in tee or chunky sweater.
The Black Slip Dress
We dare you to think of a single occasion for which a slip dress isn’t appropriate — seriously, we’ll wait. Wear this ’90s-inspired staple with a plain white tee or cozy sweater, or dress it up for one of the 15 rescheduled weddings you’ll be attending in 2022.
The Goes-with-everything Leather Jacket
Eying an investment piece? 2021 is the year to take the plunge. A high-quality leather jacket can last decades, improves with age, and makes any outfit look effortlessly cooler. If you’ve ever wondered whether a leather jacket would noticeably improve your life, the answer is yes, it absolutely will.
The Statement Coat
A statement coat is a great way to look pulled together, even with casual clothes underneath (see: Carrie Bradshaw running through the streets of New York wearing only her pajamas and a fur coat). This gorgeous A-line Saks Potts piece is a favorite among Vogue editors.
The Timeless Trench
Speaking of coats, may we present an updated trench for your consideration? JW Anderson’s new take on this timeless silhouette instantly elevates any outfit, and keeps your between-seasons wardrobe feeling fresh.
The Ribbed Tank
Tee shirts and tanks are the pieces we often forget to refresh, but when you finally get around to it, they have the power to transform your entire wardrobe. This ribbed racerback tank from Re/Done effortlessly channels the simplicity of the nineties. Tuck it into a cozy pair of sweats, throw it on with your favorite pair of jeans, or layer it under a jacket or blazer for a polished look.
The Basic Turtleneck
Turtlenecks are the heroes of our cold-weather wardrobes. They’re warm, cozy, and look perfectly at home on their own or layered under an oversized sweater. This semi-sheer turtleneck from Cos stays tucked in all day, with raw edges that keep things interesting.
The Plain White Tee
Take a good hard look at your white tee collection — not looking as fresh as you thought, right? Might we suggest you brighten things up with Petit Bateau’s “iconic” tee, which we can confirm lives up to its name.
The Classic Striped Shirt
A 1858 regulation introduced the striped tee (or marinière) to the official wardrobe of quartermasters and sailors in the French Navy. In the 160-some years since, it’s become a symbol of timeless French fashion—seafaring experience not required.
The Perfect Skirt
There’s no denying that this classic Prada skirt is an investment piece, but once you’ve made the leap, we guarantee it will never leave your wardrobe. A version of it pops up nearly every season, and for good reason: it’s never going out of style.
The Invisible Underwear
There’s a reason every stylist keeps Commando’s seamless thongs in their kits: they’re genuinely invisible, and sit smoothly under even the most fitted pieces. They also happen to be Rihanna’s go-to for red carpet events, and who are we to argue with her?
The Cute Bra That’s Actually Comfortable
Like a bralette but with more support, CUUP’s plunge bra is made of sheer power mesh so comfortable you might forget you’re wearing anything at all. But don’t take our word for it — just read a handful of the cult-favorite’s 1,300+ glowing reviews.
The Super Soft Sweats
We can’t be the only ones who’ve been stocking up on loungewear lately. These unbelievably soft Entireworld sweats were among our first pandemic purchases (you know, back when everyone was frantically ordering sweatsuits). Lined with brushed back terry that feels like the world’s coziest fleece, these sweats have earned a coveted spot on the list of things we wear at least three times a week.
The Hybrid Bike Short
White knit bike shorts? Hear us out. These soft shorts from Jacquemus are unexpectedly versatile, with a flattering high-rise waist that pairs well with your favorite vintage tee, an oversized blazer, or the crisp cotton shirt you just brought back from the dry cleaner.
The Knit Shell
Perhaps the most underrated wardrobe staple of all, the classic knit shell has proven itself to be eternally versatile. Wear it under your coziest cardigan this winter, or slip it on with a pair of white jeans when temperatures start to rise.
The Simple Shades
If sunglasses make you look at least 10% cooler, then these tortoiseshell Warby Parker frames might be pushing 15%. They come in two widths (crucial!), so be sure to try both sizes for the perfect fit.
The Belt That Goes With Everything
This black Rachel Comey belt is made for days when you feel like you need a waist. It’s just thin enough to fit through your belt loops, with an antiqued metal buckle that pulls everything together.
The Timeless Silk Scarf
Few accessories are as iconic as an Hermès scarf. It’s one of those pieces you’ll wear for decades to come. And as a one-size-truly-fits-all accessory, it’s the perfect item to buy second-hand.
The Ultra-Luxe Sock
We love Comme Si for the brand’s attention to detail, expert craftsmanship, and sustainable manufacturing practices. They’ve also managed to make chic, super-soft socks that feel totally luxe without sacrificing function. Trust us when we say you’ll want to show these off.
The Socially Responsible Face Mask
No list of 2021 essentials would be complete without a cloth face mask (or two, or three). They may be the one item on this list we’ll be wearing every single day for the foreseeable future, so why not diversify your collection?
The Supportive Flats
As loathe as we are to admit it, there are select occasions for which sneakers are not entirely appropriate. Enter: these Repetto ballet flats. The sole is supportive enough for all-day wear, but isn’t so structured that you’re in danger of developing blisters.
The Vegan Leather Headband
This vegan leather Jennifer Behr headband is surprisingly easy to wear. Plus, it’s great for looking pulled together on Zoom and in-between hair washes.
The Subtle Statement Hoops
If you haven’t yet tried a pair of Jennifer Fisher’s impossibly lightweight hoops, consider the understated Mini Jamma — low-key enough for everyday wear, but equally appropriate for an evening out.
As our daytime wardrobes become increasingly pajama-like, why not give your sweats a night off and get dressed up for bed? Channel your inner Nancy Meyers heroine with this luxe linen set from Serena and Lily.
The Y-Shape Pendant Necklace
A Y-shape pendant is unexpectedly flattering, doesn’t get tangled, and feels substantive without overwhelming your neckline. Choose a pendant with inherent meaning or opt for whatever happens to catch your eye — this chain from Foundrae has ample room to add more pieces as you like.
The Shearling Slipper
What’s not to love about a slipper that can, in a pinch, function as an outdoor shoe. Or is it a shoe that functions as a slipper? Regardless, Birkenstock nails it. You’ll find us wearing these around the house (and quite possibly around town).
The Holds-Everything Tote
Remember commuting? Neither do we. If and when we do return to the office, however, trust we’ll be bringing this gorgeous two-tone Neous tote along with us.