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The 5 essentials a fashion editor has in her wardrobe

Red (UK) logo Red (UK) 15/06/2021 Abigail Southan
a person standing in front of a building: A capsule wardrobe is the easiest way to ensure you shop sustainably - and actually wear your clothes more. Here's our guide to building a staple wardrobe. © Donell Woodson A capsule wardrobe is the easiest way to ensure you shop sustainably - and actually wear your clothes more. Here's our guide to building a staple wardrobe.

You're doing your bit for the planet, right? You're recycling, donating unwanted bits to charity and drinking coffee from a cute re-usable cup, but have you managed to reign in those harmful fast fashion habits?

I’m guilty as charged: I love shopping. When you write about clothes for a living, it's hard not to. So, since browsing is pretty much unavoidable for me, a few years back I vowed at least to be smarter about it. I started to build a capsule wardrobe full of quality, easily mixed-and-matched pieces and keep them on constant rotation. The theory being, once you stop being enslaved to trends, the sustainability part will fall in step behind.

As a teenager I was addicted to scouring charity shops for second-hand gems. But as my style matured, it became more and more difficult to make the whole boho/1980s/granny-chic thing work from me. Vintage shopping comes with the added challenge of squeezing into 20th century sizes (spoiler alert: a 10 was basically a 14 back then).

What’s more, as fun as thrifting is, it often encourages a sense of must-buy panic. You know, the manic feeling that you might miss out on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. In 2019, during what I thought would be a money-saving month of #secondhandseptember, I dropped £250 on a ‘70s Saint Laurent suit with peaked lapels and floor-sweeping flared legs. Safe to say, it has not yet ventured outside of my house.

Luckily, there are ways around this. You can now rent modern and even current-season clothing, thanks to rental and swapping sites such as such as Hurr, By Rotation, My Wardrobe HQ and Onloan. If buying something new gives you a real dopamine hit, this might just be your route to a clear conscience. But, remember, it still involves delivery and dry cleaning, so try to avoid mass hauls and choose wisely.

There's also a myriad of brands out there doing their best to balance the harmful effects of fast fashion (our favourites include The Reformation, Free People, Bite Studios and Nobody's Child). Of course, it's still important to be mindful when purchasing. It's all very well treating yourself to a gorgeous bias-cut sundress made from dead-stock fabric, but if you only wear it a handful of times per year, that's also not exactly sustainable is it?

The other solution? I know you’ve heard it a thousand times before, but a capsule wardrobe is king. Once you've nailed that neat little edit, it should make life easier (perhaps gaining you an extra 10 minutes in bed every morning), as well as being kinder to your bank balance. And, let’s face it, the effortlessness it exudes feels very chic.

The best bit is, you can dip a toe in and still make a difference. If you've never heard of Livia Firth's company Eco-Age and its #30wears mission, you'll know that making use of your clothing is what counts. And since we can't all afford to be decked out in dense wool coats and crisp cotton shirts from the likes of Max Mara and The Row, sometimes that means shopping on the high street.

Going forward, besides working with what I’ve got (the most sustainable item in your wardrobe is the one you already own), I plan to shop sensibly. Buy more black, for easy styling, and consider how many ways I can wear a piece before I even think about adding it to my basket.

Oh, and that reminds me: shop with an actual, physical basket. The pandemic has certainly made this trickier, but I would always recommend going into actual stores; feeling fabrics and trying pieces on for size. It'll help stop the slew of plastic-entombed parcels being shipped back and forth (around 50% of clothing deliveries in the UK are eventually returned, according to a survey by Barclaycard in 2018).

For now, start building those essentials. It helps to know where to begin, though, so we've rounded up the five basic building blocks that make a capsule wardrobe right here:

The shirt dress is a classic for a reason: it's universally flattering and never dates.

You can wear this staple to the office with loafers or white trainers, in the summer with slides, and in the autumn months with knee-high boots. It can be underpinned with a lightweight turtleneck top when you need warmth, or worn solo with lashing of gold jewellery. Real desk-to-dinner stuff.

If you're looking for something truly timeless, Mango's striped poplin and white cotton-linen styles are just the ticket. Or, if you want to shake your silhouette up, Cefinn's knot-front design (it's satin, so it'll translate once evening hits) or H&M's bargain drop-waist midi are ideal.

Every woman need a hard-working white T-shirt – or seven – in her capsule wardrobe. This jersey basic is no longer reserved for casual weekends. You can layer it underneath slip dresses, let it tone-down tailoring and team it with jeans and heels (this is basically Jennifer Aniston and Rosie Huntingdon-Whiteley's LA uniform).

James Perse's T-shirts are famed for their softer-than-soft slub jersey but if you're shopping on a budget, I can vouch for Uniqlo U's design. This style above is cut for a slim but not skintight fit, making it a real layering hero (it's a Red editor favourite). We've rounded up 15 of the best white T-shirts right here, should you need more inspiration.

If you didn't already know, the trouser suit is back in a big way. Invest in a decent cut and you can wear the separates as well as the set. Arket's wool hopsack style is ideal: the oversized blazer can be styled over slinky evening dresses or as part of a trusty-jeans-and-heels combo, while the wide-leg trousers look great with a slouchy jumper and trainers (plus, the comfortable elasticated waist is a no brainer).

For those who really don't do suits, ease yourself into the trend with a beige blazer. I waxed lyrical about this wardrobe saviour it in 2019, and I'm still just as obsessed now. The style set love this tailored jacket's ability to smarten up everyday outfits like jeans, joggers, midi dresses and even leggings. If you don't believe me, just Google the dreamy street style pics.

Talking of slouchy jumpers, you'll definitely be needing one of these in your capsule wardrobe. In the autumn/winter season a turtleneck is a must-have (Victoria Beckham styles hers with everything from cigarette pants to pleated midi skirts), but in the summer anything oversized with a longline hem will do.

A lightweight knit in the summer is not only practical, it provides another tool with which to layer. Slip one over a dress and you've created a relaxed two piece, or swap a blazer for one to tone down tailored pants.

Ditch the wool in high summer in favour of knitted linen (yes, it's a thing, and COS does it well) or cotton. Or, if you want to invest in knitwear that'll last the year, go for an on-trend tank top.

Finally, the faithful slip! This bias-cut dress will serve you in so many ways, especially in a demure ankle-length, which balances the lingerie vibes. Layer yours over white T-shirts and turtleneck knits, or wear it solo under a blazer; team it with trainers during the day, then switch to heels in the evening. Throw on a cashmere crewneck or oversized jumper and, voila, you have your very own slip skirt.

The truth is that, with this style, it helps to pay more. Joseph's designs are to die for: they're cut to create an instant hourglass shape. MaxMara's midi is super versatile thanks to its thicker straps which create a sporty vibe.

But if bias-cut satin isn't practical for your lifestyle, or you feel self-conscious in clingy shapes, COS' A-line iteration will say all the same things.

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