How to plan your wardrobe – basic clothes list for occasion wear

Image of beautiful desktop, iphone, journal/planner and a bowl of roses all in shades of pale pink and a gold pencil. The title of the blog post is How to plan your wardrobe

How to plan your wardrobe

Do you know how to plan your wardrobe and do you regularly make time to plan in advance?  We organise the rest of our lives, but quite often our wardrobes, or closets,  remain unplanned and disorganised.  How often do you say, “I haven’t got anything to wear for ……… [fill in the blank], I’ll have to go and buy something.”?  And off you trudge, or online you swoop, searching out something suitable to wear.

“Do you think this will suit me?

Do you think this colour will be ok?

I prefer that one, but they don’t have it in my size.

Do you think this one will be ok?”

This kind of shopping creates huge anxiety, is energy draining and uses up valuable time.  But, if you you knew how to plan your wardrobe, you wouldn’t have to go through your pattern of wardrobe shame and panic buying each time a new occasion arises.  You would simply go to your wardrobe and pick out the outfit which is right for that occasion.  It really is as simple as that.  But it does take a little planning.  This post will show you how.

How to plan your wardrobe – the easy way

Really clothes should be fun to wear, an enjoyable, necessary part of our daily preparation.  Submitting ourselves to that last minute pressure is entirely  avoidable, all you need is:

a) a plan and

b) the confidence to stick to that plan.

The occasions which present themselves are individual but entirely predictable.  They crop up regularly in the diary of our lives:

a wedding; christening; wedding anniversary;

18th, 21st, 50th, 60th, 70th, 75th etc etc;

lunch party; weekend away; drinks with the girls; date night; theatre, ballet or opera.

The cast of characters may change but the productions themselves remain ever the same.  Therefore it follows that you can easily have a selection of clothes in your wardrobe  that you wear for whichever occasion when the opportunity arises.

There is no need to buy, or think you need to buy, a new outfit each time an occasion arises.

So, what do you need in your wardrobe that takes away this need to go scurrying to the laptop/trawling the high street in supermarket sweep fashion each time you are invited out?

Leaving your regular wardrobe needs alone for the time being, we are uniquely concerned today with occasion wear.

This is what you need to have in your wardrobe (as a bare minimum) for occasion wear.  If you have these items, or variations thereof, then you are good to go.

Make sure what you have in your closet, is what you want to wear.  If you only have one little black dress  make sure it’s one that you really love and look forward to wearing.

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Your essential guide to an absolutely basic, bare bones occasion wear wardrobe selection list

Image of black dress with black leather belt, the skirt is quite full and pleated, the dress is sleeveless. It is a flatlay image. The title of the blog is how to plan your wardrobe

This is the bare minimum requirement should the above title somehow not have sunk in……

One Black Dress

Choose a little black dress in a classic style (ie not too fashionable or of the moment) – This can be worn for significant birthday parties (evening celebrations), dressy drinks with the girls; smart occasion theatre, ballet or opera.

One smart pair of trousers and very dressy top (beaded, embroidered, lace or all three)

Suitable for smart casual occasions: date night; cinema, parties, especially where the person celebrating their birthday is significantly younger, then at least if you don’t look their age you won’t be out of place.

You can choose a slim, straight legged pair of black trousers, or a wider pair like palazzo pants.  The choice is yours.

Whatever you choose, make sure you feel glamourous, a bit sexy and fun when you wear them.  These are not trousers for walking the dog or gardening.  They are your fun, party pair of trousers.  When you look at them it should make you feel excited for the evening to come.

Because they are fun, and your party trousers, make sure they fit you and feel really comfortable.  If they are too tight around the waist, or are too tight around the thighs then you won’t look forward to wearing them.  In fact you will avoid wearing them.

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One Smart Day Dress

This dress should be in a colour that suits you and not black.  The fabric should be luxurious: lace, velvet, silk, chiffon.  This dress will be suitable is for events such as a wedding, christening, or wedding anniversary, smart day at the races.  Team with jacket, coat, pashmina, cardigan.  Have matching or coordinating accessories: shoes; bag; hat.  Then you are ready to go.  How amazing is that?  Instead of wondering what you will wear when the invitation comes through the letter box or into the inbox, you have the outfit.

One Slightly Less Smart Day Dress

Again, in a colour, suitable for speech day; events that revolve around meetings followed by lunch for example a  Governors’ Meeting; slightly less smart day at the races.


Accessories are going to make your outfit and they are such an integral part that they merit a section of their own.

To help you on your way, here is a short list of accessories that you can wear with each clothes grouping above.  I have given you a choice of classic or modern look for each category:

Little Black Dress

Classic look : pearl necklace, pearl earrings, diamond ring

modern look: large earrings eg tassle earrings, or drop earrings

Don’t overly accessories this look.

Smart pair of trousers

Classic look

Modern look: large chandelier earrings for a bold statement, and a leather wrap bracelet.  For a less bold statement delicate drop earrings paired with 3 or 4 silver bangles and a silver ring

to go with the day dress: hat or fascinator depending on the smartness of the occasion, a great piece of jewellery; necklace, brooch bracelets; a fab ring.

Smart day dress

Classic: Hat (with brim), pearl choker, brooch, medium height heels, diamond ring

Modern: Brimless hat eg toque, or fascinator, sleek gold jewellery, high heels

Informal day dress

Classic: small brimless hat eg silk cap or small brimmed hat, long string of pearls, large dress ring, high heels or kitten heels

Modern: Hair ornament, scarf, chunky necklace, wedge or platform shoes


It goes without saying, but I will say it, that these items can, in fact should, be bought at your leisure, at the beginning of the year or season, or even made to measure, with thought.  They are not trash pieces, they’re investment pieces, they’re unique items in your wardrobe, which portray you as the interesting and characterful individual that you are, and give an indication to the outside world of the character beneath the garments.  If you want to look like frazzled, multi-tasking working mother then do, but most of us, deep down, are not that person, and with a little effort and planning on your part you can show yourself to the world as you would really wish.

Image of black dress with black leather belt, the skirt is quite full and pleated, the dress is sleeveless. It is a flatlay image. The title of the blog is how to plan your wardrobe

Ringing the Changes and keeping going

When you have sorted/organised your first choice for the above categories you are on your way to total wardrobe organisation, congratulations!

One you have your first little black dress, or your first occasionwear dress in a colour, then you can add another dress to the category.  The important thing is just to get all the categories filled first.

If you don’t want to wear trousers, substitute with maybe a long skirt, or a knee length one if you don’t want to wear long.  I think long skirts are really under-rated and due for a return, so if you want to pre-empt fashion, find a long skirt now.

Changing the accessories with your outfits will help keep your look fresh and interesting.  Dresses can be modified over time, sleeves shortened, skirts straightened.  Different scarves, hats, jackets and coats can be worn with all items.

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Adding to your wardrobe

Next season you could add to each of these to add variety to your wardrobe and not wear out what you already have.  Even conservatively if you bought one item for each of the categories each year for the next four years you would have 5 items in total for each category, all of which you love, fit the dress code bill, and were purchased in a spirit of great enjoyment, not deep panic.

When these items join your wardrobe, remember which occasion the dress is for.  Then, when the invite comes floating through the door, you can look forward to the occasion and really enjoy it, knowing that you have something to wear and feel fabulous when you wear it.


If you enjoyed this post you may also like:

The Psychology of dressing well, why looking good is strategy not vanity

Plan your weekend (styling tip)

How working mums succeed at work by paying attention to what they wear at home


Have a great day!


First published on 26 March 2016

Updated on 5 August 2020



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