Right. Here we go. You all seem to be in a right state about what to wear this Spring and Summer so I’m here to remind you about a few summer basics. And to just generally give you a little pep talk – mostly about Instagram.
For those of you on Instagram and those who particularly follow certain accounts that make you feel like, I don’t know, you’re too fat or not stylish enough or don’t have the right bag or whatever – I’ve got one word for you:
You don’t need straw bags with your name on them, sandals in the shape of a flamingo or 15 new shades of nail polish. There is no room in your life for another impractical dress you will only wear twice, a new very-slightly-different striped top from the 19 you already own or heels you can’t wear to work.
Unfollowing people who make you feel inadequate is easy and totally reversible and once you get beyond 1k followers it’s impossible to tell who is coming or going. They won’t notice or be offended. Just slide away.
I am not slating these kind of Instagram accounts at all, but I am saying that if you aren’t able to maintain a critical distance between yourself and what is basically the world’s most successful marketing tool – (i.e. so I don’t blame you) – then re-think who you follow.
I recommend Pierce Brosnan and National Geographic for a more soothing Instagram experience.
Photographs ought to be inspiration not aspiration. When you see someone on Instagram looking knock-out your first thought ought to be “Do I have similar things already I could wear to make that outfit?” not “I need to buy all that immediately.”
Here is a list of the things I think represent absolute basics for an everyday summer wardrobe. And when I say “summer” I mean days when it is too hot for jeans – this is not holiday or beachwear… I’ll take a run at those another time.
I don’t mean that these are the only clothes you should have, I’m saying that these are your building blocks and they will make the rest of your wardrobe make sense; they will get you through the occasional heatwave between now and September without having to resort to wearing flip flops and a pair of floppy linen shorts with really visible pockets to work. Flamingoes need not apply.
1 pair of good espadrilles. My pair are by Seven Boot Lane, but I see from their website that they’re “taking a break” (going bankrupt?) so some other nice ones I found on the Selfridges website are these from Dune
or these from Kurt Geiger
I also really fancy these from Soludos via ShopBop (BEWARE on ShopBop of extra taxes and COD horror snakes – reader Trish – see comments – was stung badly). Basically impossible to find a pair of Soludos without a goddamn flamingo or a California Roll on them, but I managed.
2 I also have bought this year a pair of Castaner high heeled wedges, which I adore beyond measure. This exact pair are sold out in a few sizes but there are other colours available. If you want a pair of these, size down. These are for occasion wear only, not for long commutes. They do stay on, but need to be re-tied once or twice for maximum security. An inconvenience I believe they are worth.
If those are, financially, out of the question, these from Topshop look to me like a good alternative.
3 T-Shirts. How many times do I have to say this? 3 good white t-shirts, from wherever you like, one grey, one black, will solve most problems. If yours are looking tired, replace them. My current favourite is from H&M.
4 Denim shirt – a J Crew chambray “Keeper” shirt worn reasonably loose will dig you out of many a hole but the effing website is down. This one from Gap looks like a good alternative.
5 Midi skirts. Just find a shape that suits you. Hush are doing very nice ones at the moment, (and will be bringing one out in a very good leopard print soon), but some might find the pockets add unwanted millimetres over the hips.
I have got this exact Santana skirt and it’s great. Better than the pink, which is sold out anyway. I wore it to death in Kenya; size down.
I also have the Rouje Gloria skirt, which is actual heaven. Take your normal size.
Or look, here’s a nice one in pink if you really want a pink one:
6 Culottes or cropped trousers. I feel like there are still some floating voters out there – I pushed these hard last year and some of you went for them and others took it as a personal insult and are probably throwing things at the screen to stop me fucking going on about damn culottes.
But, they’re so handy! Not jeans, swishy and cool and practical. Don’t forget – if you find a pair you like for colour and sizing round the waist but the length is wrong, you can always get them taken up.
If you are going for a high-waisted thing, try these, also from Stories:
I do like a bit of plisse:
These are terrific, if a bit wacky
And I like these:
7 Shell or tank tops. Unless you have pneumatic boobs or are willing to do a strapless bra thing, just forget spaghetti strap camisoles. Your bra always shows and it doesn’t look nice unless you are tiny and 25 and very tanned. Wide strap plain shell tops look really smart and are no hotter than a cami top.
I am a big fan of these sleeveless shirt things, like this – because I have broad shoulders and a long neck so they stop me from looking like a child’s bad drawing of a man-giraffe – but I understand they might not suit everyone.
Otherwise I mean something like this:
You will look marvellous in these, while wearing your cropped trousers and a pair of those mad earrings you bought in Ibiza in 2006.
8 1 black dress. I am a big fan of a very simple light black dress in the summer worn with tan accessories and gold jewellery. Of course, we have other dresses we buy and wear for fun because we live in the West and we are rich and idle.
But if I had to whittle my dress collection down to just one – it would be a lightweight black one. If you don’t own one, once you get one you will find yourself reaching for it pretty much every day.
Something like this:
My Comptoir des Cotonniers silk dress is one of the best things I own & worth every penny, in spite of dry-clean only hassle. This is their updated version –
This from Hush if you can do a tie-waist (I can’t):
Anyway have a poke about; the rules are that it needs to be something you can throw on gratefully, wear with comfortable underwear and is light as a feather. Be ware of anything to-the-floor as it’s never practical with buggy wheels, escalators and car doors.
9 SIMPLE jewellery. Do you have a massive clattery collection of mad impulse-buy jewellery that you bought because it seemed like a good idea at the time, but don’t own a pair of simple studs or gold hoops? Fix this.
My favourite gold hoops are from Astrid & Miyu or Dinny Hall . I wear a lot of gold necklaces from Tilly Sveaas.
10 Fake tan. The thing that makes summer remotely possible – for me at least. At the moment I am a slavering devotee of St Tropez Express tan, which I only have to leave on for HALF an hour and then wash off and lasts for ages. It’s also available ON OCADO HELLO??
But hear amazing things about things like Vita Liberata and Isle of Paradise, too – anyone tried it?
Sandra Jones says
I’d also add – and forgive the extreme practicality here – a few pairs of long leg pants like Jockey Skimmies. Lovely drapey dresses are great in the heat but probably 75% if women get some thigh chafe so just swallow your pride and get some long leg pants. They will change your life when it’s sweaty weather. TK Maxx often do some cheaper ones, Chaffree are great but expensive.
I was recommended Triple B Cream and it has revolutionised my summer wardrobe! I can now wear skirts and dresses and not flash loooong pants. It may be Australian. I get mine via Amazon.
Perfect timing – I’ve just had a baby and don’t know WTF to wear once I move on from PJs. My next challenge will be finding these shapes in natural fabrics but hey, I’ve got some time for that during night feeds.
Yes Esther, YES. In a world of yipping fashion harpies YOU are our soothing Pierce Brosnan (if you know what I mean). I will stop typing ‘crochet halter’ into my search bar with swivelling eyes and go get a denim shirt. Also I can report, having bought the wacky Zara culottes a few days ago, that they are
marvellous and cool and comfy and look less odd in the flesh. But size yourself generously, as often seems to be the case for Zara items for one’s lower half.
Lisa Mainwaring says
Also Becksondergaard slides are the stylish equivalent to Birks. Just purchased and loved and will wear in office. Vita Liberata is v good, got free with my Tatler subs and will buy. Easy to use and looks subtle 🙌
Thanks Lisa! xx
Love that website! Thanks x
God, yes! How refreshing. I am now going to shout at my wardrobe…
And relaaaaaax…! Thank god for you Esther – your capsule series really helped me last year (when I was just emerging from (final) baby tunnel) and I now find I have a very useful, but small, capsule collection to build on. So liberating! I think i’m going to add a black dress this year (need something to hide a bit of a tum). How do the H&M t shirts fit? I often find their stuff quite small? Thanks again – these posts are SO brilliant 😀😀💕💕
Louise I always find they are pretty true to size. That one I linked to also has a wider more relaxed fit, very forgiving around the old tum
Thanks so much. Hope you’ve had a beautiful sunny Sunday 😎
Ok I love this. And I love that I have some of this stuff already…just needed some help to put it together. Thanks. I’m still floating on the culottes…I’m short (5’ 3”), fairly petite, but I worry these will make me look shorter, no? I mean I know there are bigger things in life to worry about, but hey I’m a worrier. I’m gonna try them though, I’m going to dive into the culotte pool and try them. Thanks again. Xx
Esther thank you, just when I was about to panic and do something stupid you were the voice of reason. I know what to do now, feel much calmer!
Are those self tanners non stinky? I get so nauseous from self tanner smell!
Isle of Paradise claims not to smell
Brilliant, Ester! How refreshing to have such a practical and useful post. Wise words indeed. Please take up politics and apply the same logic.
Good stuff as usual.
I bought those Boden trousers you posted the other day and they are great. Also I love my Tilly Sveaas necklace – my husband bought me it as a present and there was a fault with the first one but their customer service could not have been better, they were very quick and nice to deal with and sent a perfect replacement so I recommend them too.
It’s very true about social media as inspiration – if I see someone with a Jenny Colgan book, however artfully placed near a quirky mug and a bunch of flowers, I don’t rush out and buy it because it’s not for me, and the nice photo doesn’t change that. It should be the same way with flamingo pants or whatever (apologies to Jenny Colgan and flamingo pants)
Shell tops/sleeveless shirts are great for toned arms. Used to love a cami top in my 20/30’s but even us small busted 40somethings can’t really get away with ‘no bra’ tops, though I’m still so drawn to them and French Connection have lovely ones…
You’ve inspired me to rethink earrings, have successfully repierced my ears and have Claire’s accessories three week sleeper studs while I eye up some rose gold hoops.
Totally agree re chambray/denim shirt from Gap. Bought one off the sale rail on Friday (actually bought three shirts from the sale rail) and with the extra discount off last marked price and the Gap Cash thingo they did last month, I paid £16 for the three of them (RRP £115). Happy days indeed!
Vita Liberata 10 Minute Tan is rubbish unless you are extremely fair. Then it might give you the palest of pale tints. I used it while on holiday and I’m sure I was whiter after than before 😡
LOL James Read is the same… very nice but VERY SUBTLE
Oh Esther, I live for these posts! Feeling so much less mental about dressing generally since your capsule series last year. I’ve got that Santana skirt too and can’t wait to wear. Think will get one of the Stories black dresses then I’m set. Also tempted by sleeveless blouses. And espadrilles. But then that’s definitely it.
ALL good things that you will wear happily in various different guises for years x
Love your posts, Esther!
Must recommend Arbonne Liquid Sunshine self tanner.
Bloody expensive (£36 FFS!!) but doesn’t smell. Works in two hours. It’s a revelation for my excema-prone skin. You really MUST exfoliate & moisturise first though. Well worth it. Nice subtle shade of light brown NO ORANGE IN SIGHT. Just arrived in Spain & look like I’ve been here 2 weeks! I’m white, medium complexion and tend to burn a bit by the way.
Jacky this is a fabulous recommendation thanks x
I have the Vita Liberata Luxury Tan ‘PHenomenal’ mousse and it’s non-streaky if you exfoliate first and then apply it with a mitt. I bought it on the promise that it doesn’t smell of fake tan, but it does. I have a bloodhound nose though so people with a normal nose might find it doesn’t smell. The shade is subtle – more ‘caught the sun’ than ‘two months in Ibiza’ – but if you want to go darker they recommend three applications, which I think would work because of the whole streak-free thing. One thing I will say is that it fades without mottling or patching, so thumbs up.
Sound advice on Instagram not being Real Life. If things give you the red mist or make you feel like an under-achiever who always looks shit in selfies, I say un-follow and go for a run.
Great article. Made perfect sense of a very worrying wardrobe season.
One question: I have both my children’s graduations to attend in July. Any advice for a dress (?) that won’t make me look like Mother of the Bride, and that could be worn on less ceremonious occasions? Thank you x
Gail have a look at Me + Em’s floral wrap dress. Their fabrics are exquisite and crease-free. If a v-neck is a no go, go for a long floral number with a high neck and sleeves, there are millions about. You can wear with a jacket if it’s chilly and floral dresses are going NO. WHERE.
Jane Foran 🎗 (@janeforan) says
I rather like the look of these for MOBs
I’ve got a keen sense of smell and heartily recommend Rimmel fake tan. It’s cheap as chips, no baked potato/smell foot smell. Get the dark (mousse version) and apply with a mitt. Try on the belly first if feeling nervous of the ‘dark’, but it’s a dream and lasts about five days or longer if you keep topping up.
Laura Nickoll says
So helpful, as always. Never know quite how to put what I’ve got together and fall back on the same stuff year after year, but you’re encouraging me to be brave! Will be acquiring black day dress sharpish and getting ruthless with my fallbacks. One thing that’s got me out of skinny jeans is jumpsuits. There’s a linen navy sleeveless one at uniqlo that looks good with a woven, wide belt (or, at least, I think it does!). Now need to find some decent tan sandals that’ll last the season…
Oh I wish I looked good in jumpsuits. I keep trying to make them suit me, but they just don’t. I look like an adult baby
I look absolutely horrendous in jumpsuits. you are not alone
Same here – and also I can’t make dungarees work. I look like Mork and Mindy’s child.
This is such a helpful post! Using it to guide my shopping over the next few weeks…however, I’d be curious to know if you’d make the same recommendations for women in sizes 16 and above? I’m starting to question if I should be dressing differently- the stores that sell the clothes I love don’t carry my size…
I think that’s the stores’ fault for being shortsighted/not very inclusive, not yours. I think the stuff Esther recommends is pretty basic and universally do-able, so it should theoretically work for everyone? I’m a size 16 and I find the recommendations useful, and you can always adapt eg. I am large of arm and prefer a 3/4 sleeve on a t shirt. X
Is anyone still after clog sandal type things for their capsule wardrobe? Kat just made a great list on does my bum look 40 and they look v summery x
An addition to this for those that work in offices and have to be vaguely smart is that Oasis have some brilliant V-neck shell tops in every colour under the sun for about £20 each in a nice crepey material. With some gold jewellery and some nice wide legged summer trousers they would be ace as work-wear for any day of the week. And the straps are nice and wide and not at all bra-showing.
Esther I love how you can just breezily post a link to the perfect summer dress after I have spent hours trawling the fucking internet for one. Hush dress ordered x
Alyson it’s my blessing as well as my curse
Very helpful, as ever Esther. I have always thought shell tops a no-no due to untoned arms, but maybe I should just bloody well tone them up. Should also add, I saw a lady in Waitrose yesterday who was wearing a chambray/denim DRESS with black espadrilles and gold hoops and she looked bloody brilliant – very capsule. I was wearing a stupid hat because I had to wear my glasses (instead of sunnies) and felt ridiculous. Today I am wearing a denim dress with Stan Smiths and I have taken off the hat (to her)
Yes Julia sometimes it takes seeing someone wearing a very simple outfit and yet looking terrific to make you understand its power… as for the arm toning: I make no judgment. I just meant that if you are looking at a spaghetti strap-type thing just REMEMBER that you will basically never wear it because of underwear issue
I have arms that need a lot more toning to stop me fretting about them, but I made the decision/realisation that they will look better with a tan and you can’t get that under sleeves! Have just bought my first sleeveless shirt in about 20 years. Also nb your imperfections always look worse to you than to anyone else. If anyone says anything rude, remember that you can tone your arms but they will be an ill-mannered pig forever ….
Loving the chafe free ideas..
Can I recommend @kateevansstyle as a sensible insta account, after yours Esther obviously.
Also – if I mix fake tan into my suncream will I tan when I apply suncream (which I’m good at remembering to do) as I NEVER get round to fake tanning?! Or will I burn/go orange?
Er….. hmmm.. no should be fine.
Having had a baby 9 months ago, everything in my wardrobe was too small, covered in baby sick or fucking maternity. So armed with this article, I marched myself down to oxford street and purchased green chinos, mad skirt, and 3 white tshirts, while muttering ‘Not capsule’ at every glittery flamingo top I passed. Culottes have been ordered. This has changed my life. Long live the capsule!!! Xx
you will not look back! xxx
A heads-up for anyone thinking of gettng the Santana skirt in pale pink- it is completely see-through and shows your pants, even if you are wearing skin-coloured ones.
LOL! Good thing it’s sold out…
Love this Esther thank you
I love the idea of breezily putting on those culottes and cropped trousers but short women don’t wear them well in my experience. Similar I think re a midi skirt
Any summer trouser suggestions for a shortie?
Would be very grateful
O Lisa this is so tricky… I with I had answers but I am not a stylist, I can only really think of things for someone my size – but Spikers are very resourceful… does anyone have any brilliant ideas for Lisa? xx
Lisa, I’m short 5’2″ I really like cigarette pants (are they still called that?), tapered trousers that graze your ankles. Loads in H&M and M&S at the moment
Could you go a bit shorter? I saw a petite woman the other day who had culottes/long flowy shorts that ended around her knee. She looked so great I’m creepily posting about her online.
Kate Roxburgh says
I was looking at IG and wondering if I ‘needed’ a straw circular bag, read your post and it had the great effect of you giving me a good talking to. I have a straw shoulder bag with faux leather handles that I bought from M and S last year that I used every day last summer Also a straw basket that looks as if I nicked it from L’Occitane but I actually found in a French market for 6 euros. So instead, I feel very smug as I bought the second black Other Stories dress (as the first one was sold out in my size) and it’s come today and it’s great. As you say, it will be a classic for years to come..
Love the great advice and I’ve been busily acting on it very happily but OMG I have just taken delivery of the Zara navy culottes and they are the oddest pair of trousers I’ve ever bought so I’d advise caution and definitely try them on in the shop. I’m 5ft 5, size 12-14. This usually equates to a large in Zara trousers so that’s what I ordered but they are massive all over. They nearly touch the ground and the elasticated waist is very old lady. If you are a leggy young thing or a handsome sailor they are probably perfect but sadly I’m neither so they are on their way back. I think I’m probably just rubbish at buying online so I’ll be sourcing the rest of your excellent ideas on the high street.
Jude I’m sorry to hear that… clothes are so VERY hit and miss, especially when you are buying online. I’m pretty good at it and even I sometimes end up buying things and they arrive and I’m like WTAF…. xxx
No worries at all. Maybe I should buy more online then I’d get better at it!
I have just been to John Lewis to try on that black Hush dress with the cutout hem, as I love it on the model, but sadly not for me. One of those ones that you can’t even work out what the problem is, it just doesn’t quite work. So still on the simple black dress hunt.
Tanya, this is simply the way alas
I have just ordered this black dress from Warehouse & am hoping it’s nice:
I don’t know why I looked at Warehouse, as I’m never normally drawn to them. But they seem to have nice things.
Gold hoop earrings – if anyone prefers a more oval shape rather than round, I just got some from Next and I love them. They’re kind of a Creole-type so fairly thick. I like that they have a pleasingly sturdy catch which means they don’t fall out, and they don’t irritate my ears. Also they are a marvellous bargain at £7. Can’t find them online but they will be in store.
I ordered this dress the other day too, really hope it is a good one! Warehouse isn’t somewhere I usually shop either.
I bought some black culottes too, and the Santana skirt. I feel like I can stop agonising over what I’m going to wear all summer now. I have two small children and none of my old clothes fit so all this capsule wisdom has been a godsend. Esther, you’re the best!
Sam that’s great! Sounds like you’re sorted. Don’t forget your white t-shirts xxx
Thanks Esther, you are certainly the voice of reason. Just received the first Stories dress and it’s perfect – it looks as though they may have restocked some of the sizes too if anyone is after one. Bought the navy Boden trousers last week and they’re spot on too. Now waiting for pay day for some some gold Dinny Halls…
Oh Suzanne this is great news! Thanks for reporting back x
I can report that the stripey &otherstories culottes run small and the white blouse/shirt thing from
Asos is pattern on your bra see through! Also Gap is doing some excellent white tshirts at the moment at 40% off.
Lady Lu says
Esther, may I ask what the sizing’s like on the Rouje skirt? I took the plunge and ordered a dress and jumpsuit in my usual size. The dress drowned me and the jumpsuit nearly cut me in two. So annoying having to send back to France! How is the fit on the skirt as it’s calling to me?
Mine is a 36 and it is pretty true to size. But yes sometimes with these smaller brands the sizing can be all over the place… not to mention the persistent and different body shapes you get from country to country. My advice would be to get the skirt in a few different sizes (it’s worth it, it’s really good) and then send back the ones that don’t fit. I know, such a hassle, but they do process returns reasonably efficiently and sometimes having something original takes a bit of effort xxx
Lady Lu says
Thanks for the fast response. I need to get into the mindset of ordering loads then sending back what doesn’t stick rather than trying to dip my toe in! xx
it’s tricky to get your head round … but I basically order anything online expecting to send ALL of it back. and I never, ever keep anything I don’t really love
Yes I’m a fairly solid size ten in most places but always order a size up and down and send back if it’s somewhere I don’t know. But I’m on banter terms with the Hermes guy and the lovely lady at the post office so consider it worth the hassle. It is annoying but less so than ending up with nothing.
Anyway came on to say the Hush Santana skirt is really lovely (I got the orange colour and in my usual size) , is not see-through, and even led my husband to say “I hope you’re keeping that” (which did make me double check the see-through thing)
The H & M t shirts are really nice, but a little sheer in the paler colours if that bothers you. They were down to about 6 quid when I got them though so worth a punt.
If anyone is still after a black dress for summer, my Hush Ivy dress arrived yesterday and it’s a dream. It’s just a t-shirt dress but more luxey-feeling. High neck and knee length means no fear of boobs or bum making an unwelcome appearance in public while bending over to deal with toddler.
Also got the navy pinstripe Bryce culottes and black Monaco trousers, plus Gap chambray shirt (it’s truly excellent if anyone is wavering) and Panama hat. Genuinely worried that there will not be enough days in which to wear all these lovely new things.
Trish Woodruff says
I just thought you ought to know that I bought the Soludos from Shopbop, and it was not fine – I had to pay £27 C.O.D. only to find they didn’t fit, and now another £40 to send them back! I won’t be ordering from them again.
Oh Trish I’m really sorry to hear that. Were you warned that you would have to pay £27 COD?
No, I assumed postage was included when I ordered- only realised when they left a ‘we tried to deliver’ card while I was out, which said payment was due, cash only. You live and learn!
Trish this is awful, I’m so sorry. I have only ever ordered earrings and didn’t have any such tomfoolery. But thank you at least for the warning! I will add it to the ShopBop mention so that people are forewarned, I’m very sad you had to take the hit.
Trish Woodruff says
Thanks Esther, not your fault but would be good to warn others!
I have plastered a big warning all over the post x
Espadrilles wedges with a similar vibe (but not exactly cheap)
Nora mostly good things aren’t cheap. but sometimes expensive things are shite – it’s a minefield