How To Build A 5 Piece Wardrobe

By Bruna Volpi
8th Jun 2015

So here's the thing: planning that perfect, well-curated, cohesive and hard-working wardrobe that ensures you always look your best while always looking like yourself takes all too much time, and is not that easy at all.

That holy grail of wardrobes is designed to become a signature and a uniform, to eliminate time lost choosing what to wear, as well as forever eradicating your worst sweatpants, Ugg boots, bird's nest hair, big sunglasses and oversized pumpkin latte kind of days.

Best of all, said wardrobe is meant to last the test of time and curb your spending appetite, while also removing all impulse to buy that highly impractical sheer lavender feathered maxi skirt come sale time. Too much to ask from a meagre little wardrobe that, even when overflowing, only seems to spew back in mockery the fact that even after buying all that, you indeed have nothing to wear?

Here's the catch: you're meant to achieve all of the above while only buying 5 pieces per season—and by season I mean Summer and Winter, so don't get all excited thinking about Pre-Fall, Resort, Autumn and Spring. In fact, if you are really good at it, some say you can do the trick with only 5 pieces a year, only to me that seems as probable as spotting a baby unicorn shooting glitter rainbows from its ass because, you know, I have a problem, so baby steps.

Supposedly, many major editors, bloggers and fashion icons do it too, the 5 piece thing—although some do get their sneaky fix by the way of sponsored freebies along the way, but that shouldn't mean us common mortals can't have a go at it.

Much is said about the whole 5 piece thing starting in France, where all good style things are meant to have started once upon a time. The truth is that the 5 piece wardrobe, much like good style, is universal—so even if you don't look all that francophile, there's no excuse not to get cracking.

The rules are simple: for it to work, you must own a good quality base wardrobe—what's considered the base will change depending on your personal style—to which you are only allowed to add 5 pieces every 6 months. Underwear and socks don't count, which is great because you wouldn't want to run out of that after spending all of your allowance on the first 2 weeks of the trial, and then having to resort to going commando for the remaining 5 months and a half.

The replacing of basics in theory don't count either, so if your favourite jeans rip right across the butt, you are more than welcome to take a #belfie like the rest of the Instagram community before you go ahead, by a new pair and cover that stuff up.

That being said, no reason why you shouldn't be more aggressive with the rules and scratch the safe basics one out—you can always get creative, patch the damn jeans and pretend the whole accident was on purpose because you're cool like that.

Base-wise, a good place to start should include a few basic tees, a warm chunky knit or two, slim tailored pants, a good dress, a white shirt, a black blazer, a flat shoe option and a wear-anywhere heel. If you're not trying the jeans diet, you should also add a great pair of mid-rise, straight-legged war horses in black or vintage blue because you know, why not.

Your base should be made of those kind of simple items you can't live without—I would add sneakers and a few layering pieces, you could add a chambray shirt, a heirloom silk blouse or a trench, then replace a flat boot for sandals when the season changes. The point is that the base should be kept classic and neutral colour-wise, so that season after season all you need are five pieces to refresh and update your existing wardrobe. Those 5 pieces are the time to go all out—weirdly fabulous flares, ceramic buttons, double-face cashmere, kaleidoscopic prints, exotic leathers—anything goes as long as something about it (the shape, the cut, the feel of it) is classic enough that it won't date so fast.

Accessories such as sunglasses, jewellery, watches and bags are a moral grey area as some like to include them as base, and some like to exclude them altogether—I say a good rule of thumb is that if it costs more than a house, then it should probably count.

In the end, the 5 piece wardrobe is meant to make you think carefully about your purchases, to plan ahead and to limit credit card heartbreak, no more bad outfit days or pieces hanging out sad at the back, tags still attached. So if you make it, congrats. If you don't, and now stand horrified at your lack of control in the light of the 7th purchase of the season staring right back at you through its tissue-papered glory, call our support team—we promise we won't judge. In the meantime, here are the top picks that made our 5-piece hit list:

1. Outerwear

If you're committing to the 5 piece thing, a good place to start planning one of your five purchases of the season is outerwear. A coat, blazer or jacket can easily transform a look, and are likely to stay in your wardrobe for a very long time—after all, once you spoon and cuddle you're partners for life. I may be biased as, at the moment I'm writing this my ass is freezing down in Sydney due to lack of coat so, you know, good thing to have because Winter is coming.

Just take your pick—bonus points for a mid length style that just goes with everything (and has the capability to hide not so glorious outfit days), snuggle-ready cashmere hoodies, the most perfect of leather perfectoes or a sharply tailored tux that, left open over a lowly unbuttoned shirt, is like sex in jacket form.

1. Ellery Sabel Starr Mid Length Coat

2. Schott X The Line Leather Jacket at The Line

3. Pallas Alcyone Shadow Jacket at The Line

4. Double Face Wool Hooded Coat, Bassike

2. The Bag

So here's where we blow our budget. But hey, at least a bag has the potential of carrying your whole life in it. It lasts a very long while. It also has the very real potential of carrying off your entire outfit with ease to that special happy place where hearts go to melt and girlfriends oooooooooh and aaaaaaaaah with sighs of admiration and sheer envy. And, you know, they only get better with time.

Bags are a no-brainer in that sense, really: not only do they complete an outfit, but the right bag in the right context can make even your supermarket sweatpants look real fancy. Jeans and a t-shirt? Ok, nice, boring. Jeans, a t-shirt and that bag? Magical.

This season, and if you're ready to fork out the big bucks, Chloé, J.W. Anderson Gucci and Céline are making the sort of things that bag lady's dreams are made of. If not, you can count on Mansur Gavriel and Want Les Essentiels de La Vie to deliver your more reasonably-priced, high quality fix. Otherwise, there's always Zara, because Inditex always doshes out the goods.

So next time your partner is asking you to justify that terrifying price tag, you can safely ascertain that you really, really, reeeeally need it.  Or, you know, just round it down a lot and hide the receipt.

5. Mansur Gavriel Bucket Bag, at My Chameleon

6. Gucci Interlocking Polished Leather Shoulder Bag, at Gucci Stores

7. Saint Laurent Small Fringe Bucket Bag, at Miss Louise

8. Chloe Faye Bag, at Parlour X

9. Chloe Drew Bag, at Maryon's

3. The Top

One epic, differently detailed top is all you need to change up your look from meh to fancy. An impractical open back white shirt or denim halter neck would pair well with all of your hard-earned basics, and lend themselves well to late night chilling with friends, cheese and too much wine—minus the danger of spillage over white shirt.

And if flares are to floor what mop is to vomit, why not invest in a gold turtleneck with gently flared sleeves, or a navy stripe tunic with supremely elongated cuffs? Your hand-hems will probably be forever stained, you'll probably have to refuse all dinner dates involving share plates to avoid any dipped sleeves scenarios but hey, at least you'll look like an existential French poet. Which by the way is the look you should be going for this season. If all else fails, you should so go for that cropped silk tee: wear it on its own, over your base dress for a two-tier cake effect, or to add newness to your plain white shirt—minimum cost per wear guaranteed.

10. Ellery Mojo Turtleneck Long Sleeve Top 

11. Ellery Hermione Raglan Tee

12. Equipment Sleeveless Slim Signature Shirt in Supreme Plaid at Grace

13. Georgia Alice Marooned Off-Shoulder Tee, at Green With Envy

4. Pants

Here is where we start to have fun: the humble pant, which seemed to have been relegated to its purely functional form in past seasons, has now come fully out of the closet. It's as if designers have all recently come to the conclusion that our bottom halves were FOMO'ing on all the fun our top halves were having, so then everything just went kind of mental. We appreciate it.

Wallets permitting, we would like to add to our list a pair of Ellery's faithful flares, Christopher Esber's skirt-meets-pant conundrum, Bassike's glorious asymmetric leather culottes, or pinstripe pants so large they could hide an army or two. They may all be a bit out there, but paired with those simpler staples in your base wardrobe is how they truly shine.

14. Christopher Esber Draped Skirt Trouser, at My Chameleon 

15. Ellery Faithfull Flares

16. Proenza Schouler Cropped Wide Leg Pant, at Green With Envy

17. Ines & Marchel Leather Leggings in Tan at Grace

5.  The Accessories

To finish and polish off an outfit, nothing does the trick quite like the right accessory. Right now, we’re coveting a fair few shades of the Acne Studios Jensen boot in smooth leather or suede (sharp enough to poke out an eyeball or two), angular frames by Ellery et Graz with instant million dollar factor (and big enough to cover hangovers or, less glamorously, late nights at the office), and the kind of sizeable chunky knit maxi scarf that could even make a crop top look right in the middle of a cold snap.

And while blanket scarves usually don’t come cheap, you can take solace in the fact that, if push came to shove, you wouldn’t have to do a Han Solo and cut up a wild animal to find warm shelter in a dark Winter’s night. In fact, you could actually live inside a cocoon made of the damn thing—trust me, I’ve tried it, crazy bag lady-style.

On the bling front, we recommend a men’s watch and a pair of gold earrings with just the right amount of panache—classic shapes reinvented in styles that will stand the test of time. And that my friends concludes our 5 piece wardrobe exploration.

18. Ellery et Graz Cremaster Angular Frames with Gold Arm

19. Acne Studios Jensen Boots in Beige Suede

20. Larsson & Jennings CM Watch at Incu

21. Natasha Schweitzer Alex Earrings in 14ct Gold Plated Sterling Silver

Try it, test it, tell us how it goes. Show me yours if I show you mine?

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