Basic Instinct: Where to buy good wardrobe basics

— by Alyson Walsh

Photos: Claire Pepper


Basic isn’t boring, it’s brilliant. What’s not to like about timeless clothes you can wear on repeat? I’ve always loved the simple, elegant style of American Vogue contributing editor Tonne Goodman: trademark white jeans, a simple sweater, classic reefer jacket and penny loafers. And the androgynous outfits worn by Studio Nicholson designer, Nick Wakeman. This is no nonsense dressing. There’s no energy wasted thinking about what to wear. Once on job, done. If our younger years are all about trial, error and identity-finding; midlife and beyond is about simplicity, streamlining and refining. There’s no time for faffing around.

As I’ve been living in my ‘Not-So-Basic-Basics’ over the last year, I’m looking to refresh a few of my tired Breton tops. There’s a pair of black jeans I’ve practically been wearing since January, now in urgent need of need repair – though I’m hoping it’ll soon be time to switch over to faded blue denim and an easy-breezy, oversized shirt. These everyday essentials are what I like to call Wardrobe Glue, they form the foundation of every good outfit. The common denominators are versatility, comfort and ease. Style-up wardrobe essentials with an eye-catching silk scarf and a zingy suede bag, or keep it minimal with pared-down jewellery and complementary accessories; either way, you’ll never look basic. Understated can never be overrated.


NRBY Evie Shirt and Mimi Berry bag (loaned for the shoot and returned)



Just about every fashion brand offers its own version of ‘basics’, here are a few of my favourites:


Community Clothing

Yes, I know I bang on and on about Community Clothing but it’s a brilliant initiative and a superb place to shop for good quality, affordable basics. And now a small range of menswear is available at John Lewis (though the sweatshirts, jeans and chore jackets are all gender neutral). Every purchase goes towards supporting UK clothing manufacture and helping to restore pride, trade and jobs in textile-making regions, including the north west, which obviously I am in favour of.

Good for: Raincoats, Breton tops, chinos, cotton shirts and socks with a unisex aesthetic. My picks are the straight cut selvedge jeans (£69), made in Blackburn, and the lambswool jumpers which are manufactured in Hawick (£59.) I borrowed the lovely denim work trousers (£59) for a shoot recently, own several pairs of socks and readers have told me that the olive jumpsuit (£89) is a good ‘un.



Given that we’re all staying local now, a collection of clothes for wearing close to the home could not feel more apt. Echoing the Japanese idea of ‘ one-mile wear,’ NRBY creates easy, everyday style for home and nearby.  Launched in 2019 by Jo Hooper and  Cornelia Smith (two women in their 50s), the ethos behind the clothing line does feel quite prescient, today. But it was the changing lives of women – the way we work, from home, part-time, a combination of both – rather than the remote threat of a pandemic that inspired the idea.

Good for: Pull-on-and-go (but not too far) dungarees and easy dresses in linen and jersey, lovely linen shirts and tunics – the jersey Evie shirt is one of my everyday favourites


LF Markey

London label, LF Markey specialises in ‘beautiful clothes for practical women’. I had a meeting with a designer the other day about a project I’m working on (more information coming soon!) and she had on a pair of French blue, slouchy, workwear pants from LF Markey and a simple navy sweater. Cool as you like.

Good for: boiler suits and dungarees, chore jackets and easy, oversized dresses.



A little bit of Toast has gradually crept into my wardrobe over the last few years – and that’s not just because they have very kindly gifted me a couple of items (including the green denim jacket , above). I heard an unconfirmed rumour that the womenswear designer is ex-Margaret Howell and the utilitarian vibe and easy silhouettes reflect this. There is a focus on creating clothes to last, and Toast stand by their collections, even through wear and tear, by offering mending workshops and repair services. Other retailers, take note.

Good for: Baggy trousers, shirt dresses, workwear-inspired jackets and cotton shirts, all made in natural fabrics. Prices are slightly more premium – think £135 for trousers, but this can often be justified if you consider cost per wear (and repair). I like the cotton twill side button trousers (£145), the Francis long-sleeved tee (£55) and the stripe wool cashmere sweater (£195). They also sell lovely footwear from eco-labels Veja, Novesta and Good News.



Daniel Craig famously wore a Sunspel polo shirt in Casino Royale – and on a less glamorous note, I own a couple of everyday sweatshirts (one navy, one olive – see first pictured). For luxurious, pared-down basics, Sunspel is a bit like a high-end Community Clothing. Using natural, organic materials, clothes are made in the Long Eaton factory, though the 160-year-old company does ‘work with other, small family-owned  factories in the UK and worldwide’.

Good for: Classic loop back sweatshirts and tapered trousers in corduroy and French cotton drill.


Organic Basics

Here you’ll find simple t-shirts, sweatshirts and underwear. This American brand specialises in planet-friendly wardrobe essentials, using organic fibres and leftover fabrics. I’ve recently invested in some new knickers (put the flags out), which are good quality, incredibly soft cotton and comfy. Further report on pants coming soon but these are highly recommended.

Good for: Underwear and jersey pieces in soft, neutral colours. I have my eye on the sustainable circular denim jeans (£110) and the pale blue oxford shirt (£97).



It’s always worth checking the clothing section at Muji, particularly now the shops are open as there’s only a small offer online. On a recent excursion, I went in store for new socks and found some lovely lightweight linen shirts and tunics and simple straight-leg trousers; all in muted, neutral tones. The quality is very good for the low price and natural fabrics are front and centre.

Good for: Linen shirts, tops and tees, socks and knickers. The striped organic cotton t-shirt (£9.95) is an excellent layering piece. I also like the organic cotton denim shirt (£24.95) and the easy-to-wear organic linen tops (short and long-sleeved).



Also worth a mention: Seasalt for stripey tops (Seasalt is now available from M&S and John Lewis), Arket for relaxed poplin shirts, COS for shirt dresses and Baukjen for organic sweatshirts, utility jackets and joggers.


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Where do you buy your wardrobe basics?






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