Back to Basics: What Every Wardrobe Needs, Part 1.

There are some things that are like putting high octane fuel in your Mojo’s tank: a good laugh, an afternoon with a great book, a room of one’s own (apparently), something lovely in cashmere….

Well, naturally this post errs towards the knitted. But in this Old Mutton’s opinion, a happy wardrobe, if not a prerequisite of a happy life, certainly helps you feel better on the journey through it. There are some things every wardrobe needs to keep spirits high: some essential, some frivolous. This post, Part 1 of 2, is all about the extremes, from silliness to sensible – both necessary poles of a cheering wardrobe. And since the sales are in full flow, most of the below are sale buys, to fill any gaps you may have, conscience-free.


Tracey Neuls, Buffy Black faux fur sandal, £250 on sale

Dull clothes have their place. My boring-as–hell bargain Zara ankle boots are probably my most-worn shoes this year, second only to my Blundstones, but neither are going to win me many Instagram likes. But frivolous shoes, in moderation, are good for the soul.

I firmly believe every woman needs a pair of mad, bonkers, “Will you look at those!” shoes: a pair to lift every outfit and make you feel like you’re six years of age and wearing your first party dress. They don’t have to be precipice high or particularly pricy. They just have to be quirky. sexy and slightly impractical.

Here are a few pairs which will fit the bill and give you a bit of inspiration, whatever your personal level of va-va-voom. And there are plenty of them in the sales, right this minute.

Rupert Sanderson, £187 (on sale)

Some good, debobbled knitted basics.

Whatever your favourite basic colour – and we all tend towards one of either black, navy, scarlet, fuchsia, beige, sky-blue pink – a couple of good basic merino ( or cashmere if you’re lucky) basics will make your separates look put together. V necks are great for those with pretty necks and a proper bosom. Crew necks for the boyish build. Turtle or polo necks for anyone who feels the cold.

I often head to the John Smedley Outlet store (which is great value but a little hit and miss for colours) or Uniqlo. It’s worth looking at the mens versions in smaller sizes, if you’re not that fussy about a feminine fit, nor having much in the way of décolletage to display, like me. (Believe me, if I did, I’d be Tits McGee!)

If you haven’t discovered it already, then good quality high street cashmere if your budget stretches that way, is also one of Uniqlo’s specialities. Gap, too, a store whose falling off I bitterly regret, still do a nice bit of cashmere, but their colour palette can be a bit surprising.

Unlike merino wool, which is quite low maintenance, cashmere, if the moths haven’t got to it first, is like taking care of an exotic pet. I wash mine in the machine on a cold wool wash, with a dash of cider vinegar in the rinse which makes it super fluffy. (Warning: don’t try this with pets, exotic or otherwise).

It also needs a shave from time to time: annoying, but worth the effort. (I don’t know what ‘bobbles’ are in French but I know they’re not chic.) I use a basic £7.99 jobby from John Lewis. It works fine but tends to fall apart mid-debobble. I am waiting for it to go to debobbler heaven so I can justify replacing it with this Scandi beauty from The Steamery.

The Steamery, Pilo fabric shaver, £40

Really nice, comfy pants

I firmly believe that feeling on top form starts from the skin up, with a slick of body lotion, a spritz of perfume and some nice underwear. It really is a sign of a worryingly low mood for me, if my pants and bra don’t match.

But, however nice it looks, I cannot be doing with uncomfortable underwear, especially knickers. That’s the quickest way to ruin a day.

My own taste runs to sleek little boy shorts rather than your full La Perla numbers. But importantly, and I hope I’m not oversharing, I like a certain comforting girth around the groin. That means thongs and high street fashion pants, with gussets the width of a nail file are no longer for me.

Instead, I can recommend the Uniqlo seamless underwear range – it’s utilitarian, invisible and good value. I also like the underwear from Scandi brand Lindex, sustainable and good value (don’t be put off by cheap-looking website), especially their more premium ranges.

But if I was feeling like treating myself I would head to Hanro. They do simple, lovely underwear in delicious fabrics. Or Maison LeJaby for something very French and special.

A scarf in a colour that really suits you.

Scarves and me have not always been on speakers. The world divides into two: those who can whisk a scarf around their neck in a couple of elegant twists, or the rest of us. I wear my scarves like I have permanent tonsillitis.

But I find myself increasingly reaching for a scarf. Like everyone I wear scarves with coats in Winter, but I’m new to the transformative effect of a casually slung, simple scarf in a great colour that suits you. It turns out, it totally illuminates your face; makes a dull outfit look fabulous and providing you wear it with panache, it doesn’t matter if it’s as meticulously folded as an Origami swan or like a used tissue.

Now I work at home, I wear them all day long (our house makes Wuthering Heights seem cosy since Mr Mutton had a smart meter fitted). It’s a cheat’s way to looking like you’ve made an effort.

J Crew Vintage Floral wool scarf, £45.99

My best scarves are lightweight wool or cotton bought from either J Crew, Boden or the V&A shop. I love silk scarves, especially from Karen Mabon – hers are such works of art that I feel bad winding them into a wrinkled bandage.

Karen Mabon ‘Midnight Feast’ silk scarf, £110

Everything depends on finding the right colour and print – something that’s cheering, makes your complexion glow and your eyes pop. For my colouring that tends to be teal, red, certain shades of pink, French navy…. and not black, beige or pastels which reveal that inner mousiness and mud puddle colouring I spend so much money trying to disguise. Believe me, there is one out there that will do that just for you.

Boden wool scarf, several colour ways, £33
V&A Kasmir Loom indigo merino scarf, £35

2 Responses to “Back to Basics: What Every Wardrobe Needs, Part 1.”

  1. Amanda Craig

    Love this, the fox scarf especially, though it still remains in the realms of fantasy for me after 30 years of working from home in boring-as-hell clothes.

    • Deborah Mills

      Karen Mabon’s designs are so wonderful. I admit, I don’t have one of her scarves either, but a gal can dream!


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