how to build a modest and stylish wardrobe - downtown demure

How to Build a Stylish Modest Wardrobe on a Budget

how to build a modest and stylish wardrobe - downtown demure

My friends often ask me, “Liz! Where do you get your clothes? How did you get your style? How can I develop my wardrobe and personal style on a budget?” Well, I plan to answer those questions by first showing you what types of clothing you need in order to build a stylishly modest closet. {For specific tips on how to develop your personal style check out THIS post.}

This post is all about the basics: the pieces every woman needs to build a modest wardrobe that is cute, versatile and not too expensive. All of the items in the post are timeless staples that can be worn with just about anything. Invest in these pieces alone, and you’ll have at least 15 different outfit options. The good news: Most of these items are reasonably priced (in fact, all items listed below, unless otherwise noted, cost less than $50). The great news: You likely already have many of these pieces in your closet!

Tops & Coats & Dresses

  • Plain White, Grey or Black Tee

Trust me when I say this shirt will be the most versatile item in your wardrobe. Buy a well-made tee (like this $15 tee from J.Crew) and you have a shirt that can last many years. You can also purchase cheaper tees from H&M or Zara, but they tend to have some kind of polyester that will degrade over time when thrown in the dryer. Tees are no longer simply casual pieces you wear on lazy Saturdays with jeans; you can dress them up by pairing them with pencil skirts or tailored trousers.

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  • White Button Down/Oxford

  • Striped Top

In my humble opinion, stripes are flattering on everyone and they can be worn with anything (skirts, pants, even dresses). I tend to prefer Breton stripes with high-quality material because I want my tops to last forever (think: long-term investment), but here are several god options:

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  • Pullover Sweater or Cardigan

These are perfect transitional pieces for the weird weather between seasons. I wear my navy blue pullover year round with floral skirts, jeans, and even colorful silk pants. Again, the possibilities are endless if you invest in a neutral-colored sweater without prints, collars or embellishments.

  • Lady-like Coat

In the cover picture, I chose a gorgeous wine-colored coat, but you should stick to black and tan coat for a truly timeless coat you can wear for years. This is one of the few items I think you should splurge on, particularly if you live in an area with inclement weather in the winter (again, think: long-term investment). Some of the coats below cost between $100-$200.

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  • Shift Dress

This 60s style is my favorite dress silhouette. A Shift dress (not to be confused with body-hugging sheath dresses!) has a boxy shape that’s still very feminine. I’m impartial to anything leopard or animal print, but you should invest in a solid-color shift that can be worn to work and various functions. Just be careful to buy a shift dress that’s at least mid-knee length. (Note: Apologies to my tall readers, as it will be difficult for you to find a dress that hits knee level.)

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  • Little Black Dress (LBD)

Most women know the importance of an LBD by now. The only advice I can add is to look for LBDs with updated details like feminine pleats or leather trim.

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Skirts & Jeans

  • Pleated Skirt

Pleated skirts are my go-to skirt silhouettes (in case you couldn’t tell from this photo shoot or this photo shoot). They are so feminine and effortlessly chic. When I’m rushing to get to church on Sunday mornings, I often default to my pleated skirts because they are so easy to wear.

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  • Black Pencil Skirt

For any working woman, a simple black pencial skirt is an absolute must have no ifs, ands, or buts. Here are some of my affordable picks:

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  • Relaxed Skinny Jeans

I know I already covered skinny jeans in this post, but I’ve found the perfect solution to skinny jean dilemma for modest fashionistas: THESE relaxed skinny jeans from Zara. Seriously, these are the best skinny jeans that are slightly loose-fitting yet still flattering.

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Lingerie & Accessories

  • Black Camisoles and Slips

EVERY should have at least a handful of these items. The key to making most clothing truly modest is layering. Fortunately most black camisoles and slips (full body and half) are super cheap (Forever 21 sells camis for $1.80 a pop).

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  • Black Flats

These are worth investing in because, trust me, you will wear them almost every day. I haven’t worn an outfit yet that I couldn’t pair with black flats. I typically get my flats from Zara during the twice-annual sales, but here are some good options:

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  • Black Pointy Pumps

If there is one shoe style I wear more than black flats, it’s black pumps. Black pumps go. with. everything. For that reason, I think it’s worth investing in black pumps that are made from quality leather, but you can buy them for less than $50.
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  • Leopard Print Flats or Heels

These may seem like odd items to include in a list about basics, but this particular animal print is practically a neutral. Don’t believe me? Check out the photos from your favorite fashion blogger and you’re guaranteed. You just have get past the, umm, animal printed-ness to recognize the great versatility of these feline-inspired shoes.

  • Elegant Statement Necklace

When I say statement necklace, I don’t mean a necklace with so many stones, embellishments and hardware that it’s nearly blinding. I’m talking about an elegant necklace that has noticeable structure with subtly charming details. These are tricky to find. I typically get my necklaces from J.Crew when they have their 40-50% off discounted merchandise sales (there’s one happening right now on!) or (a fashion jewelry website with very affordable pieces priced between $30-$50). If you’re not interested in the hunt, I’ve got you covered:

  • Black Belt

This accessory will literally tie together most of your outfits. I’ve worn my black belts with maxi dresses, pencil skirts, jeans (you can check out my Instagram for ideas).  A nice black belt will add extra polish to an outfit that might otherwise be blah. My favorite places to get black belts: Ann Taylor ($20-30 if you buy during a sale) and Madewell ($30 if you buy during a sale). Other options: Thred Up or you check out these picks:

  • Black Handbag

This is another item that’s worth the splurge. My advice is simple: buy real leather if you want a bag that will last. Brands like Coach, Michael Kors and Kate Spade have plenty of options in the $100 range if you buy them during a promo event (sign up for email lists to be notified of huge sales). You can also check out Poshmark or THredUp for lightly used purses made from quality leather. If you must purchase a non-leather bag, I recommend Zara’s bags, as they typically last for at least a year with heavy usage.

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This list may seem overwhelming (17 items!? How can I get all of these pieces without spending my entire annual shopping budget?!). Here’s a tip: Be patient and buy one or two pieces at time. And next time you go shopping at a seasonal sale, keep these lovely basics in mind before purchasing that eye-catching, trendy piece.

Now that we have the basics covered, next week I’ll discuss how to develop your sense of personal style with these items and more!

If you think I left out an item that should be on the list, let me know in the comments below! 


The is post was featured in the Modest Monday Linkup via:


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The Comments

  • Avatar

    All of these are great items! The good thing about these items is that most of them aren’t going to go out of style anytime soon. For a while now I have been learning how to have a remixable wardrobe. I try to buy pieces that are versatile. For instance, can be dressed up or dressed down, or can be worn in winter or in spring. I also get all my clothes seriously cheap just shopping sales. Another item that would’ve been good would be a maxi skirt, because they can usually be dressed up or down, depending on the print and all. Also, chambray shirts are the best! They can be worn so many different ways! However, they will probably go out of style sooner or later 🙁

    • Elizabeth
      > Elizabeth

      Oh, both of those are good suggestions! I completely forgot about chambray shirts. Those are staples as well (I’ve had my chambray shirts for years). You honed in on the key to “remixable” wardrobe: versatility. Versatile clothes not only look good — they help you save many in the long term too. Thanks, Elizabeth!

  • Avatar

    I’m SO happy to read most of these items I already own! I can’t wait to read next week on how you style all of these :] So glad to have connected with you via Peony Project, xo

    • Elizabeth
      > Stacey

      I’m glad we can connect as well! Basics are wardrobe lifesavers. Can’t wait to share tips on how to wear them next week. 🙂

  • Avatar

    I loved these basics! I’m cardigan obsessed but there are many of these I don’t have! Thanks for sharing!

    • Elizabeth
      > Brandy

      Thanks for reading, Brandy! Glad you liked the post. 🙂

  • Avatar
    lanae bond

    Those are essentials that every women should have in their closet!

    • Elizabeth
      > lanae bond

      Agreed! By the way, your Polyvore work is fantastic. Consider me a fan. 🙂

      • Avatar
        lanae bond
        > Elizabeth

        Thanks for the lovely comment! Also congrats on being featured on Modest Fashion Weekly Blogroll!

  • Avatar
    Julia K

    Hey! This an awesome and very easy to understand article. I am still working on getting all the pieces and I am getting close. I have an unrelated question: what plug-in did you use to feature images in this post’s gallery? Have been trying to find one for my blog. So far still looking. Thank you!

    • Elizabeth
      > Julia K

      So happy to hear you enjoyed the post, Julia! Building a wardrobe takes time, so no need to rush. To crest the image gallery, I use the Shopstyle widget. Shopstyle is an affiliate marketing platform, and it’s free to join!

  • Avatar

    I like the helpful information you supply
    to your articles. I’ll bookmark your blog and check once more here frequently.
    I am rather sure I will be told many new stuff proper right here!
    Best of luck for the next!

  • Avatar
    Erin Rebar

    Thanks for giving me the link to this post! This is really helpful. 🙂 Also, I had no idea camis were so cheap on Forever 21! How did I not know this! Thanks for the head’s up.

    • Elizabeth
      > Erin Rebar

      It’s a life-changing discovery, right?! Haha. All jokes aside, those camis are so handy and really help to extend your wardrobe. So, so glad you found this post useful, my new blogging friend!

  • Avatar
    lynne pendergast

    I am not very concerned with fashion,in fact I am very feminist/anti-fashion in some ways and I doubt my wardrobe will end up looking like yours. But I love how pragmatic and sensible your perspective is, fashion for the real world. And you do have lovely taste.

    • Elizabeth
      > lynne pendergast

      Thank you so much for your sweet comment, Lynne 🙂