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12 Essential Items for Your Summer Capsule Wardrobe, Stylists Say

Make sure you have these at the front of your closet ahead of warmer weather.

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A summer wardrobe can produce mixed feelings, as many of us are ready for the warm weather but not always eager to see how last year's clothing fits post-winter. But treating yourself to a few new staples can help bolster or temper your excitement—especially if you invest in pieces that will work for your summer capsule wardrobe.

"A summer capsule wardrobe falls in a smaller section of your core capsule wardrobe, containing pieces that are versatile enough to style throughout the entire summer—and if you're seeking maximum longevity, from late spring to early fall as well," Hailey Rizzo, style expert and owner of the fashion and beauty blog Feeling Good as Hail, tells Best Life. "With any capsule wardrobe, longevity and versatility should be the goal."

As a bonus, Holly Chayes, personal style coach and consultant at WhoWearsWho, points out that a summer capsule wardrobe also makes it that much easier when planning a trip.

"My favorite reason to have a 'summer capsule wardrobe' is because it makes spontaneous weekend trips, longer travel, and general summer adventures that much easier to pack for!" Chayes shares. "If you're starting with a spring or year-round capsule wardrobe, swapping out some of the colder weather items for warm weather is a great place to start."

Not sure which specific pieces and accessories you should be looking for? Read on for stylists' 12 essential items.

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A light cardigan

women walking on the beach in casual attire
kate_sept2004 / iStock

With warmer days and cooler nights, summer is when layering really comes in handy—and the layer you'll reach for again and again is a cardigan.

"A light cardigan or jacket is easy to leave out of your summer capsule wardrobe, but is perfect for chilly evenings and indoor spaces that keep the AC on freezing," Chayes says.

Petite style coach Angela Foster also prefers a cardigan to a stiff jacket, as your cardie is easier to "shrug off."

"Think, the classic 80's sweater-over-shoulder knot," she suggests. "Plus, the preppy resurgence this season makes them super easy to find in every color imaginable."

Linen pants

closeup of the bottom of linen pants
Halfpoint / Shutterstock

Linen is king in the summer season. Not only is it breathable, but when you get a well-fitting pair in a neutral color, you'll realize how many outfits you can create with them.

"Linen pants are the perfect summer pants to dress up or down," Rizzo says. "Whether you're running to the grocery store or headed to dinner with friends, these pants will keep you cool, both literally and figuratively."

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A shirt dress

shirt dress for summer
Viktoriya Kraynyuk / iStock

According to certified image stylist Elizabeth Kosich, founder of Elizabeth Kosich Styling, a shirt dress is another summer piece you need in your closet.

"When it comes to versatility, shirt dresses are wardrobe heroes," she says. "Not only do they set the stage for a belt moment, but they can also be worn without to create a monochromatic column that lengthens and strengthens."

"Shirt dresses have excellent airflow too, and come in a variety of fabrics like cotton poplin, voile, chambray, and linen that deliver both comfort and casual sophistication," she adds.

A white tank top

woman wearing relaxed white tank top at the beach
Szepy / iStock

Rizzo says this is "one of the most versatile items you can have in your wardrobe."

"A white tank top is the perfect piece to wear solo or layered underneath another item," she shares. "It's the perfect mix of cool and casual while able to be dressed up with some dainty jewelry and statement accessories."

Better yet, grab a few tanks and tees "in all your staple wardrobe colors," Foster suggests. (This color range is actually another crucial aspect of your summer closet, ensuring everything works together.)

"Choose your summer color palette and do your very best to stick to it. This will ensure everything goes and make packing an absolute snap," Foster explains, using the examples of white, khaki, and navy with red accessories, or black and white with metallic accessories.

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An "occasion" outfit

older woman wearing summer dress
shurkin_son / Shutterstock

Foster recommends having a ready-to-wear option that you can pop on when you have one of those many summer events to attend. Not only will you feel comfortable and confident, but you won't feel pressured to shop for something new every time. If you find one in a simpler pattern or neutral color, it also makes it that much easier to combine with other capsule wardrobe pieces.

"Chances are you will be invited to at least one graduation or wedding," Foster points out. "Fortunately, summer events tend to be more casual than other seasons. So, a flirty dress that can be dressed up or down depending on accessories will take you through most occasions."

A linen shirt

woman texting wearing navy linen shirt
Laugesen Mateo / Shutterstock

Linen is also a must in shirt form, per Kosich and Rizzo.

"Billowy, airy, and cool, the classic linen shirt is the quintessential summer staple," Kosich notes. "It's endlessly versatile too, with infinite ways to style."

She continues, "Try a matched set with the shirt fully tucked, jean shorts with a half-tuck, or knotted in the front with a sloppy sleeve roll. And don't forget your linen shirt can double as a beach cover-up, too."

Black sandals

woman wearing black flat sandals
Nesolenaya Alexandra / Shutterstock

You also have to think about shoes that will work with different outfits, even if you're drawn to those bolder summer colors and styles.

"Black sandals are a capsule wardrobe must-have due to their adaptability in the summer," Rizzo says. "These slip-on crossover sandals look great with any outfit for any occasion and are the perfect option for when you can't decide which shoes to wear."


Espadrille Shoes

On that same note, you should have a more formal, dressy shoe option this summer—and Kosich says espadrilles are "a timeless and sophisticated summer shoe that are always on-trend."

"Try a basic flat style for every day, a low wedge for the office, a flatform for travel, and a stacked platform wedge for date night," she recommends.

Go for a pair in a neutral jute or canvas pattern. These fabrics make upkeep easy, too: If you have a beach party or barbecue and your kicks get a bit scuffed up, you can wipe away dirt easily, Kosich says.

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Comfortable shorts

older woman weraing shorts coming back from the beach
freemixer / iStock

One of the trickier things every summer is deciding what shorts you'll be sporting. But Chayes makes a perfect point in saying: "Life is too short to avoid shorts."

"Even if shorts don't become an everyday staple, include a pair of comfortable shorts in your summer capsule for days the temperature soars," she suggests.

Foster reassures shoppers that trends for summer 2024 are comparable to last season, but if you're in the market for a new pair, keep the hemline in mind. "The most flattering length is when the hem hits just underneath the widest part of your thigh," she says.

A wrap dress

linen wrap dress
Ekateryna Zubal / Shutterstock

In pretty much every season, you'll have a reason to reach for a wrap dress. But in the summer, when you really want to feel your best and accentuate your figure, it's all the more important. Plus, the style of this dress makes a statement on its own, minimizing the need to add additional pieces and accessories.

"Nothing screams 'effortless' more than a wrap dress. Linen, cotton, or Tencel are all breathable fabric options perfect for a wrap dress," Rizzo says, suggesting an option from Quince. "This wrap dress is not only stylish, but it comes in a bunch of subtle summer tones to add a touch of color to your summer capsule wardrobe."

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A statement necklace

summer necklaces on display
Alena_Kos / Shutterstock

When it comes to accessories for a summer capsule wardrobe, you'll want reliable, versatile jewelry.

"Summer is the season of spontaneity, which means our outfits must transform from function to fabulous on-demand. Fear not, jewelry to the rescue!" Kosich says. "A statement necklace can work miracles to elevate and polish even the most casual of outfits."

This necklace doesn't have to be saved for your wrap dresses and espadrilles, either, Kosich notes—it's a welcome addition to a classic tee and shorts.

"Just add a silver collar, sparkly choker, wood pendant, or chunky chain necklace to level up the look, then swap flip-flops for strappy sandals and, voilà! You're ready for sunset cocktails," she says.


mother and daughter wearing sunglasses and hats
FG Trade / iStock

Last but certainly not least, you need some classic eyewear for summertime. While your shades are easy enough to swap out, have a pair or two that you can rely on to take you from the beach to dinner if need be.

"What's the state of your sunglasses? If you can't remember when you bought your current pair, it's likely time for a refresh," Foster says. "Fortunately, nearly every size and shape can be found this season, so we can focus on what looks great on our face shape versus that ONE hot style."

If you prefer extra protection, Chayes also recommends adding a hat that "fits your style" to your capsule shopping list.

Abby Reinhard
Abby Reinhard is a Senior Editor at Best Life, covering daily news and keeping readers up to date on the latest style advice, travel destinations, and Hollywood happenings. Read more
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