15 wardrobe basics for spring in NYC and 16 outfit ideas

I love reading about people’s wardrobe basics. If it’s in the blog post title, I’ll click it and pore through it for inspiration.

I am especially fascinated by capsule wardrobes. While I love reading people’s 30-ish piece edit for each season, I’ve always felt a bit disconnected from them. For example, a lot of people suggest a trench coat for spring. But, I’ve never found a trench coat I liked that was within my price range. And, in my daily life, a trench coat isn’t exactly a necessity. It also isn’t the most practical piece of outerwear. Spring for New Yorkers is either an extension of winter or an early start to summer. We rarely get trench coat weather. At least, in my experience anyway. And because I felt uninspired and a tad constricted by these types of posts, I never got around to curating my own capsule wardrobe.

Instead, I (subconsciously) waited until a New Yorker wrote about their wardrobe basics. And sure, there have been posts in the past about the pieces every New Yorker owns, but none of those posts have ever connected with me either. So I decided it was time to write my own. As a lifelong New Yorker, I think I have some credibility on the matter.

So I looked through my closet and pulled out the pieces I believed would accommodate all the weather conditions that mother nature might bring us this season. And with about three weeks of spring experience under my belt, I felt ready to take on this topic.

It’s worth noting that this is not a capsule wardrobe. And I am not suggesting that you need all 15 pieces to have a complete wardrobe. This is simply to inspire you with a new idea or two. I also don’t speak for all New Yorkers. There’s 8+ million of us, so take what I’m saying with a grain of salt.

But, if you’re looking for ideas to refresh your spring wardrobe or what to pack for a trip here, this might be just the post for you. Here are my 15 spring wardrobe basics broken down into four categories: basic tops, bottoms, outerwear, and shoes.

Basic tops for spring

1. Short sleeve tee in a solid, neutral color (white, gray, black, or whatever color you prefer). Perfect on their own when it gets unseasonably warm, and for layering underneath sweaters when it’s too cold. I’m wearing: Re/Done (in xs). Similar options: Re/Done classic tee, Hanes x Karla crewneck tee, Everlane box-cut tee, and Everlane cotton crew tee.

2. Long sleeve tee in a solid, neutral color. Perfect on their own and for layering as well. I’m wearing: J.Crew (in xs). Similar options: Everlane slim long sleeve tee or this splurge version, Enza Costa long sleeve tee.

3. Striped tee. This is just a classic spring look. Stripes make any outfit look chic with minimal effort (in my opinion). I’m wearing: Everlane (in xs). Similar options: Everlane full length sleeve version and this J.Crew full length sleeve version.

4. Dressy top. A subtle print like the one on the Reformation top (old) I’m wearing is a great option. This will come in handy for nights out. Similar options: Topshop cherry print blouse, Cinq a Sept sweetheart neckline black top, and Ganni floral silk button-up top.

5. Sweater in your favorite cut and in a neutral color. I prefer a crewneck, boxy cut. This is my cold weather bff. And, it will be perfect as a standalone piece when a jacket isn’t required but it’s still a bit breezy. It can be helpful to layer a tee or cami underneath, in case it gets unseasonably warm. I’m wearing: Everlane (xs). Similar v-neck version: Everlane.

6. Cardigan. Finding the perfect cardigan can be quite the challenge. I personally prefer a chunkier knit with a cropped fit. You might prefer a longer, lighter version. A good cardigan will come in handy if you’re always cold like me. And if you do feel overheated, they’re so easy to take off/on. I’m wearing: Dôen (in medium). Similar options: AG (longer length with buttons) and & Other Stories (chunky knit, black version).

Basic bottoms for spring

7. Medium/darker wash jeans. This wash in a straight leg style makes any outfit look just a bit more dressed up and polished. I’m wearing: AGOLDE (in 24, size down one size in these). Similar options: J.Crew, and Everlane is coming out with a straight leg style next week.

8. Light wash jeans. For a casual look, I love light wash jeans with a cropped, unfinished hem. You can also dress up the look with shoes of your choice. I like dressing mine up with my Repetto flats. I’m wearing: EVIDNT (old). Similar option: & Other Stories and Reformation.

Basic outerwear for spring

9. Vest. This is just a super easy layering piece. I like a puffer version because it keeps you really warm and can be layered easily underneath a jacket or over a cardigan for extra warmth. The one I’m wearing: J.Crew (old). Similar options: Lands’ End and Uniqlo.

10. Light jacket. A packable one like the Everlane version I’m wearing (in xs) is easy to travel with and provides warmth without being bulky. It’s perfect for nights out when it’s still cold but you don’t want to hold onto a heavy coat. A waterproof version will also come in handy for the inevitable, rainy spring days. Similar options: Gap (pink satin bomber), Uniqlo, and Patagonia (comes with a hood).

11. Coat
. This is necessary when it still feels like winter. Trust me, spring is slow to start here. The one I’m wearing: J.Crew (old). This style comes out every fall/winter though. Similar options are difficult to find this time of year but this Helene Berman one from ASOS is super stylish.

Shoes for spring

12. Sneakers. NYC streets are tough on feet. Whether you prefer to rock athletic sneakers or more “fashion” ones, there’s no denying that a pair will come in handy. I’m wearing: APL. Other comfortable sneaker options: Allbirds sneakers known for their comfort and durability, and these classic white sneakers from Cole Haan (that I’m eyeing right now).

13. Flats. These are perfect for day and night. They can easily dress up jeans or make an outfit instantly chic. I’m wearing: Repetto. Similar options: Marc Jacobs and L.K. Bennett.

14. Dressy shoes. This might not be 100% necessary but they do come in handy when the occasion arises. I define a dressy shoe as a classic boot, but you might define it as a heel. I’m wearing: Loeffler Randall (they also come in a variety of colors, and they’re having 30% off at the moment). Other shoe options: Everlane editor heel (if you’re into a heel) and these Everlane flat slingbacks are a great dressy flat option. 

15. Rain boots/waterproof shoes. Like I mentioned earlier, rainy days are expected this time of year. This means that it’s best to have a go-to waterproof shoe option. This will save you from from ruining your favorite shoes. I’m wearing: Hunter rain boots. If you’re not into a rain boot, Hunter also makes a waterproof penny loafer and chelsea boot.

Spring wardrobe basics checklist

Now that I’ve covered my 15 spring basics, let’s get into my 16 spring outfit ideas. They are categorized by weather from coldest to warmest: when it feels like winter, light jacket weather, when it rains, layering with a vest, just a sweater weather, and last but not least, one layer of clothing weather.

*The following temperatures and what to wear for them reflect my personal preference. Depending on your preference and body temperature, you might need more or less clothes than I am suggesting.

16 spring outfit ideas

When it feels like winter (30-45°F)

#1
A great athleisure/running errands look.

#2
 The boots give this look a pop of color and adds interest.

Light jacket weather (45-60°F)

#3


This puffer jacket can go from day to night by changing sneakers into flats, and swapping out the sweater for a dressier top.

#4
The outfit is perfect for day and night.

#5
The boots make this sweater and puffer jacket perfect for day and night. It also makes this puffer look a little less sporty and little more chic.

When it rains

When it rains, you need to wear water resistant jackets and shoes. Depending on whether it’s colder or warmer, adjust the layers underneath the jacket.

#6
A striped tee is perfect for when it’s a mild spring day.

#7
A sweater is perfect for when it’s a colder, but rainy spring day. Remove or add layers to this look, depending on how warm or cold it is outside.

Layering with a vest (60-70°F)

This is for those days when it’s cold one minute and hot another. If you want to be able to take off your layers easily, a vest is a great option.

#8
Layering a vest over a cardigan is perfect for when you want to ditch your jacket, but you still want to be warm.

#9
This is a great casual option for running errands or just spending time outdoors.

#10
The flats really dress up this look. The striped tee also stands out against the vest and makes the overall look a bit more classic.

Just a sweater weather (70-75°F)

Ahh, when it’s getting closer to my favorite time of year…summer. But, it’s still not quite there yet. I treasure the rare days when you just need a sweater. It’s also smart to layer a a tee underneath in case it does get a bit warm. And for cold subway rides, a scarf is never a bad idea to have on hand.

#11

Once again, just by changing the shoes (sneakers–> flats–> boots), a simple sweater and jeans look can totally change.

#12
Cropped jeans and ballet flats are my favorite combination. Probably because it reminds me so much of Audrey Hepburn’s style.

#13
This cardigan looks casual and cozy with the sneakers and gray tee.

#14
I would totally wear this look on a night out. One of the reasons why I love this cardigan is because the layering possibilities are endless. The classic fisherman knit and cream color will go with virtually anything.

One layer of clothing weather (75-80°F)

This is when things get just a tad warmer. Think cooler, summer nights. If that’s what it feels like outside, all you need is a long sleeve and cropped jeans.

#15
Excuse the overly edited photo below. I pulled this off my Instagram. This photo was taken on that one day in February when it was 75°F.

#16
This is the perfect nighttime look for a warm spring day.

Final thoughts and takeaways

I am so glad I took the time to do this. Putting all 15 pieces on the clothing rack made it so easy to come up with outfit combinations. Having everything on display made getting dressed feel like a fun game. The goal was to find a winning outfit combination. Like Cher from Clueless getting dressed on her computer. 

It also took no time at all. And, at no point did I think, I have nothing to wear. In fact, I realized I had so much to work with. If I’m doing the math correctly, I have 144 outfit combinations to work with (6 tops x 2 bottoms x 3 pieces of outerwear x 4 shoes = 144). And that’s just out of 15 pieces! That’s more than enough outfits to cover the entire spring season. Although I can’t realistically have everything on display*, I plan to do this every season.

*Our clothing rack is a hot mess of things we don’t have the space for anywhere else. Not at all a place where we store our most loved pieces. We keep 99% of our wardrobe away in our closets and drawers because of Esteban, our very curious cat who sheds a lot.

The plan is to take inventory at the beginning of each new season. I’ll go into my closet and pull out the pieces I think will be the MVPs for the season. I will take a picture as a visual reference for what I am working with, and come up with weather appropriate outfits for different types of occasions. I will also take pictures of the winning outfit combinations and save them in an album on my phone. This way, if I’m ever feeling indecisive or uninspired, I have something to refer to. And, by taking inventory, I’ll know if something is missing or needs to be replaced. This will make deciding what I need to buy each season very clear and personal to me.

I encourage you to give this a try and see what you discover. I now have a better sense of my personal style. And a solid frameworks to base my shopping decisions on. This is exactly what I have been waiting for. Turns out, I just had to figure it out for myself.

What are your wardrobe basics for this time of year where you live? Do you use a clothing rack? How do you decide what you need to buy each season?

Thanks for stopping by.

See you in my next post!

Sophie 🙂

*All floral images used as backdrops for my photos via Unsplash.


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