20 Summer Wardrobe Staples For Easy Summer Outfits

Sweet summertime! It’s here! Unofficially, but Memorial Day seems to kick off summer. And along with it comes the question of what clothes should be in a summer wardrobe? It can be especially daunting for the woman over 40 who wants to stay cool in the heat but wants to remain modest and avoid crop tops and short shorts.

I published this list of summer wardrobe staples last year and it remains my go to list. Everyone will have different needs based on lifestyle and location, but these are some basics most everyone can use or tweak to make the best of your summer wardrobe.

Summer wardrobe staples

Let’s get something out of the way given that a lot of my list of summer wardrobe essentials includes shorts. I find no reason for women over 40 to avoid shorts. It’s all about finding the right pair for your body, no matter the age of your body. Find your sweet spot for length ( I wear 4, 5 and 6 inch shorts) and leg opening (not too wide and not too tight), and enjoy wearing shorts.

See also: The Best Shorts for Older Women

Denim shorts

or a denim skirt if you are just anti-shorts. Denim shorts and a t-shirt or tank is a basic summer uniform for women of all ages. Add some interest with cute shoes and a hat or some other accessory.

I still wear jeans at times in the summer as well. A lighter wash cropped pair will give you summer vibes and can be part of your summer wardrobe staples.

Or go boho with boot cut jeans with wedges. Summer is not the time for clingy skinny jeans, so experiment with a looser cut, fit or style for summer when wearing jeans.

denim shorts with tank summer wardrobe essentials

Tank- Amazon; shorts- Target; shoes- Kohls; hat- old/ similar; earrings- Kendra Scott

A basic t-shirt

Again, a go to summer outfit is denim shorts and a tee. When you’re building a summer wardrobe, start with staples like basic white, grey, or black t-shirts. If you are brave enough to show your arms and shoulders, a few basic tanks can sub for tees.

Choose a neckline that flatters you. The vneck is universally flattering and my go to for a tshirt. Popular inexpensive tshirts include Caslon, Madewell, Old Navy and Target.

Olive shorts

Olive is a great neutral color that works well with other neutrals and works equally well with bright summer colors like corals, pinks, reds and yellows. My favorite olive shorts are linen blend pull on shorts from Old Navy and they can be dressed up or down.

If shorts are out of your comfort zone, consider a pair of wide leg linen pants in olive. I have both. Sometimes it’s just more appropriate to wear pants to some places, even in the summer. A neutral pair of summer weight bottoms is a must have summer wardrobe staple for building a summer wardrobe.

summer outfit with summer wardrobe essentials- denim jacket, tee, olive shorts and sneakers

White denim jacket- Old Navy; option; shirt- Old Navy; sneakers- Amazon

Patterned or print shorts ( or skirt)

I’m including stripes here. The point is to have a patterned (not solid color) short or skirt in your wardrobe to mix things up a bit. Skirts can be just as comfy and cool as shorts.

women's striped paper bag waist shorts for summer

Blouse- old- shorts-Old Navy; option; option wedge sandals- old; earrings- Kendra Scott

White bottoms

Shorts, jeans, skirt or cropped pants. White bottoms are definitely one of your basic summer wardrobe staples as white screams summer and goes a long way in creating summer outfits.

Add a top with red or blue stripes and you’ve get a nautical outfit.

While white can make you look bigger, especially on the bottom, it’s not to be avoided. Create an all white outfit or pair it with lighter color tops instead of dark colors to lessen the contrast and deemphasize a larger bottom.

Mind your fabrics too. Don’t wear too tight garments in white (or any color for that matter) and choose fabrics that hug the body but don’t cling. It can take some trial and error and lots of shopping to find those magical white jeans, pants or shorts but there is a pair for everyone.

white shorts summer wardrobe essentials

Shorts- Old Navy; sneakers- JCrew Factory; purse- option; option; t-shirt–Gap/old

Bright bottoms

Be adventurous and add a pair of bright color pants or shorts to your summer wardrobe. For those that don’t wear shorts, a pair of cropped pants in a fun color like coral or kelly green is a great option. Colored bottoms are a fun way to wear a color that you can’t normally wear next to your face.

Floral top

Try a fun tropical print or pick a floral that color coordinates with your bright bottoms. You can also wear a floral top with your denim, white and olive bottoms.

Top- option; option; shorts- Old Navy; shoes- Yellow box; option; option tote- Old/ option hat-old; option

A Key Summer Wardrobe Staple -Dress

A dress of some type  should always be included in your summer wardrobe staples. (see nine styles and the body shapes they flatter) A flowy dress can keep you cool on the hottest of days.

Getting dressed in the summer couldn’t be simpler with a one and done dress.  I love t-shirt dresses in the summer because most are cotton and are very cool. I usually wear slip shorts under mine.

A maxi dress is also a great choice for the summer and can be dressed up or down. There is no right or wrong choice for a summer dress. Choose the one that fits your body and lifestyle, and have a nicer one on hand for weddings and more formal events.

Dress- Target; purse- Target; shoes- Tory Burch

Romper or Jumpsuit

Another one and done way to get dressed in the summer. A knit romper can be a cool comfy choice and a jumpsuit can take the place of a dress for dressier occasions.

Romper- Amazon; kimono- Amazon; similar; sandals- DSW


A kimono is great for throwing on over tanks and shorts, and even dresses. It’s a light layer than can add interest to summer outfits when layering is otherwise out of the question. A kimono can also function as a swimsuit cover up.

A linen blazer

Sometimes you need some sleeves and a layer. A linen blazer is the perfect summer layer and a must have summer wardrobe staple. Linen is breathable, conducts heat away from the body well, and absorbs moisture. Throw it on over a dress or jumpsuit for a dressier summer outfit, or wear with shorts for a more casual vibe.

Denim jacket

Sometimes you find yourself indoors in air conditioning that’s a little too chilly, or in some places, outdoors in the evening when there is a chill. The casual vibe of a denim jacket pairs well with summer outfits and wards off a mild chill. Consider a white denim jacket for more summer vibes.


Go ahead and find a fabulous swimsuit. Even if you don’t spend much time in one, when vacation comes around or the occasion for a swimsuit, you won’t have to fret over the perfect suit. Swimsuit shopping can be a dreaded chore, but if you participate in summer activities, chances are you need one.

Neutral Wedge or Heeled Sandal

A wedge sandal is a great choice for outdoor events when you need to dress up but don’t want to sink into the grass. Block heel sandals can be a great choice for those scenarios as well.

Wedges look great with shorts and a neutral color will generally lengthen the leg. A sandal with some heel is an important part of a summer wardrobe for dressing up on occasion.

Flat sandals

Cute sandals make summer outfits interesting. Your plain tshirt and shorts combo becomes the cutest outfit of the season when you add an interesting pair of sandals. Whether you prefer straps or simple slide ons, the options abound. I recommend a neutral pair to establish your basic summer wardrobe, but from there you can add in color and patterns.


Given a choice, I will always opt for sandals, but sometimes you need a little more coverage for your feet or a little more cushioning for walking. A cute sneaker fits the bill. Sneakers look great with shorts and dresses.

A straw hat

Not only for sun protection, a hat is a summer essential for adding a cuteness factor to those summer outfits. If you don’t think you can wear one, you can! Check out How to Look Good in a Hat and 25 Ways to Wear A Summer Hat for proof and inspiration. Something about a hat completes a summer outfit.

Statement earrings

It’s usually too hot for a lot of jewelry, so a pair of fun statement earrings can add a lot of punch to an outfit. I love wicker and rattan earrings for accessorizing summer outfits. They are so light yet add a lot of visual interest.

women's casual neutral summer outfit

Top- Old; shorts- Old Navy; tote- old; earrings- Amazon

A fun tote (or summer purse)

Accessories work overtime in the summer and your bag or tote should not be ignored as a complete part of the outfit. I prefer a tote so I have room for a few extras in the summer. A straw tote or bag or striped tote are classic summer choices. They go so well with the more casual vibes of summer attire.  A crossbody bag is a great choice for being handsfree and when you don’t want to carry too many things. A great light white, beige or light neutral will go with almost anything.


Don’t forget sunglasses. They serve both function and fashion. Sunglasses protect your eyes, and when it’s too hot for makeup, sunglasses hide the imperfections and you still look put together. Some prefer larger oversized sunglasses, but my favorites are these classic square mid size sunglasses.

Hair accessories

Don’t even tell me you can’t wear hair accessories over 40. Yes, you can.

Just like everything else, you have to find the right fit for you- for your hair style, face shape and the aesthetics of the outfit. Choose classic and sophisticated instead of “cute” if you are older. 

A headband is an accessory that women with short or long hair can wear. A clip instead of a scrunchie can be used to create a sleek ponytail. Even a barrette is a great way to hold back or accent bangs. Just like sunglasses, earrings and purses, hair accessories can take summer outfits up a notch in the absence of layers.

The Summer Wardrobe Staples

If you are into capsule wardrobes, you will pretty much have your capsule set with this list of staples. You can create numerous mix and match casual summer outfits suitable for women over 40.

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What are your must have summer clothes and accessories?