30 Must-Have Fall Wardrobe Essentials

No matter where you live — big city or small-town U.S.A. — there’s no question that shopping for new fall clothes has gotten stressful. Like, really legitimately STRESSFUL. Collections are hitting earlier, there’s more than ever to choose from, and before you can say, “OMG, Beyoncé chopped off all her hair!” or “Tibi just released WHA???” your size in that make-my-life-perfect, black, suede, cutout bootie is plum Sold Out. WTF, right? Yes, we heard that…big time.  

But, while you’ve been dutifully sifting through the last bits of awesome summer sales, we’ve spent the last month poring over the newest of the new, sussing out just the right 30 Wardrobe Essentials you’ll need to get your autumn arsenal in proper working order…and right on schedule. As always, some of these standbys are already safely tucked away in your stash (dig ’em out and steam ’em up!), but we’ve added the most heart-stopping newbies to the mix to ensure your closet will still make that cool, dramatic chorus-of-angels music every time you crack it open.  

Okay, so, ready to get your fall wish list together? Consider this roundup a virtual Valium to bliss out — instead of stress out come the cool days.

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1. The Graphic Pullover — Kind of the outlier in any fall-fashion arsenal, the graphic pullover is at once the ugly duckling AND the stunning swan. We’re not quite sure how this ’70s throwback seems completely irresistible, wearable, and fashion forward for fall, but it is. And we’re getting two. 

ERDEM CARMEN SILK PANELED PULLOVER, $920, AVAILABLE AT MYTHERESA; NASTY GAL THIRA SWEATSHIRT, $158, AVAILABLE AT NASTY GAL.

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2. The Boxy Jacket — Those of us who were old enough to remember dressing ourselves in the late ’80s and early ’90s (you know which of the authors is penning this one…) recall wearing boxy coats and jackets like they were going out of style. Um, because they were. Well, now they’re back, but it’s not enough to shop the men’s department at the Good Will. This fall demands a finer, more sculpted topper that feels like it was fashioned for a strong confident woman, not just a girl who wanted to dress like a dude. Best part: The boxy jacket is flattering and great for layering over a denim jacket, knits, whatever strikes your fancy.    

ZARA CHECKED DOUBLE BREASTED JACKET, $129, AVAILABLE AT ZARA.; MARC BY MARC JACOBS NICOLETTA COLORBLOCKED JACKET, $598, AVAILABLE AT SHOPBOP.

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3. The Modern Combat Boot — Tough, versatile, and strangely stylish, we’ve got our eye squarely set on fall’s modern combat boot, and we can’t wait to pair it with some flirty skirts, slinky slip dresses, and cropped skinny bottoms…stat!  

PRADA WRAP AROUND STRAP COMBAT BOOTS, $1,100, AVAILABLE AT BARNEYS NEW YORK; MISS SELFRIDGE NINA MILITARY BOOT, $120, AVAILABLE AT MISS SELFRIDGE.

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4. The Granddaddy Sweater — No woman worth her salt should be without an oversized cardi. Period. We’ve often extolled the virtues of such a sweater that is not only the perfect companion for almost any outfit — year after year — but also serves as the trustiest traveling essential you could own. So, if your wardrobe is still lacking such a piece, now’s the time to make it right.    

JOSEPH OVERSIZED CARDIGAN, $836.64, AVAILABLE AT FARFETCH; COINCIDENCE AND CHANCE VARSITY STRIPE CARDIGAN, $59, AVAILABLE AT URBAN OUTFITTERS.

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5. The Smock Dress — Maybe it’s our nostalgia for ’90s fashion (miss you, Lady Merchant), or maybe it’s just that we’re tired of feeling like we can’t breathe in our cool-girl pencil skirts and skinny jeans. Either way, behold: the season’s easiest frock, a piece that’s so easy to dress up or down, you’ll wonder why it took so long for this stylish friend to resurface.   

GIRL BY BAND OF OUTSIDERS DRESS, $585, AVAILABLE AT LA GARCONNE; THE WHITEPEPPER BACK OPEN CHECK MIDI SMOCK DRESS, $105.89, AVAILABLE AT THE WHITE PEPPER.

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6. The Patterned Pencil Skirt — A little edgier than the classic style, the patterned pencil skirt is a great balance of practical and polished. Paired with a chunky necklace and some serious heels, and you have an awesome day-to-night essential. 

CLUB MONACO ALESSANDRA SKIRT, $149.50, AVAILABLE AT CLUB MONACO; J.CREW COLLECTION EMBELLISHED PENCIL SKIRT, $695, AVAILABLE AT J.CREW.

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7. The Quirky Sneaker  — Excitement isn’t quite the word to describe our reaction to quirky sneakers making it into the canon of cool fall essentials. Exultation is more like it…and the truth is, they go with practically everything. At least to us they do. 

CONVERSE LEOPARD PRINT TRAINER, $65.78, AVAILABLE AT FARFETCH; MIU MIU JEWEL TOE VELVET HIGH TOP SNEAKER, $690, AVAILABLE AT NEIMAN MARCUS.

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8. The Nubby Sweater — Another piece you could very likely find in the back of your closet, but if it’s somehow gone missing, now’s the time to find a new one for layering aplenty. We like!  

MADEWELL BOUCLE VARSITY JACKET CARDIGAN, $145, AVAILABLE AT MADEWELL; H&M PATTERN KNIT SWEATER, $29.95, AVAILABLE AT H&M.

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9. The Annie Hall Trouser — You’re not allowed to say this slouchy Man’tastic trouser won’t look good on you. Because chances are…it will. Our recommendation if you’re more on the petite side is go for a leaner leg. For the taller of the bunch, go big or go home! 

PAUL & JOE WOOL BLEND WIDE LEG PANT, $510, AVAILABLE AT NET-A-PORTER; TOPSHOP SIDE STRIPE WIDE LEG TROUSER, $100, AVAILABLE AT TOPSHOP.

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10. The Menswear Watch — We haven’t quite managed to swipe one of these from any of our man friends, but now that it’s made our list of must-haves, there’s more reason than ever to push the search into high gear. Consider it the fall bangle you’ll never have to take off.  

CARTIER BALLON BLEU DE CARTIER, $10,000, AVAILABLE AT CARTIER; FOSSIL HEATHER MID-SIZE THREE HAND RESIN WATCH, $99.99, AVAILABLE AT FOSSIL.

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11. The Not-So-Classic Loafer — A little more refined and fashion-forward than your basic Dexter style, this simple shoe is unapologetically down-to-earth among all of fall’s staggering heels. Here’s to a little comfort this fall.  

JEFFREY CAMPBELL LAWFORD LOAFER, $150, AVAILABLE AT JILDOR; ACNE NOA FLORAL PRINT CANVAS LOAFER, $430, AVAILABLE AT NET-A-PORTER.

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12. The Embellished Belt — All we can say about fall’s embellished belt is how excited we are to wear it with anything we can get our hands on: Lean simple sweaters, long floral dresses, high-waisted trousers…keep ’em comin’!  

ANTHROPOLOGIE DECO BURST BELT, $48, AVAILABLE AT ANTHROPOLOGIE; STELLA MCCARTNEY RHINESTONE EMBELLISHED VELVET BELT, $585, AVAILABLE AT SAKS MARCUS.

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13. The Showpiece Coat — As far as we’re concerned, one showpiece coat is really never enough. But if your wardrobe is missing this key component, it’s time to step up and make your life a WHOLE lot easier. Throw this gorgeous, glinting piece on over practically anything and you’ve got a look to be reckoned with.  

FRANCESCA JACQUARD COAT, $210, AVAILABLE AT MONSOON; TORY BURCH JOSEPHINE COAT, $1,995, AVAILABLE AT TORY BURCH.

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14. The Ladylike Full Skirt — Feminine, flattering, and packed with a plenty of attitude, the season’s full skirt is the ultimate starting point for so many fun fall outfits. We love it with a beat-up T-shirt or tiny sweater, tights and platforms, or bare legs and Chuck Taylors. There’s really nothing this piece can’t do…and no place it won’t go.    

ASOS FULL MIDI SKIRT IN SCUBA, $64.49, AVAILABLE AT ASOS; TIBI SILK FAILLE FULL SKIRT, $525, AVAILABLE AT TIBI.

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15. The Colorful Sock — Perhaps the best investment you can make under $15 to instantly update your chunky heels, skirts, and cropped trousers. We’re stocking up and experimenting…and so should you.  

K. BELL METALLIC LEOPARD SOCKS, $8, AVAILABLE AT KARMALOOP; HAPPY SOCKS ROSE SOCK, $12, AVAILABLE AT HAPPY SOCKS.

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16. The Silky Scarf — Sometimes, you need just a little more protection against the chill but don’t want to go nuts with a sweater. The solution? A lightweight silk scarf that can be tied a million different ways

KAMI BLEU SILK SCARF, $322, AVAILABLE AT BOTICCA; BANANA REPUBLIC CHLOE SCARF, $40, AVAILABLE AT BANANA REPUBLIC.

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17. The Evil-Eye Bracelet — Keep bad juju at bay with a delicate evil-eye bracelet. Whether tied on or part of a bangle, we like the almond-eye versions this season as opposed to the round beads — it just feels much more modern! 

BP. EVIL EYE BRACELET, $10, AVAILABLE AT NORDSTROM; GABRIELE FRANTZEN BRACELET, $200, AVAILABLE SOON ON R29 SHOPS.

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18. The Tuxedo-Style Blazer — Here’s the beauty of a tuxedo-style blazer: It makes your daytime apparel look so much nicer and adds some whimsy to your evening ensemble. Win-win! 

ARYN K BLACK BLAZER, $79, AVAILABLE AT PIPERLIME; HELMUT LANG BLAZER, $450, AVAILABLE AT BLOOMINGDALE’S.

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19. The Expertly Ripped Jean — Whether the holes were made through years of love or came straight off the rack (hey — not judging!), a pair of skinnies that have been through the wringer look sofresh right now, especially when worn with blockbuster heels and a quirky tee. 

AE RIPPED JEAN, $29.99, AVAILABLE AT AE; JUICY COUTURE DISTRESSED JEAN, $148, AVAILABLE AT JUICY COUTURE.

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20. The Leather Sweatpant — Before anyone revolts, hear us out. The leather sweatpant might seem like a total trend item, but it’s actually got loads of staying power. Comfortable, warm, and totally versatile, it’s a piece that you can wear to work, on the weekend, or out for drinks. Find a slimmer version if you’re worried about the rearview. 

URBAN OUTFITTERS VEGAN LEATHER PANT, $59, AVAILABLE AT URBAN OUTFITTERS; RAG & BONE MALIN PANT, $795, AVAILABLE AT RAG & BONE.

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21. The Oversized Clutch — The oversized clutch has proven to be so versatile, we’ve even started taking them out during daylight hours. Forcing us to downsize our daily baggage, a clutch helps us feel streamlined. It doesn’t hurt that they’re awfully pretty as well! 

LUCKY BRAND ENVELOP CLUTCH, $59.99, AVAILABLE AT LUCKY; NARCISO RODRIGEUZ INTARSIA CLUTCH, $1,395, AVAILABLE AT SAKS.

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22. The Trumpet Skirt — With all the body-flattering properties of a pencil and all the fun-potential of a flirty silhouette, the trumpet skirt is like a peplum for your tush — and we promise you’ll like it just as much, too! The trumpet skirt works best in your nighttime arsenal. Wear it with a chic tank and a slim stiletto for maximum sass appeal. 

FASHION UNION FLIPPY SKIRT, $23.02, AVAILABLE AT FASHION UNION; NONOO FARED SKIRT, $425, AVAILABLE AT NEIMAN MARCUS.

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23. The Semi-Sheer Button Down — A semi-sheer shirt is just cool. Boho yet buttoned-up, it’s an item that screams effortless to us. Just remember to keep the top couple buttons open — we know it’s a hard habit to break, but the sheer shirt looks better this way, promise! 

FREE PEOPLE SHEER SHIRT, $88, AVAILABLE AT FREE PEOPLE; JOIE MERCINA TOP. $248, AVAILABLE AT JOIE.

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24. The Colored Bag  — It’s probably the one item in your arsenal that you carry around every single day…so it seems obvious to pick one that makes you grin each time you open it. In saturated primary tones, this bag can’t not pop against your outfit. 

MARNI ACROSS-BODY BAG, $641, AVAILABLE AT YOOX; BAGGU DUCK BAG, $26, AVAILABLE AT STEVEN ALAN.

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25. The Knee-High Boot — The knee boot of the season is a bit more streamlined. With simple seams and no weird buckles and add-ons, this style of boot will give your legs the willowy treatment. We love it worn with a pencil skirt or a more flowing midi-skirt. Leave the tucked-in jeans thing to your college yearbook. 

CARLOS BY CARLOS SANTANA SHOES, $71, AVAILABLE AT MACY’S; DVF GENNA BOOT, $498, AVAILABLE AT DVF.

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26. The Pared-Down Peasant Dress — Suno might have started the fire, but it’s Saint Laurent who took the preciousness out of the peasant dress. Skimming, flowing, and utterly romantic, this season’s peasant dress is a step up from the ones you remembered wearing back in the day. Avoid the fussy embroidery and random pom-poms — this one’s all killer, no filler. 

SAINT LAURENT PAYSANNE DRESS, $3,499, AVAILABLE AT SAINT LAURENT; CP SHADES SHIRT DRESS, $195, AVAILABLE AT CALYPSO.

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27. The Cropped Black Trouser — While some of the other essentials will come and go, we’re confident that the cropped black pant is one that will always have a place in our closet. Just ask Audrey, Jackie, or Alexa — they’re a pair of trousers we can always trust to deliver! 

BAND OF OUTSIDERS CROPPED STRAIGHT TROUSER, $485, AVAILABLE AT SSENSE; DOROTHY PERKINS SLIM TROUSER, $44, AVAILABLE AT DOROTHY PERKINS .

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28. The Menswear Jacket — Tweeds, houndstooths, and pinstripes dominated the fall ’13 season, and though we like it on fashion-forward, strapless ball gowns and floor-dusting palazzo pants as much as the next runway obsessive, we like ’em best on a classic, boxy blazer. 

MARC JACOBS WOOL BLAZER, $1,400, AVAILABLE AT NORDSTROM; ASOS BLAZER, $42.43, AVAILABLE AT ASOS.

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29. The Brimmed Hat — A wide-brimmed hat is a must in our fall wardrobe arsenal, and not just for days when you should‘ve done your hair in the morning. A substantial brim (we’re talking Panama-style, not sunhat-style here) will keep those K.Fed circa 2001 vibes at bay. 

FOREVER 21 FOLK PANAMA HAT, $18.80, AVAILABLE AT FOREVER 21; FREE PEOPLE SAFARI HAT, $68, AVAILABLE AT FREE PEOPLE.

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30. The Far-Out Cat-Eye — These days, tortoiseshell isn’t the only patterned sunglasses you see on the racks. Florals, stripes, spots, and specs look best on a classic shape. We like ’em a whole ton on an exaggerated cat-eye. 

DOLCE & GABBANA STRIPED CAT EYE, $195, AVAILABLE AT BLOOMINGDALE’S; TROPIC MAMBO CAT EYE SUNGLASSES, $16, AVAILABLE AT URBAN OUTFITTERS.

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