You'll notice some of my suggestions for women's wardrobe basics are the same as the ones from my list of 10 wardrobe essentials for men--that's how basic the classics are. Cut and fit are what keep these pieces from becoming androgynous. My advice for men goes for women, too: Pay attention to the care instructions for each garment and follow them, and find a good tailor. I'm 4'10 and I learned the value of a good tailor a long time ago.
1. A skirt: I'm partial to the pencil skirt, which creates curves on a thin woman and accentuates curves--in all the right ways--on a curvier gal. The trick to a great pencil skirt is the fit and length: It should fit snugly but comfortably through the hip and thigh, and hit just at the knee. If you aren't comfortable in a figure-hugging pencil skirt, try an A-line skirt that hits you at or just above the knee.
2. A jacket: A well-fitting jacket can be paired with a skirt or pants for work, or used to dress up a pair of jeans. I like a tailored jacket with small feminine touches like pleats, fancy buttons, or a slightly rounded shoulder. When choosing a jacket make sure it buttons comfortably at your natural waist.
3. A pair of flats and a pair of heels: Basic black is always safe, especially if you have a conservative work environment. And don't be cheap--if your shoes are not comfortable, they aren't worth any amount of money. Spend a little more and buy shoes that you can wear all day long.
4. Jeans: A dark wash in a fit that flatters your figure is the best way to go when choosing jeans. Look for jeans that fit well through the hip and then have the waist and leg length tailored. A tip on jeans that I picked up years ago watching What Not to Wear: if you find jeans in a fit that you love, buy several pair and have the length tailored to go with different shoes of varying heights (one with flats, one with boots, one with stilettos). I'm partial to trouser-cut jeans, but it's important to try on different styles to see what works for you.
5. The little (blank) dress: Common fashion advice dictates black, but brown, dark gray or navy are also easy neutrals to accessorize. Try the shirt dress and/or the wrap dress: They flatter most figures and travel well.
6. White button-down shirt: The details make the difference when you are picking out a white dress shirt. You can go for a classic, tailored oxford or you can find a more feminine design that incorporates pleats, ruffles, or well-placed darts to make it more form-fitting. Find a short-sleeved or sleeveless version for your summer wardrobe and a long-sleeved or 3/4-sleeved for winter.
7. Black or navy dress pants: A pair of well-tailored, trouser-cut pants in a dark color are a dressier alternative to jeans, and are great for work. A gray pinstripe is also nice choice--neutral, but the pinstripe keeps it interesting.
8. Dresses: Summer in Houston means day or sundresses. In the thick heat and humidity of July, even shorts seem like too much fabric. I'm a huge fan of the Shabby Apple website which carries a variety of beautiful dresses, skirts, tops and accessories, many with a vintage or period flair. The Shabby Apple philosophy is "a return to what dresses were always meant to be--a one-piece outfit."
9. Cardigan sweaters: A cardigan is particularly useful here in Houston, when we move back and forth between intense heat and humidity, and frigid air conditioning all day long. Cardigans also look great worn under a blazer--a nice alternative to a heavier coat in cooler months.
10. A day bag and an evening clutch: You need one of each to take you from day to night. I favor big day bags so I can fit my wallet, planner, and camera, but for my evening bag I need only enough room for a lipstick, credit card, and some cash. Tip: hunt for vintage evening bags at thrift shops, where you can get great deals on designer labels.
Optional accessories: Sunglasses; bangles; string of pearls; a watch; galoshes; a variety of belts in different colors and sizes; a short trench coat; diamond (faux or real) studs.