Women’s Ivy: Staples for a Summer Wardrobe

One of the most requested posts from the Ivy Style readership is a guide to a woman’s trad wardrobe. There is no definitive list of the clothes that make up women’s Ivy Style, and this isn’t one either. Rather, my list speaks to my own preferences within this style tradition. This installment is the first in a series, to be posted seasonally, which sets out to define the essentials every trad woman should have in her closet. I look forward to your additions and suggestions in the comments.


The striped shirt

The striped shirt is a summer essential, and the Galathée tee from Saint James, while long-sleeved, is great for hot weather. The cotton is very lightweight yet durable–I’ve had my original Galathée for over a decade and it still looks great.

Summer staples on the beach_ a cozy cashmere knit from By Merryn, an LL Bean boat & tote, Bensimon tennis shoes, and Krewe sunglasses.

The button-up shirt

My By Merryn popovers are the new stars of my wardrobe. It’s not an exaggeration to say I wear both on a weekly basis. (You can see them here and here, and read my in-depth review here.) These popovers are perfect with shorts, white jeans, and skirts this summer; their light fabric means they are breezy and cool throughout the warmer months.

The white tee

An essential base layer, but also great on its own, a white tee should be the easiest thing in the world to find. Not so–this has been a long journey. The best I’ve found is J. Crew’s slim perfect tee. It’s the perfect middle length–long enough to tuck in, short enough to wear loose. The tee has a sleeve that’s longer but not too tight on the arm. The fabric is sufficiently thick to not be see-through without being too heavy. I pick up a few new ones each year so I don’t have to worry about keeping them all pristine.

The polo shirt

Polo shirts are a summer staple, and there are many options to choose from. I prefer Lacoste and Ralph Lauren. These brands are long-lasting and their classic cuts come in a variety of colors. They look good whether you’re playing sports or are just running errands around town.

The sleeveless blouse

I’ve been looking for a good sleeveless blouse for years and was pleasantly surprised by Lands End’s offering. This blouse is comfortable enough for a casual setting, but works equally well with more formal outfits.


White tennis shoes

I wear Tretorns when exercising and Bensimons around town. Both pairs are comfortable, practical, and classic. I love the Seven Sisters feel of the Bensimons (as noted in a previous Ivy Style column).

Palm Beach Sandals

Palm Beach Sandals are another brand, like Lilly Pulitzer, made famous by Jackie Kennedy (though Jack Rogers now takes the credit). Palm Beach Sandals are made entirely by hand out of leather, unlike competitors’ offerings. I have a pair of Classic PBs in the Chanel/white colorway that have lasted nearly a decade.

The author’s grandmother in Maine in the 1960s, wearing a sleeveless white blouse, khaki shorts, and Palm Beach sandals.


A knee-length (or longer) skirt

I find longer skirts so elegant, and they are a great alternative to shorts when you want to look a bit more polished. I finally tracked down the one I’ve been eyeing for years on eBay last summer. I love this one from the same brand (my friend Heather wears it beautifully). I’ll share any other recent finds here in the comments section.


Finding women’s khakis is an uphill battle, to say the least! I’ve been happy with these from LL Bean, and they’re great for just about every situation.

Bermuda shorts

This is another difficult-to-find item on the list. For years, J. Crew made my go-to shorts, but lately the fabric has changed to a “stretch chino” I find unappealing and unflattering. I’m happy with the older J. Crew shorts I still have, but am looking for updated Bermuda-length shorts. Please share if you have a good pair!


Shift dress

Nothing says “summer” like a shift dress, and the ultimate, for me, are vintage Lilly Pulitzer. You can find a wide selection on eBay and Etsy. For ready-to-wear shifts, Molly Moorkamp has beautiful options. I’m eager to get my hands on several of them for the summer!

Shirt dress

I love a shirt dress–whether sleeved or sleeveless, classic or with more contemporary details, they’ll never go out of style. Ann MashburnJ. Peterman, and J. Crew have great options.

Wraps and sweaters

A light cardigan

A three-quarter-sleeve cardigan is great for layering, especially for the evening and for work. J. Crew has a really good one I’ve worn for years.

A cozy cashmere knit

I’m perpetually cold, so cashmere is a year-round staple for me. As I’ve previously writtenBy Merryn makes my favorite cashmere. I love the lighter-weight Lotte polo for summer.


Whether silk or cashmere, scarves aren’t just for winter. They are a great option to keep warm on chilly nights, as well as an easy way to add interest to your wardrobe. I love adding a colorful scarf or wrap to an otherwise monochromatic outfit.


A tote bag

I always seem to end up carrying a lot more during the summer than I do the rest of the year–probably due to beach towels and sunscreen making their annual appearance! I love my boat & totes–a classic that lasts a lifetime. You can read my guide here.

A small bag or clutch

I use my Bermuda bag on a daily basis in the summer–it’s easy to toss into a tote bag and pull out when needed. While it’s hard to find Bermuda bags today, the wicker clutches from Pamela Munson and J. McLaughlin are wonderful summer options. 

What items do you think belong in the ideal women’s Ivy summer wardrobe? Please let me know in the comments below.

9 Comments on "Women’s Ivy: Staples for a Summer Wardrobe"

  1. Living in Vero Beach ,Fl is Summer all year round . My wife loves your column. She says you have her PLAY BOOK for the summer. One thing she said is the Lands End beach towels are great. Plus her all-birds in the light weight model.She finds for her dresses and shirts Gretchen Scott are light weight long enough for her. She also says that Lands End have the best bathing suits for the $$. Hats she wears the Kaminski hats with different grosgrain ribbon head bands.

  2. Bermuda bag lives in the tote all summer! And Lands End makes a really great cashmere tee that I love, actually I think they have very nice cashmere, and often with a markdown. Enjoy summer, it’s finally almost here!

    • Yes! It’s a great combination of bags.

      I’ll try the Lands End cashmere tee 🙂 As you know I always love your recommendations! I’m so glad summer is finally almost here!

  3. Justin Baird | May 11, 2023 at 12:22 am |

    I was delighted to see that you don’t turn your nose up at offerings from L.L. Bean and Lands’ End.

  4. Saint James is overpriced for the quality. Armor-Lux has become the preferred Breton of locals who live in Brittany.

    • Hi Buster, thanks for your comment! I have a few Armor-Lux shirts as well, but I’ve found their sizing to not be as inclusive as Saint James, and I also prefer the slightly boxier cuts of the Saint James shirts. That being said, the quality of Armor-Lux is absolutely superb, and I would recommend them wholeheartedly as well.

  5. This is a great list. There’s a lot of overlap with menswear here, too. Saint-James (or similar) tees and sweaters with Breton stripes look good on everyone in any season. My partner has a couple from J. Crew that are of similar weight and quality, surprisingly.
    A knit cotton cardigan is perfect for cooler evenings in the hot seasons. Like Justin Baird, I’m glad to see you mention L.L. Bean here. Their “Signature” fisherman cardigan is pretty outstanding and easily an all-gender garment. Land’s End still makes a few very worthy things, but it’s an awful lot of plastic and chemical treatments in their clothes anymore.
    Still, can’t go wrong with this collection of essentials.

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