I am talking about clothes, and specifically that all-too-common feeling of staring at your entire closet and feeling like you have absolutely nothing to wear. I have been there. As a working mama, I am happy to share how I broke out of that rut and have learned to love my wardrobe. What works for me might not work for you.
I hate to say it, but it is the truth: looking good takes effort. I am sure there are women out there who can waltz into their closets, deftly rifle through their wardrobe and create a gorgeous, perfectly styled outfit in mere moments. I am not one of those women. Which is why for years my work "uniform" was a variation of a pair of trousers and a plain top or sweater. Like this (blurry iPhone picture):
While there's nothing at all wrong with that outfit, day after day after day it becomes flat and boring. I used the excuse that I did not have time in the morning to pick out something cute and creative to wear: I had two kids to get dressed and fed and out the door. I had lunches to pack. I could barely get myself out the door on time. Excuses excuses excuses. Here are my musings on how to break out of the rut:
1. Plan ahead.
This is totally OCD and Type A, but I plan out my outfits for the week on Sunday. Not only does this make each morning run much smoother, but it ensures that I am really taking full advantage of my wardrobe because I can spend more than a moment to figure out what I am putting together. It does not take that long: maybe 15 minutes (sometimes less, sometimes more). But it's kind of fun. I write my outfits on a post-it and stick it in my closet (the post-it, by the way, is going by the wayside. I have a great idea for a much better solution. stay tuned)
2. "What Not To Wear" your closet with a friend.
You know the show "What Not To Wear" on TLC - one of my favorite parts of the show is when Stacey and Clinton go through the person's closet and tell them what works, and what does not work, in her wardrobe. If you have a friend whose style you admire, I whole-heartedly recommend asking her to come on over and go through your closet. I did this a few years ago with my friend Julia. She was kind enough to come down for the day and we went through my closet. She was able to see my clothes with totally fresh eyes and helped me put together outfits that I otherwise would never have thought to do. Aside from nearly tripling my wardrobe with options, it was a lot of fun.
3. Check out catalogues and blogs.
Pay attention to the catalogues you receive! There are great styling tips in there. Of course, you can also buy fashion magazines, but lately, I have found catalogues, blogs, stores' websites and even stores' windows much more helpful when putting an outfit together. Look at these adorable pages torn from j.crew ... tons of ideas. And while some may be a bit over-styled, you can easily take elements from the photos and make them work for you. Try new things - things that you otherwise might never try. Fashion is fun. Have fun.
4. Get out and go shopping.
5. Find a tailor.
I get my best deals and find the best pieces when I go to stores vs. shop online. Don't get me wrong: I love shopping online and I have found great deals and clothes that way. But when you get out, you can see how the stores style clothes. You can try them on. You can try many sizes and colors. It's a time investment, for sure. There's nothing quite as easy as shopping on your laptop in your pjs. I think, though, that actually going to the stores is a worthwhile activity. I shop alone, but I also love to shop with a girlfriend. It's fun and it's also a great way to get an opinion on an outfit. There is no way I would have walked out of the Eddie Bauer outlet with that steal of a deal tweed jacket if Jamie were not with me: she made me go in the store in the first place and she made me buy it when I was on the fence. Good friend with honest opinions are a shopper's best friend. :)
5. Find a tailor.
Unless you are super lucky, clothes will probably not fit you exactly perfectly from the start. I am 5'1", so I have a challenge finding clothes that fit me well. If the fit of a piece is otherwise fantastic and you love it, take it to a tailor to make it perfect. I have had tailors bring up the hems of pants, skirts and dresses, fix necklines of dresses, take in shirts and dresses, and otherwise work their magic on clothes that look ok but needed a little tweaking.
Wardrobe "top ten" essentials are all over the internet. I think they're helpful but certainly not a set-in-stone edict. Your top ten will be different from my top ten based on what you do, your work environment, your style, etc. For me, the Top Ten Essentials of Tim Gunn of Project Runway fame are spot on perfect. His top-ten, and my comments, are:
- basic black dress: the beauty of a black dress is it can be dressed up or down in a flash. There have been so many times at work that I was invited to a dinner or event where I was not sure of what others would be wearing. So I'd wear a black dress and bring a change of accessories: one simple and one fancy. Black is ultimate chic.
- trench coat: These are everywhere right now! I have seen some adorable ones at the Banana Republic outlet, Old Navy, Target and Boden (which is where I bought mine). My trench is emerald green and I adore it. Of the top 10 essentials, this one is probably the most optional, in my opinion.
- classic dress pants: yes. well-fitting pants are essential, absolutely essential. I think with pants, you should find a store that cuts its pants to fit you well and stick to that store. For me, it's Ann Taylor and Loft: their pants just fit like a dream from the start. I pay up for pants: a perfectly fitting pant is worth it. Neutrals are key for building your wardrobe: black, dark and light grey, tan, brown.
- classic white shirt: As with pants, fit is key here. I think options are good, and if button-downs work for you (I know they do not work for larger busted women), buy a handful of colors that work well on you. I have found Banana Republic and New York & Co. have the best fitting shirts for me.
- skirt: Figure out which style looks best on you and invest in it. For me, it's a pencil skirt. I have pencils in a bunch of colors and I also have a bunch of other "fun" skirts. But my wardrobe builders are black and tan pencil skirts, both of which I had to have tailored because they were too long.
- blazer: I do not have many blazers in my wardrobe and I want this to change. Fit is crucial, so trying on is crucial. You can pair blazers with pants and skirt, dresses, even jeans. I think a structured cardigan is a great substitute for a blazer, too, if you are not really a blazer person.
- day dress: Talk about easy. My wardrobe is stocked with a ton of day dresses - they are a super easy way to look pulled together without having to put in much thought. I have found great dresses at Target, Loft and New York & Co.
- cashmere sweater: I'm not sure that the sweater has to be cashmere ... but a well-fitting sweater is definitely something you need. I think a mix of sweater styles is a smart thing to have in a wardrobe: sweaters you wear alone that are fitted; sweaters that you layer with tops or blouses underneath; sweaters that you wear with dresses. Cashmere feels wonderful, but hey, it's expensive. Frankly, I would rather have three wool/silk options than one cashmere if given the choice.
- jeans: I think every woman needs three pairs of jeans: (1) a boot cut; (2) a skinny; (3) a wide-legged. Darker wash is always best and flattering. Pay attention to the rise, the waist line and the butt ... some jeans have huge pockets on the rear end - not flattering. Not at all! Express has really great denim.
- comfortable alternative to sweatsuit: or: something cute to wear on weekends. I have a couple of weekend uniforms - things I wear for running around doing errands or attending kids' soccer or gymnastics events that still look pulled together but are practical and, most of all, comfortable. I wear jeans with a plain sweater and scarf or leggings and a long sweater. You should have a pair of jeans that is as comfortable as sweats. They do exist!
7. Consider a card with benefits.
I am not encouraging debt at all, but there are certain store credit cards that have a ton of benefits. I use, and love, my Banana Republic Luxe card. I pay it off every month - that's my rule. But the benefits are terrific: I get free shipping, free tailoring for full-priced pants, and for every dollar I spend, I accumulate points toward reward certificates. Love love love it.
There are days when I'm not feeling the outfit I picked out, or I get it on and realize it needs ironing or has a tear. It is these days when I grab my emergency outfit, which is either (1) dress or (2) all black ensemble with a colorful scarf.
9. Don't sweat the number.
OK. I confess: recently I was at the mall and went into the Limited. They had a killer sale on pants. I tried them on and the size I normally wear was too snug. But the next size up fit like a dream. I got upset (!) and put those pants back and stormed out of the store. The more I thought about it, the more I realized how stupid I was being. So I went back and bought them and am super glad I did. I think a lot of women struggle with this, especially if you have lost weight and never wanted to be "that" size again. But it's just a number and if the pants fit, wear them.
10. Get some trends.
Finally, while essentials are great, you need some "pop" to your wardrobe or you will be bored. Stores such as Forever 21, H&M, and New York & Co. are great for trendy but affordable pieces. Bring in some prints: polka dots, florals, stripes, whatever. Every wardrobe needs some fun. And with prices around $11, $17, $21 ... you can afford to do it.
See you swoon,