This is for every woman who has stood before a closetful of clothes and said, “I have nothing to wear.”
We’re going to deconstruct the process of building a great – and functional – wardrobe. It all just takes a little forethought and a bit of discipline. The mantra is: simplify, simplify, simplify.
Let’s set an important rule: When you put together an outfit, TAKE A PICTURE. Trust your camera instead of your memory. Often, the glazed over look we get when staring at our closet is simply because we do, in fact, have something to wear but we just forgot what it is. (If we can’t remember why we just stepped into a room five seconds ago, we can be forgiven for not remembering a cool outfit we put together last month.)
So here are the basics for building multiple outfits for a party, a meeting, or a luncheon with friends. You don’t need a lot of clothes and most of the suggestions are for things you likely have already (these are the classics, after all.) You might just need some practice combining them better.
- For dressier occasions, have at least one great fitting, well-made dress and/or something like a tuxedo suit. The dress can be a sheath, a wrap dress or anything in one of your neutral Neither the dress nor suit has to be black (not all of us can wear black.
- For more casual occasions, have one great pair of tailored slacks, one pair of dressy jeans (straight leg and boot cut are the most universally flattering) one pair of khakis or linen pants and if you are a skirt and dress person, a simple skirt (like a pencil skirt.) Each of these should go with at least three of your tops: blouses, tees, tunics, etc.
- Have at least three jackets: something classic like a blazer, a leather moto jacket or something similarly informal, and a soft cashmere-like cardigan (or my own favorite alternative, a pashmina shawl.) Each jacket should go with almost all of your more casual pants, jeans, and tops. The only thing that would make them not work is a top that doesn’t fit well underneath one of them.
- Master the art of layering. Your, blouse, knit top, tunic, or tee should serve as a seamless backdrop for what is worn over it. That means it’s a good idea to have a few versatile tops that cover you in a flattering way but aren’t the main event. If they’re too bulky, too long, too short or if the collar line conflicts with the jacket worn over it, try a different layer. Whatever you wear under a jacket or a coat should not alter the silhouette of what’s worn over it.
- Have at least three pair of good quality comfortable shoes that can be worn with multiple outfits: a simple heel for dressy occasions, a stylish pair of wedges, heeled sandals or ankle booties for casual outfits, and a dressy pair of flats when you don’t want to or just can’t wear a heel any more. I know – you likely have many more than three pair (I myself have a “shoe problem…”) but having these three will bring you peace of mind. They should all be in one of your dark or light neutral colors and should be both comfortable and well-made…and well-kept. Nothing destroys a nice outfit more than a pair of worn, dirty, or sloppy looking shoes.
- Have a couple of statement or chain necklaces and a few scarves in colors that flatter your face. They each add polish and show that you put some thought into the whole outfit. Scarves work best with something like a blazer or jacket. Jewelry works best with a dress or top with a simple neckline. You want the necklace to show up and not get lost. Some women I know have one (yes one!) statement necklace that they wear with everything. It works for them. It’s typically a higher-end piece in a precious metal with a single gemstone.If you wear a larger statement necklace, your earrings or bracelets should not distract from it. Necklaces, earrings, and bracelets work best if they’re of similar metals. If you combine metals with textiles (e.g., metal with leather, beading, etc.) keep them in the same color range: cool colored textiles or beads with silver or platinum; warm ones with gold or brass. If you’re going fancy or formal you can match your gemstone necklaces (or faux, and they make some pretty gorgeous faux these days) and earrings.
- Don’t get lazy and schlep the same bag you carry to the grocery store to a dinner or cultural event. The more formal the occasion, and the dressier the outfit, the more you need a small dressy bag. Yes I know, it’s hard to fit essentials into a smaller bag, but really, what more do you need than your phone, keys, ID and lipstick? As with shoes, go for the best quality handbag you can afford. You can go cheaper with your outfit if your shoes and handbag say “quality”. If your bag is sparkly it should match only one piece of your outfit: e.g., the jacket or your jewelry. Not many of us can carry off looking like a glitter ball.
The key to all of this is that each piece should fit well, be well-made, (and they all don’t have to be expensive – Zara, H&M and Uniqlo have some pretty great and very inexpensive basics these days) should go with multiple other items, and not be too trendy. Trendy is the fun top that you buy on impulse, and that goes with these basics. The basics are what make the trendy things fun and not anomalies in your closet.
So there you have it. Now go and play in your closet!