WhatIWore: I love the fresh start of a new year - it’s the perfect time to clean your home, stock your fridge and organize your closet. I routinely go through my wardrobe to edit what will work for the upcoming season. Instead of offering advice on what’s in or out, I’d rather share how you can work with what you’ve got and be a smarter shopper in the new year. Here’s an excerpt from the What I Wore book on getting started.
- Basics: classic pieces in core colors that you wear year after year and that work for every season.
- Core colors: neutral building blocks like black, dark brown, or charcoal gray
- Secondary colors: bright or bold trendy colors that are season specific (for example, pastels in spring or jewel tones in fall)
- Add-ons: trendy and seasonal pieces that round out your closet
Let’s start with the basics and add-ons every woman should have in her closet.
Pick Your Core Color
When you’re getting started with your year-round basic clothing, it’s best to stick to a core color-like black, dark brown, or charcoal gray. A lot of women end up with nothing to wear because they’ve limited themselves to wearing an item only one way (this happens when you shop for head-to-toe “looks”). If everything in your closet flows from one piece to the next, from outfit to outfit, you’re left with so many more potential combinations. That flow is best achieved by starting with the following basic items in one core color:
- Blazer or Jacket
- Button Up Blouse in white or off white
- Little Black Dress
- Opaque tights
- Dark Denim Jeans
Once you feel your basics are covered in one core color (and you’re buying quality, classic clothes that last more than a single season), expand into a new core color.
If you can afford to spend more on the basic part of your closet, do it, especially for investment pieces such as blazers, slacks, skirts, and coats. Although your head-to-toe look doesn’t need to cost a fortune, wearing one high-quality (and sometimes more expensive) item can make your entire outfit look more polished. You can get away with spending less on tights, tees, and casual sweaters because these need to be replaced more often and are not usually the focal point of an outfit.
Secondary Color Palette
Next, start to add diversity and pattern into your closet with a new set of what I’m calling your add-on pieces. While your core colors work year-round, your seasonal add-on pieces will be in secondary colors. For this example, I’ve started with the blues and purples in the prints of the dress and skirt. From there, I’ve added on a violet cardigan that works with both pieces. For each new garment you add-on, make sure there’s something it will work with in your current closet (basics or other add-on pieces). Key add-on pieces include:
- Printed Dress
- Solid Dress in Secondary Color
- Printed Skirt
- Solid Skirt in Secondary Color
- Cardigan in Secondary Color
- Printed or Solid Blouse in Secondary Color
- Solid Tanks in Secondary Color
- Solid Tights in Secondary Colors
I usually spend less money on items that are multicolored or patterned because they have less mix-and-match possibilities than their solid- color counterparts. And while you might wear the same bold-printed skirt two weeks in a row, you probably won’t wear it two days in a row like you can with a solid-colored cardigan or skirt.
The idea here isn’t to be matchy matchy with every single item you have-your closet doesn’t need to look like a color-coordinated boutique. Instead, it’s more about buying clothes that flow from one outfit to the next, like the tights and cardigans and accessories that transform your investment pieces into weeks and weeks worth of outfits.
Pro Tip: When shopping, make a rule for yourself that each new piece you buy goes with at least three things you already have in your closet.
Shoes may be a small part of your outfit, but they’re an important one. The bulk of your shoe collection will be specific to your needs (standing all day, work safety, lots of walking), but don’t limit yourself there. To be covered for almost every occasion, the most basic shoe stash should contain:
- Black or Brown Heels
- Black or Brown Flats
- Nude Heels (because they work with everything)
- Black or Brown Boots (riding or heeled)
- Walkable Flats (canvas sneakers, sandals or slip ons)
Of all these shoes, walkable flats are the pair that need to come with a warning: White gym sneakers should never, ever be worn with business suits, office outfits, or cocktail dresses (or really any place other than the gym). If you have a long walk to and from your job, go ahead and get a supportive pair of walking shoes, but spice things up by going with an old-school color palette (like burnt orange, maroon, mustard yellow, navy) or go with some funky flats with built-in cushioning.
In the following chapters I’ve paired up the shoes I think will look best with an outfit, but you can always swap out flats for heels or vice versa.
Finally, buy yourself some decent underwear! Get rid of anything that doesn’t make you feel good about your body (and you know exactly what I’m talking about). A modern woman might argue that slips are for grannies, but they’ll make your clothes flow when you’re wearing tights or hosiery. I’ve had luck finding them in specialty lingerie boutiques, finer department stores, and vintage shops. They’ve been a lifesaver so many times for me that I’m slowly but surely adding to my collection with different lengths and colors. And the proper length is important-just the other day I attempted to roll the waistband of a half slip so it didn’t show under the mini-skirt I was wearing. Big mistake! Within half an hour the hem of that slip started to creep down to reveal itself. Not cute. Slips should always be shorter than your skirt.
For your foundation garments I recommend:
- Seamless bra and undies to match your skin tone (these should be virtually invisible under all clothing)
- Seamless strapless bra to match your skin tone (invisible under all clothing and good for thin straps/strapless tops)
- Black seamless bra and undies (invisible under dark clothing)
- At least one set of matching bra and undies in a fun/sexy color
- Foundation shorts (for super tight dresses and tummy control)
- Half slip (to wear under skirts)
- Full skip (to wear under dresses)
Analyze Your Closet
Now that you know what you need to buy to get your wardrobe into tip- top shape, let’s figure out what you already have that’s worth keeping. When I take stock of my closet, I remove everything from the shelves, drawers, and hangers and throw it all on my bed (so I can’t talk myself out of the job and crash for a nap halfway through). This is the kind of project that takes a lot of energy, so you should plan for an entire Saturday or Sunday with a mind-set of determination. Once you have one giant pile, assess each piece and create three new piles: yes, maybe, and donate/resell. With each item you pick up, use your flash judgment. At the beginning of the process, you’ll feel like putting a lot into the “yes” pile, but as you progress, you’ll be getting rid of the pieces that don’t make you look and feel your best. You might even want to go through the “yes” pile again and try to narrow it down even more. A lot of women hold on to clothes years after the last time they wore an item, telling themselves, “I might need this later!” The truth is, you probably won’t need it later, and if you get rid of something you’re not wearing anyway, you open the door to replace it with something that you’ll love even more.
Now it’s time to try everything on. It might sound crazy, but it’s a waste of space to put things in your closet that don’t fit, and it’s aggravating when you reach for that piece when you’re in a rush. Anything that’s not within one size of fitting perfectly needs to go to the tailor or Goodwill. (I make one exception to this rule. On the back shelf of my closet I keep one pair of “skinny” jeans for when I’m feeling extra sexy and one pair of “slouchy” jeans for when I’m not.) Take everything that doesn’t fit or is no longer to your taste and put it in another room so you’re working only with the good stuff. While you’re trying each item on and checking it out in a full-length mirror, ask yourself:
- Does it flatter my body?
- Did I feel great the last time I wore it?
- Can I remember the last time I wore it?
If you answer no to any of these questions, get that item out of your closet, pronto.
The important thing to remember is to build your closet around the life you’re living now. If you spend most of your time at the office, buy work clothes. If your primary interest is comfort, find ways to be practical yet stylish. If you love nightlife, buy yourself some sexy tops and dresses. It’s all about balance to suit you and your time.
For more tips on getting your closet in gear, check out my book - What I Wore: Four Seasons, One Closet, Endless Recipes for Personal Style available on Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com and IndieBooks.com (and in bookstores nationwide) or your local library.